On Monday, January 22nd, the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources held a hearing on HB 2541, which would establish a state conservation fund supporting working lands, wildlife, and outdoor recreation. The committee room was standing room only as conservation supporters filled its seats. Kansans for Conservation provided four presenters in support of the bill, displaying the diverse composition of the coalition and support for conservation funding.
Josh Roe testified on behalf of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, and the Kansas Farm Bureau. Roe outlined how conservation funding supports the long-term economic success of producers through voluntary measures and how rural communities are boosted through tourism from outdoor recreation. Dan Meyerhoff with the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts followed with an overview of conservation districts and discussed the $86 million in applications the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) received in 2023 from farmers but was unable to fund. Meyerhoff illustrated how HB 2541 would help close the gap. Next was Erika Devore of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association who provided a comprehensive overview of the economic, social, and health benefits that access to outdoor recreation provides to all Kansans. Rounding out the coalition's testimony was Abe Lollar with Ducks Unlimited. Abe discussed his experience working with private landowners to collaboratively achieve their management goals as well as the competitive advantages that neighboring states have over Kansas with existing state conservation funds. Including written, the committee received testimony from 30 proponents. Opponents to HB 2541 cited concerns about federal interference and involuntary land transfers. The coalition is actively working with legislators on language that would preclude these concerns and looks forward to collaborating with all stakeholders to continue the effort.
Prior to the hearing, Kansans for Conservation hosted a Day at the Capitol with 24 organizations and 80 attendees braving the icy conditions to meet with legislators about conservation issues. In addition to the legislator meetings, coalition members tabled on the 1st floor rotunda and hosted a lunch for legislators. The event, a first for the coalition, provided opportunities for in-person networking and advocacy.