Top Priority Legislation: The WI State Budget
Governor Walker’s proposed state budget (AB 21 / SB 21), released February 3, poses grave threats to Wisconsin’s air, water and wildlife and the many economic engines that depend on maintaining sustainably managed, intact natural resources. Many of the changes to the DNR threaten Wisconsin’s tourism industry, which supports 185,495 jobs and contributes $17.5 billion to our economy each year. Urge the Joint Finance Committee to fix the state budget today!
The Sierra Club is dismayed to see the proposed cuts to 66 positions at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – especially 33 related to science, education and research. Having in-house scientific experts at the DNR is the foundation of sound management and policymaking. Click here to take action for a better state budget today!
Reducing the authority of the Natural Resources Board diminishes the authority of the Conservation Congress, the statutory body created by Aldo Leopold and others in 1934 in which citizens elect delegates to advise the Natural Resources Board on managing Wisconsin's natural resources, by making the Congress an advisory board to an advisory board. Removing NRB authority would also give DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, a former developer and State Senator with an abysmal environmental voting record, sole control over public land sales and purchases.
Governor Walker's proposed budget eliminates support for our state parks, proposing to fill that gap through user fee increases that have the potential to create real barriers for low income families seeking to explore the outdoors. It also eliminates the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education (WCEE) and Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (WEEB), established in 1990 to provide environmental education programs in pK-12 schools across the state. Urge the Joint Finance Committee to fix the state budget today!
We also have serious concerns about the Governor’s proposal to freeze Stewardship land purchases until 2028. Wisconsin's popular Knowles-Nelson stewardship program has been an effective tool for protecting over 500,000 acres of land since it was enacted in 1989. Last year Sierra Club members worked with the Natural Heritage Land Trust and other groups to purchase and permanently protect 198 acres of forest, prairie and wetlands habitat adjacent to John Muir’s Marquette County boyhood home, an acquisition that may not have happened without Wisconsin’s Stewardship program. Wisconsin’s Stewardship program is an investment that greatly benefits current and future generations. The overall cost of Stewardship for 30 years from 1990 to 2020 is less than the billions Governor Walker is proposing to spend on transportation for the next 2 years. Click here to take action for a better state budget today!
Speaking of transportation, the proposed transportation budget eliminates complete streets and state funds for the Transportation Alternatives program critical for bike paths and sidewalks that foster pedestrian safety and healthier, cleaner alternatives to driving. We are also concerned about the $1.3 billion in bonding that is proposed. Why do we have an unlimited appetite for highway spending at the same time we are making devastating cuts to public education?
The budget also affects forestry programs by moving the Division of Forestry headquarters from its central location in Madison (where all other DNR divisions are located) to a northern Wisconsin location. It reduces oversight of the Managed Forest Land program by cutting 4 full time staff and eliminating the requirement for DNR staff to approve cutting notices filed by Cooperative Foresters. It also directs DNR to allow Cooperative Foresters, rather than DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources staff to complete Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI) reviews to document rare or declining species, high-quality or rare natural communities, and unique or significant natural features prior to timber sales. Our Managed Forest Lands greatly benefit Wisconsin’s $18 billion forest products industry and the 60,000 jobs it supports. It is critical to ensure that our public and private forest lands are managed sustainably.
Water safety is also impacted by the Governor’s budget, which reduces funding to county Soil and Water Conservation Departments who work with farmers to reduce runoff pollution by $800,000 and it reduces funds for nutrient management plans by $500,000. These cuts increase threats from water pollution caused by factory farms. Urge the Joint Finance Committee to fix the state budget today!
It’s not too late for Sierra Club members and other citizens to call for changes to the state budget! Please let us know if you plan to voice your concerns at one of four public hearings that the Joint Finance Committee is holding.
WI State Budget Public Hearings (each hearing will be held from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM).
Wednesday, March 18, Brillion High School, Endres Performing Arts Center, W1101 County Rd HR, Brillion
Friday, March 20, Alverno College, Pitman Theatre, 3400 S. 43rd St, Milwaukee
Monday, March 23, UW Barron County, Fine Arts Theatre, 1800 College Dr, Rice Lake
Thursday, March 26, Reedsburg High School, CAL Center Auditorium, 1100 S. Albert Ave, Reedsburg
You can also register to attend Lobby Day with the WI League of Conservation Voters April 14. We'll be focusing on the state budget, and you'll get the chance to voice your concerns to your elected State Senator and Assembly Representative.
