Questions raised on ag leases on public land

2012-01-05T11:58:00Z Questions raised on ag leases on public landThe Associated Press The Associated Press
January 05, 2012 11:58 am  • 

CEDAR RAPIDS (AP) --- A Northeast Iowa man says the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) needs to curtail or eliminate leasing public land it manages to farmers, arguing the abuses and violations are bad for the land and wildlife.

The DNR contends the program is for better natural resources and management.

Timothy Mason of McGregor lives near Sny Magill Creek, one of the best trout streams in Iowa. It flows through 1,600 acres of public land, which is among 363,000 acres of fish and wildlife areas managed by the state.

Mason said he has seen far too many abuses on the land. “The bottom line is, does the Iowa Department of Natural Resources really have to be in the farming industry?” said Mason, who spent the summer documenting and cleaning up damage around the creek. “The DNR shouldn’t be subsidizing this massive destruction of natural resources in Iowa,” he said, adding Iowa has plenty of corn, soybeans and hay. There is no need for this other than money, and I don’t think that is the mission of the DNR,” he said.

Terry Haindfield, DNR wildlife biologist, said it’s not about the money, although  leases generate revenue. “The primary reason we do this is for better natural resources and management,” he said. “Wildlife is the main objective, rather than money”

Haindfield said the state requires renting farmers to leave a portion of their yield for wildlife in the area, keeping animals from feeding on the crops in neighboring, privately farmed fields.

Jon Stravers with the Midwest region of the National Audubon Society said he takes issue with that. “What they do when they create more corn and hay is make it easier for species that are common and more difficult for species that are rare.”

Haindfield said planting crops makes it possible for visitors to view or hunt wildlife on public land, using licenses whose fees are used to benefit endangered species, wildlife diversity and other natural resources.

The state said it employs farming techniques meant to maximize Iowa’s natural habitat, including leaving some fields unfarmed for a season and requiring renters to plant specific crops in specific areas.

But, Mason said he has seen poor farming practices on public land grow worse. He said, for example, one farmer planted so close to the trout stream his combine tipped over into the water. Mason said the farmer renting the land near the creek committed so many abuses the state sent him a letter terminating his three-year lease. Mason complained and the state found violations during compliance checks.

The farmer, Maury Regan of Waukon,  leased 180 acres in the Sny Magill Creek Valley. Haindfield said he ignored the stipulations requiring him to plant corn, hay and oats and planted soybeans.

Regan also excavated soil to make a larger field entrance for his equipment. Haindfield said the DNR sent him a letter, telling him the excavation was not allowed and notifying him of other violations.

Regan said he received the termination letter  this past week. “It’s true,” he said. “It was getting late to plant corn, so I planted soybeans. I didn’t realize it was a big deal.”

About the excavation complaints, Regan said, his equipment was bigger than the previous tenants’ combines. “Mistakes were made, and we are sorry.”

Regan, who owns 1,000 acres of farmland, said he paid $22,000 in rent for the first year of cropping on public land, and he made his money back. He said he would like the chance to rent from the DNR again.

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