Bustos, Hinson, Craig & Kind Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Preserve the Driftless Area Between Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota & Wisconsin

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Ashley Hinson (R-IA), Angie Craig (D-MN) and Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced the Driftless Area Landscape Conservation Initiative (DALCI) Act to preserve the ecologically-unique region between Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The legislation would re-establish efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve management of working lands, woodlands, prairies and cold water streams in the Driftless Area. 

“The Driftless Area is one of the most beautiful and ecologically important regions of our state and is a driving force for tourism in Northwest Illinois. Ensuring it remains intact for future generations is critical. The Driftless Area Conservation Initiative Act will recommit efforts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the preservation of these lands and the native species that call them home. It’s an honor to join Representatives Ashley Hinson, Angie Craig and Ron Kind on this bipartisan bill to improve management of this unique area and support the region’s family farmers in their stewardship of the land,” said Congresswoman Bustos. 

“Iowa’s Driftless Area is a local gem. Preserving Iowa’s Driftless Area is a priority for the entire Northeast Iowa community including farmers, families, and our local tourism economy. The Driftless Area Landscape Conservation Initiative (DALCI) was a success story. During the five years it was authorized, the initiative helped improve water quality, mitigate flooding, and streamline agriculture conservation practices across Iowa’s Driftless Area. I am proud to introduce the bipartisan DALCI 2.0 Act with Representative Cheri Bustos to build on these successes. This legislation will reauthorize this critical program for the next five years, at no additional cost to taxpayers, to provide farmers with new conservation tools, improve flood resiliency, and enhance drinking water quality for families along the Mississippi River Watershed,” said Representative Hinson.

“The Driftless Area is a unique and priceless resource for the Midwest – a fact that is well understood by farmers and ranchers in southeast Minnesota, who are prepared to use the Driftless Area Landscape Conservation Initiative to reduce soil erosion, sequester carbon and improve water quality in the region. I’m proud to partner with my colleagues in introducing this important bipartisan legislation, and look forward to the positive impacts of re-establishing this important program,” said Representative Craig.

“The Driftless Area is one of the most beautiful places in the country, but erosion from the steep slopes of this unique landscape is a threat to both habitats and farms alike. The DALCI Act will help preserve this treasured natural resource and ensure our family farmers can protect their land for years to come,” said Representative Kind. 

The Driftless Area is a region comprising the northwest corner of Illinois, northeastern Iowa, southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin that was never covered by ice during the last Ice Age, and therefore lacks glacial deposits. The geography of the area is characterized by its steep, rugged landscape and by the largest concentration of cold water streams in the world. 

A previous Driftless Area Landscape Conservation Initiative was launched by the USDA in 2012 to help farmers fight erosion and restore cold water stream corridors. The program ended in 2017 and was never re-established. The DALCI Act would recommit the USDA to conservation efforts in the Driftless Area with $5 million through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for efforts managing working lands, woodlands, prairies and cold water streams in the region. 

The DALCI Act would re-establish the Driftless Area Landscape Conservation Initiative with the following objectives: 

  1. Manage working lands for year-round ground cover to rebuild soil, sequester carbon, improve water quality, increase water holding capacity of soil, reduce soil erosion, and mitigate flooding and other climate impacts. 
  2. Manage woodlands for increased biodiversity to improve the health of woods to provide habitat and sequester carbon.
  3. Restore prairies and manage grasslands, oak savannas, and barrens to expand habitat and sequester carbon.
  4. Restore cold water streams by reducing stream bank erosion and threats of flooding while improving trout habitat. 

This critical legislation to support the Driftless Area has received a wave of support:

“The four-state scenic Driftless Area’s splendor draws people who enjoy its outdoor recreation opportunities, waterways and wildlife, and stunning landscape. The Driftless Area is as vibrant as it is vulnerable. By directing the USDA to restart the successful DALCI program, this legislation advances protection for important fish and wildlife habitat, supports the transition to sustainable agriculture, and expands outdoor recreation places for fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing and hunting,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“For over 35 years, The Prairie Enthusiasts have united the efforts of several thousand passionate volunteers, private landowners, ecological contractors, and public agencies to protect, restore, manage, and educate about the prairies, savannas, and other rare and precious natural communities of the Driftless Area. We wholeheartedly endorse this legislation to revive and expand the DALCI program to provide much-needed funding and support for this vital ongoing effort,” said Scott Fulton, President of The Prairie Enthusiasts.

“The Driftless area has unique opportunities for agriculture, recreation, and ecological restoration. This funding will help private landowners take action to improve the conditions of streams, grasslands, forests and farms – improving the overall resiliency of the region,” said Kevin McAleese, President, of the Sand County Foundation.

“Driftless Area landowners are critical to carbon sequestration and soil health progress in a region that is over 90% privately owned. We support the Driftless Area Landscape Conservation Initiative, which will provide funding and technical assistance to landowners to carry out work that delivers flood resilience, climate resilience and ecological restoration,” said Timothy Male, Executive Director of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center.

“Passage of this legislation will allow continued collaborations at the local level essential to restorations in the Driftless Areas of IA, IL, MN, and WI. The Driftless area is one of the most unique natural communities in North America. Working with property owners and local communities will allow new levels of cooperation and progress with the re-emergence of this critical funding,” said Dave Zentner, Izaak Walton League Upper Mississippi River Project Director & Past National President. 

“This crucial assistance program will protect the Driftless Area and the Gulf of Mexico from tragic water quality issues and soil loss consequences that without this work, could affect our future food systems and water quality far into the future,” said Kerry Leigh, Executive Director of the Natural Land Institute.

“For nearly a century, the League has been fighting for conservation in the Upper Mississippi, including in the Driftless Area. By promoting the transition to regenerative agriculture and reducing nutrient runoff, the Driftless Area Landscape Conservation Initiative will strengthen water quality throughout this unique landscape. Improvements to wildlife habitat, greater resiliency to climate change, and expanded opportunities for outdoor recreation are also critical components of this important legislation. The League is proud to support this bill and thankful for the leadership of Representatives Bustos, Hinson, and all of the sponsors in introducing this bill and elevating these vital conservation issues,” said Jared Mott, Conservation Director at the Izaak Walton League of America.

“The Iowa Driftless (yes, there is “drift” here) is a landscape defined by rolling hills, steep valleys, dramatic bluffs, shallow topsoil, caves, sinkholes, springs, rare species, cold water trout streams, and the Mississippi River. It is also home to some of the greatest people working to protect the land and water that I have ever met. My roots run deep in this Driftless land, and this place is a part of me. Those of us who are lucky enough to live here value our lands and waters. Initiatives such as the Driftless Area Landscape Conservation initiative bring much needed resources into our communities to help restore the cold water corridors that define the Driftless. Thank you for supporting climate-smart agriculture, soil health, and ecological restoration in the Driftless Area of the Midwest,” said Jared McGovern, Curator of Conservation Programs at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

The legislation is endorsed by the Sand County Foundation, Natural Land Institute, Aldo Leopold Foundation, Izaak Walton League of Iowa, Izaak Walton League of Illinois, Izaak Walton League of Minnesota, Izaak Walton League of Wisconsin, Izaak Walton League of America, Environmental Policy Innovation Center, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Mississippi Valley Conservancy, Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development, Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Prairie Enthusiasts, National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the Driftless Area Land Conservancy.