Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund

Iowans, have you heard of the trust fund, Iowa’s water and land legacy, IWILL? Either way, this is an important year to track the Iowa legislature and keep up-to-date on the status of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust.

The 2020 Iowa legislative session began 13 January and Governor Kim Reynolds delivered her Condition of the State Address on 14 January. In that speech, Governor Reynolds announced that she would be introducing the Invest in Iowa Act. Among many other things, this bill would fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust (aka: the Trust). On 5 February, Senate Study Bill 3116 was introduced into the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

This is going to be a big, swirling topic of conversation throughout the session, among lawmakers, lobbyists, and citizens alike. What is discussed and the outcome of this session is important to all of us with ‘conservation’ as part of our work! Many work within the county conservation system, others within agriculture, or natural resources, others work to teach others about conserving Iowa’s natural resources. “Funding the Trust” would have a major impact on all of us within conservation education.

First, a little background info on the Trust:

In 2010, 63% of Iowans voted to amend Iowa’s constitution to create the Trust, essentially setting up a bank account. The next time the state sales tax is raised, funds generated from the first 3/8 cent of that increase will, by constitutional requirement, get deposited into this account. The funds can only be spent in the ways determined by a set distribution formula. Because the sales tax has not increased since the passing of the constitutional amendment, the trust has not been funded (the bank account is empty).

The distribution formula is not part of the constitutional amendment itself, but it was developed and publicized before the amendment passed. The committee that worked on both the amendment and the distribution formula was made up of legislators from both parties and representatives from the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Pheasants Forever, the Conservation Districts of Iowa, and more.

The Trust is meant to support natural resources and outdoor recreation, so the distribution formula parcels out different percentages of money into categories like Watershed Protection, Trails, and Soil Conservation and Water Protection. Right now, the distribution formula also dictates that:

  • Funds are administered through “existing infrastructure” to reduce bureaucracy. The goal was to increase the funds available for use, not create complex webs for distributing those funds.
  • Funds cannot be used for regulatory efforts, enforcement, eminent domain, condemnation, or litigation.
  • There are required yearly audits and reports to the legislature.

Because the Trust was created by constitutional amendment, it can only be changed by another amendment. The distribution formula is considered “law” and can be changed by vote of the legislature.

So, what would it mean if the Trust is funded?

It would mean more funding for local landowners to voluntarily install best management practices on their land to protect their soil and water. It would mean more funding to plant prairies in our roadsides for pollinator habitat. It would mean more funding to maintain and improve county, state, and city parks, forests, recreational areas, and wildlife areas. It would mean more funding for communities for flood protection and control.

Natural resources managers (regardless of employer) have a list of projects that need done, others that they’d like to start… all for maintaining and improving the resources and the opportunities for visitors. Your local county conservation board and city park and recreation department are just two entities you could talk with to learn how funding “the Trust” would help.

Legislative policies and actions are complex and broad. Here are some sites to learn more:


The above was adapted with permission from the Winneshiek County Conservation website.