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Conservation measures included in the state budget 2021-23

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The Wisconsin budget signed Thursday by Gov. Tony Evers included a reauthorization of the Knowles-Nelson stewardship program, albeit with reduced funding and for fewer years than originally proposed, and an increase in the price of state waterfowl stamp.

Both issues were a priority for state conservation organizations.

There were no measures to control the spread of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer. A proposal from Evers to provide more dumpsters was cut by the Republicans-controlled Joint Finance Committee.

The two-year, $ 87.3 billion spending plan, officially Wisconsin’s Law 58 of 2021, was largely crafted by the GOP, which has a majority in the Senate and Assembly.

But there was enough bipartisan support to allow two pro-conservation measures introduced by the Democratic governor in February to survive and be enacted last week.

Perhaps the most significant has been the renewal of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, created by the Legislative Assembly in 1989 to preserve wildlife habitat and natural areas, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Although part of the budget of the Department of Natural Resources, most annual stewardship spending takes the form of grants to local governments and non-profit organizations for local park infrastructure, boat ramps and water, recreational trails and land purchases for parks and nature reserves.

MNR also uses the program to supplement Crown land holdings and acquire easements.

Land in northern Wisconsin purchased with state stewardship program.  The DNR unloads certain packages deemed unnecessary.

The program was re-authorized, usually in 10-year increments, and expired this year.

Evers has sought to renew it at $ 70 million per year for 10 years. The JFC reduced it to $ 33.2 million for four years.

In a statement, Elizabeth Koehler, director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, thanked Evers for a budget that re-authorized stewardship, but also expressed disappointment at the JFC’s decision to scale back the original proposal.

Koehler called the program a “nationally recognized public-private partnership that powers a $ 7.8 billion outdoor recreation economy and supports a $ 24 billion forest industry, clearly and consistently delivering a very strong return on investment. investment to Wisconsin taxpayers “.

A recent poll from The Nature Conservancy showed strong bipartisan support for reauthorizing stewardship for 10 years.

“While four years represents an improvement over the last budget, since 1989 the stewardship program has been re-authorized every ten years for an additional 10 years with broad bipartisan support, providing the fiscal certainty needed for multi-year land deals from conservation, ”Koehler said. “There is much more work to be done on clean drinking water and energy and we look forward to working with lawmakers from both parties and the governor’s office on these priorities when the Legislative Assembly meets in the autumn.”

Ducks Unlimited expressed appreciation for the renewed stewardship, calling it “one of the country’s premier land conservation programs.”

“Landscape-level conservation requires partnerships and many sources of funding,” said Brian Glenzinski, DU regional biologist. “Our members’ private philanthropic investments, state waterfowl stamp dollars, stewardship investments and NAWCA grants combine to enable many wetland restoration projects each year in Wisconsin. “

The 2021-23 state budget also includes an increase in the price of the Wisconsin waterfowl stamp.

A coalition of conservation groups pushed for price hikes for over a decade; the stamp, whose sales support purchases and rehabilitation of wetland habitats, has been $ 7 since 1997. Polls have shown that a large majority of members of duck hunting organizations support a raise.

But a stand-alone bill to raise the price died in committee in the last legislative session, even though it was drafted by Republicans. And previous efforts to include the stamp increase in the broader license fee proposals have also failed.

Fans worked with Evers to include it in their initial budget proposal this year and the new strategy has been successful. The JFC has advanced the measure.

Thirsty the Duck is part of a campaign to "Give the ducks a raise" by Bryan Muche.  Muche created a petition to urge Wisconsin officials to increase the price of the waterfowl stamp, which has not changed since 1997.

The new $ 12 award will generate approximately $ 400,000 in additional funding for Wisconsin wetland conservation work and the conservation of waterfowl breeding habitat in Canada.

“With duck hunters’ historic commitment to the future of the state’s wetland resources, it is no surprise that over 90% of them argued to go deeper into their own pockets,” said Bruce Ross, executive director of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association. “After a decade of advocating for this increase, we are delighted to have found a governor and legislature willing to work with us to make it a reality.

The increase was supported by WWA, DU, Green Bay Duck Hunters Association, Delta Waterfowl, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

The Republican-controlled joint finance committee has not put forward an Evers proposal for funding the deer carcass dumpsters. Evers sought to provide $ 1 million in grants to local governments, businesses or nonprofit conservation organizations to acquire receptacles where hunters could deposit their deer droppings in an effort to fight the spread of the disease. chronic debilitating.

At the same time, the JFC blocked an Evers plan for annual funding of $ 50,000 for educational programs related to the CWD.

The JFC also killed a proposal from Evers to allow free entry for 4th grade students and their families to state parks.

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