The Wisconsin state capitol building in winter with a large snow pile on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Fund and Fix Knowles-Nelson 

Governor Evers can act today to fund stalled projects.

It’s time to make our next move in the fight to restore integrity to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and fund the largest project in state history—the Pelican River Forest. 

Today, we’re asking you to contact Governor Evers with a simple message: fund and fix Knowles-Nelson. Read on for details.

It’s been nearly three weeks since we wrote to alert you that a member of the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) lodged an anonymous objection against the Pelican River Forest project. Click here if you need to get up to speed.

More than 700 of you spoke up and told JFC members and your legislators that you support the Pelican River Forest project and that it’s outrageous and offensive that a single, anonymous legislator can step in at the last minute to kill a worthwhile and thoroughly-vetted conservation project.

Since the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was notified of the objection on November 21st, no member of JFC has stepped forward to identify themselves as the objector or to explain why they objected. No public hearings have been scheduled or held. There has been no public debate and no opportunity for legislators to vote on the project.

Many concerned Team Knowles-Nelson members have asked what more can be done. 

Well, we’ve been doing our research and we have news to share: the JFC is not following the rules and no longer has the authority to hold up Knowles-Nelson funds for the Pelican River project.

Bear with us while we explain …

It is true that JFC has 14 working days to review Knowles-Nelson projects that will spend more than $250,000 or that are located in northern Wisconsin (north of Hwy 64). 

However, the law is clear that the JFC must notify the DNR that an objection has been raised AND that a meeting has been scheduled to discuss the grant. Both of those actions must take place within the 14 day review period. Click here to read the law for yourself

If the JFC does not BOTH notify DNR of the objection AND that it has scheduled a meeting within the 14 day review period, then “the department may obligate the moneys.” In the case of the Pelican River project, JFC did not notify DNR that it had scheduled a meeting. A month has passed since the review period ended and no meeting has been scheduled. 

And this isn’t the first time that JFC hasn’t followed the rules. They never scheduled a meeting to discuss the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs project on Lake Michigan. They never scheduled a meeting to discuss the Bayfield County Forest project they blocked. Nor the Nature Conservancy project on Caroline Lake. A Landmark Conservancy project languished for years with no hearings, no public debate, and no vote.

Now, it’s time for the Governor to act to fund and fix Knowles-Nelson …

Governor Evers has been a terrific champion for Knowles-Nelson, and he can now take even stronger action to support conservation and democracy.

Governor Evers can direct the DNR to fund the Pelican River Forest project. Since JFC isn’t following the rules, Governor Evers can make it happen. DNR has the legal authority to fund Pelican River, but it won’t happen unless the Governor directs the agency to act.

The message is simple. JFC did not follow the law. Therefore, their objection is not valid. DNR can move ahead and fund the project.

Furthermore, we’re asking Governor Evers, in his executive budget bill, to fix this broken process governing review of Knowles-Nelson projects. If projects are objected to, the public deserves transparency and accountability from lawmakers. Timely public hearings and votes on projects with objections should be the bare minimum. 

If legislators are going to oppose Knowles-Nelson projects, they must do so publicly and the entire committee must vote on the project promptly. The people of Wisconsin will no longer tolerate a single, anonymous legislator exercising capricious and arbitrary veto authority over conservation projects. That isn’t how democracy works.

Please, join us and ask Governor Evers to do the right thing. Fund and fix Knowles-Nelson.

Governor Evers is a champion for conservation and democracy. He can make it clear that the legislature isn’t following the rules by funding the Pelican River Forest and then fixing the broken process so that future Knowles-Nelson projects are guaranteed to receive timely public debate and a vote.

Featured image by Katie Wheeler, 2018.

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