How Do Wisconsin's Natural Resources Hold Up Under Gov. Walker's Proposed Budget?

Mar 20, 2015

During the first public hearing, the Joint Finance Committee heard citizens express their concerns about cuts to education, changes to the state’s long-term care program and funding for transportation projects. Occasional comments about the environment were sprinkled throughout the hour-upon-hour of testimony.

People like Ann Minster worry about state parks. Gov. Walker aims to eliminate the tax dollars that help operate parks and instead, make them self-supporting by raising user fees.

“My husband and I have raised two sons here in Wisconsin and we were continually going to state parks while they were growing up. And our state parks provided our children with their earliest education about nature and our shared responsibility to be good stewards,” Minster says.

Minster says beyond her family’s attachment, state parks draw tourists and their dollars. “We should be investing MORE in our state parks, not less,” she says.

Daniel A. Gries says his life revolves around hunting, fishing and trapping, so he vehemently opposes the plan to reduce the DNR’s staff – particularly its scientists.

“Their research is critical for setting the regulations and management of habitat for specific species. Over the past 25 years, I have personally interacted with three DNR biologists, I found their knowledge and expertise extremely valuable,” Gries says.

He is equally disgruntled about plans to convert the Natural Resources Board from a decision-making body, into an advisory one.

“The current NRB authority established in 1926 guarantees all citizens to be equally recognized in expressing their out of door activity positions. Wisconsin’s natural resources management belongs to all citizens,” Gries says.

Some concerns people raised in northeast Wisconsin carry downstream on the Milwaukee River.

“Upstream we have farms. 80 percent of the Milwaukee River is still largely rural,” Milwaukee Riverkeeper's Cheryl Nenn says. She’s concerned that Gov. Walker’s budget would cut $800,000 from a program that links county specialists with farmers to reduce runoff from fields.

“Nutrients associated with manure and other pesticides and chemicals used for different kinds of crops, a lot of that stuff is washing off into the waterways and there’s good people working with those farmers to change the ways they’re managing the land, to put in buffers next to the river, to minimize that runoff and protect the river,” Nenn says.

She says the Milwaukee watershed is healthier by leaps and bounds than just a decade ago. Nenn says improvement came in part thanks to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. It matches local with state conservation funds. The governor aims to put the fund on hold until 2028.

“It’s led us to be able to able to protect these resources that we’re all using here. For example the Arboretum and Three Bridges Park in the Menomonee Valley and the Hank Aaron State Trail,” she says.

Not everyone lives and breathes land conservation and water issues as Nenn does, but she insists no one can afford turn a blind eye to our air and water.

“It’s important that there are people whose job every morning when they wake up is to and worry about keeping this water clean and keeping our air clean,” Nenn says.

She thinks the governor’s plan to reduce DNR staff by 66 will create a ripple effect – the loss of Wisconsin’s best and brightest specialists.

“People are going to leave the state because they don’t feel their positions are stable. Or they’re going to be drawn by better opportunities in other states; and we’re already seeing that,” Nenn says.

She plans to queue up to comment at today’s public hearing. It will be held in Milwaukee at Alverno College from 10 am to 5 pm.

It’s hard to know whether the Wednesday hearing in Brillion will be a foreshadowing - with her concerns swallowed up in a sea of angst about cuts to education and long-term care.