Derecho-Hit Tree Managers Angered By GOP Bill Raising Taxes

After last summer’s derecho storm brought wind gusts over 100 mph, devastating much of central and eastern Iowa’s crops, infrastructure and foliage, GOP lawmakers are continuing to move a bill forward which would raise property taxes on privately-owned forests in the state.

Ninety-three Iowans who participated Monday on a Zoom subcommittee meeting were overwhelmingly opposed to the bill which was not signed but advanced by Republican Sen. Ken Rozenboom and Sen. Amy Sinclair to have an additional subcommittee meeting.

Lobbyists, private citizens and forest owners said the legislation, which would cut tax breaks on forest and fruit-tree reserves and restrict which land qualifies for exemptions, would have damaging effects on landowners who are trying to recover from the August storm.

“The derecho wiped out so much of our woodlands and forests this summer. This bill is a GOP derecho—it’s going to try and take care of the rest of the trees that are damaged,” said Iowa City Democrat Sen. Joe Bolkcom at the subcommittee meeting.

“I cannot for the life of me understand why we’re raising property taxes on the private managers of Iowa’s woodlands and forests after what they’ve endured this summer with the derecho. It seems to me this is just more grievance politics … that Republicans want to take it out on people that are doing good work.”

According to the United States Forest Service, the derecho affected over 1.3 million acres of forest in east-central Iowa and will have “lasting impacts on forest structure and urban canopy.” Over 85% of Iowa’s nearly 3 million acres of forest is privately owned, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimates.

John Zakrasek, who owns two acres in Linn County, said at the subcommittee that the legislation would be disastrous for him after the storms. Under the new rule, anyone who owns less than 10 acres would not be subject to any exemption.

“When this derecho came through, we lost 80% of our trees. They were massive, most of them 80 feet tall, and 24 inches or more in diameter. And I have an estimate to clean up the property and just replant– $70,000,” said Zakrasek.

“So here I am, down on the ground, suffering in front of the derecho and you’re going to kick me in the teeth with a tax increase that creeps in at 100% of evaluation of the land, effective Jan. 1 2022. I’m very disturbed by this and upset and would expect to get additional help instead of a tax burden for all I’ve done.”

The only speaker in support of the legislation was from the Iowa Farm Bureau. Sen. Dawson said he authored the bill, which has been a topic making its way through the Legislature for several sessions, to weed out “bad actors” who want to avoid property taxes.

Bolkcom at the end of the meeting questioned the legislation in light of the other “extreme” bills moving through the GOP-controlled Legislature this session,

“I know you don’t like public universities, I know you don’t like people voting, I know you don’t like Twitter and Facebook, but I would never have guessed you don’t like trees. This is a bad bill, we should not move it forward,” he said.

 

by Isabella Murray
Posted 3/15/21

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3 Comments on "Derecho-Hit Tree Managers Angered By GOP Bill Raising Taxes"

  • By what rationale could the Authoritarian Republican House and Senate believe this legislation to be of any redeeming value? “Bad actors” you say, Senator Dawson? You’re way, way out of your bailiwick! Forest Land tax exemption is fair, and has been the impetus for some to get more trees in the ground. This, by the way, aids in reducing society’s carbon footprint by photosynthesis, whereby the leaves consume carbon dioxide and emit oxygen!

    The net result of this knee-jerk legislation will be far fewer trees in Iowa! At a time when we see continuing urban sprawl, the effects of the Emerald Ash borer and other species specific pathogens, and changing weather and climate patterns that adversely affect certain species, now we have to watch the legislature destroy another positive component of Iowa’s beauty and conservation ethic.

    Time for the legislature to get the budget covered with some common sense, and then do yourselves and the state of Iowa a big favor….adjourn and go home! Time to get the equipment ready for getting seeds in the ground. And, while you’re at it, I’m sure the DNR can make some tree seedlings available for wildlife habitat, soil conservation, beauty and a process by which your action will solidify and isolate carbon. After all, every little bit helps!

  • Thank you, Isabella Murray and ISL, for writing this good story and drawing attention to this horrible bill.

    I appreciate Joe Bolkcom’s good words against the bill. Unfortunately, it’s completely consistent that Republicans wouldn’t like trees. They vote against clean water when opportunity allows, they don’t care about funding natural resources, so why would they like trees?

    And it’s not surprising at all that the Iowa Farm Bureau wouldn’t like trees. The IFB has a long history of working against conservation of all kinds in the Statehouse. I’ve watched the IFB working against trails, buffer strips, conservation funding, land protection, clean water, etc. etc. for four decades.

    And to add to what was said, it’s not just replanting that is expensive. Good woodland management in Iowa includes the control of invasive Eurasian trees, shrubs, and weeds, which is expensive. The best management also includes prescribed fire, also expensive. It was already easy to spend several hundred dollars per acre per year on woodland management before the derecho hit. The Forest Reserve tax break doesn’t cover those costs, but it does help. And it’s bizarre that the Republican Party, which is always railing against taxes, would raise them on badly-needed Iowa treed areas that have already been disappearing because of development and landowner/farmer desires to turn wooded acres into more corn and beans.

    With crop prices and housing demand all going up, the bulldozers will be busy again in Iowa woodlands this spring.

  • A friend just forwarded a message from Senator Amy Sinclair, who said that the bill did not pass out of subcommittee for further consideration. Of course bad bills have been known to rise from the dead, but this is good news for now.

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