To the editor:
For the many people who have visited the Neal Smith Wild Life Refuge, the New Year — and a new Congress — could bring renewed hope that the native ecosystems the refuge protects, like tallgrass prairie and oak savannah, will be protected for generations to come.
Tallgrass prairie once covered 80 percent of Iowa. Now, less than 0.1 percent remains in our state. Fifty years ago, with threats to special places across the nation in mind, Congress set up the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect our parks like Neal Smith. Today, Neal Smith is home to 5,600 acres of protected prairie. However, unless Congress acts now, the program will run out of funding in late March.
That’s bad news and not just for Neal Smith. Parks like the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge bordering eastern Iowa and Loess Hills in the western part of our state, where many Iowans enjoy hiking, camping, and hunting, could also be affected. We want to protect these special places so that future generations can experience seeing bison and bald eagles up close, or discover what our state used to look like at a prairie, just as generations of Iowans have done.
Environment Iowa has resolved to protect Neal Smith and secure full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. I applaud Sen. Harkin for signing a letter urging his Senate colleagues to support this effort, and I look forward to working with him in the New Year to give our parks the protections they deserve.