Protect Wolves and the Endangered Species Act
The gray wolf is depicted on Wisconsin's license plate because the recovery of this native predator under the Endangered Species Act, or ESA is a source of state pride and a symbol of our bipartisan tradition of science-based natural resource management. That's why the Sierra Club and many others were alarmed when Wisconsin Act 169 passed within hours of ESA delisting in 2012. This law, promoted by a small faction of powerful lobbying groups, included a 4 1/2 month long wolf season and allowed for trapping and hunting with bows, guns, and dogs. Wisconsin became the only state to allow the use of dogs in wolf hunting, despite a 2013 poll of 625 registered voters that found over 80% opposed the practice. We were further dismayed in 2014 when rules went into effect allowing year round unregulated training of dogs on wolves - through breeding and denning seasons. As a result of trophy hunting, trapping, hounding, training, and annual quota overkills, our state lost at least 518 wolves in just 3 years. And six prominent wolf researchers voiced serious concerns about insufficient state monitoring and unsustainable management in letters to the US Fish & Wildlife Service sent in fall 2014.
The unsustainable hunting policies in Wisconsin and other states that jeopardized wolf recovery prompted a December 2014 judicial decision to restore endangered species protections for Great Lakes wolves. Unfortunately Congressman Reid Ribble (R, WI) and others have introduced HR 843 and HR 884 to legislatively remove federal protections for gray wolves. Any Congressional bill or Appropriations Rider that promotes the legislative delisting of wolves will place not only wolves, but also the entire Endangered Species Act in jeopardy, as there will be no stopping other, future delisting efforts for far less beloved and notable species. In this way, the Endangered Species Act, one of the most significant, effective environmental laws ever enacted, will be dismantled. We face an uphill battle educating decisionmakers about this issue, as the well-organized pro-hunting lobby and select state legislators have been urging colleagues to sign a letter supporting Congressional delisting of gray wolves. That is why it is more important than ever for you to speak out to support the ESA and science-based wolf protection today! Click here to urge your members of Congress to stand up for wolves and the Endangered Species Act today!
Support Clean Transportation Options in Wisconsin
Expanding investments in transit, biking, walking, and local roads is essential for reducing our dependence on dirty tar sands oil, reducing climate change emissions and air pollution, and meeting mobility needs of low-income communities, disabled citizens, young professionals and seniors. For many years, WisDOT has been spending billions of taxpayer dollars overbuilding highways, while shortchanging local roads, transit, and biking and walking infrastructure.
Highways continue to expand, even as demand for them is dropping. Wisconsinites drove 8.4% fewer miles in 2012 than in 2007, and surveys show young professionals increasingly want to live and work in places that offer options other than driving!
Help us block repeated attempts to remove transit from the transportation budget, support for a more balanced transportation budget that meets the needs of all citizens, reject attempts to divert flexible funds that should be used for cleaner transportation options to highways. Click here to sign the petition calling for a more balanced transportation budget today!
Take Action to Stop Destructive Mining Threatening the Penokee Hills
Gogebic Taconite's proposed open pit iron-ore mine in the Penokee Range offers short-term benefits in exchange for increasing the risks of permanent water contamination, adverse health effects, and degradation of the Bad River Tribe's culture. The Penokee Range is home to hardwood forest and pristine rivers and streams, wetlands, and lakes. The land provides crucial habitat to wolves, bald eagles, songbirds, rare plants, and countless other animals that rely on the forested community. This project would have serious air and water impacts on the Bad River Watershed, including threatening over 1,000 acres of wetlands, the Bad River / Kakagon Sloughs, over 75 miles of Outstanding and Exceptional Resource Waters, and the aquifer that supplies well water to homes and businesses in the area. Over 200 inches of snow each year provides fresh clean water that supports the Bad River Watershed and Lake Superior. The Kakagon and Bad River coastal wetland complex on Lake Superior are known as "Wisconsin's Everglades". This area is critical to the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa for wild rice production. The new iron mining law fundamentally limits DNR’s authority and resources needed to scientifically evaluate the impacts of this damaging proposal. We cannot risk these vital water resources and public health just to suit arbitrary mining company deadlines.
Mining is a 'boom and bust' economy, especially true with the inconsistent steel market. The mine threatens the current tourism and wild rice economy critical to the region. The risks don't outweigh the potential short-term jobs.
Click here to urge the DNR to reject this risky proposal in order to safeguard Wisconsin's fragile natural resources.