REAP — the perfect program

Twenty-five years ago, in a bi-partisan celebration of what is best about living in Iowa, the Legislature created and Gov. Branstad signed into law an innovative program to protect Iowa’s natural heritage for future generations.

Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection Program – or REAP – has stood the test of time, providing more than $300 million to an incredible diversity of outdoor projects. This one was in the cards. Right out of the chute, everybody got it right. In light of what REAP provides Iowans, it has inspired tremendous loyalty across the state. At last count some 37,000 of us help pay for REAP-themed license plates on our vehicles, many with the iconic goldfinch with a wild rose design.

The timely availability of funds is critical to whether or not a conservation project can succeed. Conservation projects often involve multiple levels of government, along with private conservation organizations and community volunteers, all of whom have limited time and their own range of priorities. Because of all the hard work required to pull a project together, worthy projects can be upended by a lack of funding when the time is right.

Unfortunately, since the inception 25 years ago, the Legislature has never funded REAP at its authorized level. The consequence is that many worthy projects to conserve soil, protect clean water, provide recreational opportunities and improve wildlife habitat have been left unfunded. We can do better. We need the Legislature to fully fund REAP. By its design, REAP is uniquely suited to help conservation and outdoor recreation projects in Iowa succeed.

Some resources are directed to all 99 counties and some are available through competitive grants. Both urban and rural areas benefit. Many different types of conservation, recreation and historic preservation projects benefit from REAP.

Iowans respect the REAP process – so much so that in 25 years, the formula used to distribute funds has never been changed. How many other government programs stand the test of time that well? Not many. In Iowa’s long history, no other government-funded program for conservation has been so successful. It’s a pity that it is underfunded.

Moose on the loose

Officials in eastern Iowa say a moose trekking through the area may be the same one spotted a few months ago. Eric Wright, a conservation officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the creature seen in Cedar County could be the same one seen around Linn County in December. The moose has now shed its antlers, so it is difficult to do a comparison. But a moose in Iowa is a rare occurrence and this creature is not too far from the earlier spotting in Linn County. DNR officials began receiving reports of moose sightings near Stanwood. The moose appears to be healthy, but there is concern for its survival if it continues south.

Mountain lion shot

A large male mountain lion was shot and killed in a wooded area near the Rock River, approximately four miles south of Rock Valley in Sioux County. A hunter checking his trail camera the previous evening first spotted the lion. When the cat, sitting about 40 yards away, did not move, the man slowly backed away and called a neighbor. Returning to the spot, the mountain lion was still in the same place, but walked away from a buck deer it had recently killed. The men then called conservation officer John Sells. Sells checked the area and was able to verify the lion by its paw prints and trail camera prints. The big cat was in the area and did not move until one of the men nearly stepped on it.

Both Sells and the other man shot and killed the mountain lion.

“This was definitely something I did not want to do, but this cat was within a few hundred yards of a house with small children who often play in the woods exactly where the lion was,” Sells said.

The mountain lion was a larger animal than other cats that have been killed or spotted in Iowa, weighing an estimated 180 pounds. The cat did not have any tattoos or other signs of having been raised in captivity. Tissue samples were taken to have DNA analysis done to try and determine where the mountain lion originated. Most mountain lions that have been spotted in Iowa have been males driven from their territories in western states.

And now have a good weekend.