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Letters to the Editor: Protect the Pelican River Forest

During Earth Week, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance voted not to permanently protect and preserve the Pelican River Forest in northern Wisconsin, and people are not happy about it.

Opinions are rolling in from supporters of the Pelican River Forest after the decision by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee to deny Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funding for the project.

The Conservation Fund purchased the 70,000-acre Pelican River Forest in 2021 to safeguard the largest remaining block of unprotected, privately owned forest in Wisconsin. State funding was supposed to cover a portion of the cost of conservation easements that would both allow public access and ensure the land continued to collect property taxes.

Senator Bob Wirch (D-Somers) is not surprised by the Joint Finance Committee’s vote to deny funding for the Pelican River Forest project, according to WISPOLITICS, but wishes for a return to the bipartisan support legislators used to show for environmental conservation.

“They tried to stall the project indefinitely, hiding behind a loophole in committee rules. When called on it, they voted it down instead.  It continues a recent pattern of Republican opposition to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which is literally named in recognition of bipartisan support for conservation,” Wirch said.

Kathleen Cooper from Pelican Township shared a similar sentiment in an opinion piece for the Lakeland Times.

“This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats, it isn’t about liberals versus conservatives, it isn’t about tree hugging hippies versus hunters and outdoorsmen. It is about life — our lives, the lives of our neighbors, the wildlife, and the life of our beautiful forests. It is about the gift of our naturally clean air and water. It is about protection — protecting the forests, and in turn, protecting ourselves, our children, and grandchildren. Please let the legacy we leave behind be that of life and not destruction, nature instead of devastation, health instead of disease.”

“In a state where elections are often decided by one or two percentage points, nine out of ten voters agree that conservation is a priority worth funding with public money. Instead, 12 members of the Joint Finance Committee voted to reject spending just $71 per acre to complete a popular conservation project with undeniable ecological and economic benefits,” said Carlin Charlie Carlin of Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts, in a letter picked up by the Ozaukee Press.

In spite of this vote, hope is not lost. Many people are still working earnestly to keep this project alive.

Forty organizations and businesses, including ATV groups and conservation organizations, signed an open letter calling for funding the Pelican River Forest. More than 700 people sent letters to Gov. Evers asking him to fund Pelican River and fix Knowles-Nelson. And more than 1,200 people signed a petition calling for conservation of the forest, according to Carlin.

Call or write to your state legislators regarding preservation of the Pelican River Forest. 

Featured image by Nick Olejniczak, 2018.

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