Environmentalists search for the next Paul W. Johnson

By: - November 28, 2021 10:00 am

Paul W. Johnson helped pass key environmental laws during his three terms in the Iowa House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy of Andy Johnson)

A prominent Iowa conservationist who died this year will be honored in an online event this week that is meant to reignite public enthusiasm for sustaining the environment.

Paul W. Johnson, a Decorah farmer, was a co-author of key legislation to protect soil and water about two decades ago when he served three terms in the Iowa House of Representatives.

That legislation established the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa, and it has committed millions of dollars each year to conservation efforts.

Johnson later led the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He died in February at age 79.

“We feel that this is a time to revive Paul’s vision,” said Ralph Rosenberg, a former Iowa House colleague of Johnson who once led the Iowa Environmental Council.

The Paul W. Johnson Legacy Launch is set for 4 p.m. on Dec. 2 via Zoom. Register for the event here.

The one-hour event will feature a video about Johnson, remarks from former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and presentations by Johnson’s family.

“It’s not just looking back — we want to figure out how we can help foster a next generation of leaders,” Rosenberg said. “The leaders are out there. They just need some sort of support.”

The event is part of a fledgling fundraising effort to publish a book of Johnson’s writings and establish a grant or fellowship program for conservation-minded graduate students and others. A long-term goal of the group is to help enact national policies to promote the conservation of non-government land.

“The launch itself is meant to outline where we are now in the legacy fund effort, what we think would be valuable,” said Andy Johnson, a son of Paul. “I suspect, ultimately, it will behoove us to start a new non-profit.”

More than 130 people had registered for the event as of early this week.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.