Letter to the Editor: We are on our way to losing our precious tree canopy!

We are losing our precious tree cover at an alarming rate to such causes as storm damage, pests, diseases, chemical drift, and rising commodity prices.

Around the turn of the last century, our forefathers in the Iowa Legislature recognized the loss of forested acres at a time of massive agricultural clearing and in 1906 passed the property tax incentive called the Forest and Fruit Tree Preservation Act. This act was designed to “reduce or eliminate property taxes to induce landowners to hold their poorer lands in timber not only as a source of farm income but also for erosion control, watershed protection and game cover.”

2017 economic data shows Iowa had 2.9 million acres of forest land that covered 8% of the land base. The economic contribution to Iowa’s economy equates to $1,700 per acre, which far outpaces any unrealized tax revenue.

Background: The tax incentive started with an appraised value of $1/acre, then in 1935 raised to $4/acre, in 1974 raised to $14.82/acre. Beginning in 1986 the rate was changed to $0/acre. We were told that this was at the request of county auditors.

Our state legislature is currently working on SF 548 which would increase the property tax to 25% of the assessed value next year and 50% the following years.

Agroforestry does not see an economic gain on an annual basis. In fact, it may take 40-50 years to bring timber to an economic harvest.

Annual taxation overshadows any economic opportunities and may cause a landowner to throw in the towel and rid themselves of nonprofitable forestry endeavors. This will increase water pollution/runoff, watershed issues, loss of game and game cover, and create a further hit to the benefits that forestry provides the state.

Our lawmakers’ main concerns are about out-of-state ownership of forest reserve land. We say “deal with that issue.” Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water!

Everyone needs to contact their state senator and state representative and tell them we want a cleaner healthier state and ask them to oppose SF548.

-The Coalition for Iowa’s Woodlands and Trees

Coalition members including Trees Forever, Iowa Woodland Owners Association, Iowa Nut Growers, Iowa Tree Farm Committee, the Iowa Urban Tree Council, and Trout Unlimited advocate together for investment in Iowa’s trees, forests, and forestry industry.