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Opinion | GOP attack on Stewardship Fund indefensible

Former Rep. Spencer Black details the history and impact of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

In an opinion piece in The Cap Times, Spencer Black decries the actions the Legislature has taken to block major land protection projects approved for funding through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

He notes that the Stewardship Program has protected more than 700,000 acres since it was established in 1989, preserving unique natural areas and wildlife habitat for public use. However, during Scott Walker’s administration, the Legislature gave themselves the power to anonymously object to and block projects approved for funding through the program. That power has resulted in important land protection projects being held up or permanently blocked. Black highlights the hurdle faced for Ozaukee County’s Cedar Gorge and the Rhinelander-area Pelican River Forest as examples of the damage this power can cause to stewardship efforts.

“The way the Legislature has blocked stewardship funding is almost as outrageous as the actions themselves. A single legislator, anonymously, can stop a vital protection effort. The holdup can be permanent and can be done without any justification, a vote or even a legislator publicly taking responsibility,” writes Black.

He hopes that the Wisconsin Supreme Court rules in Governor Evers’ favor in his lawsuit citing unconstitutional infringement on executive branch power to administer the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. He noted that the Legislature’s lawyer, when questioned by Justice Jill Karofsky, conceded that the Republican Legislature’s tactics were secretive and unaccountable.

Black’s interest in Knowles-Nelson is twofold: First, he treasures the outdoors and wants to see Wisconsin’s scenic beauty, wildlife, and biological richness protected. His second reason is more personal: Black’s proudest achievement while serving in the Legislature was crafting the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and guiding it into law with the help of Govs. Warren Knowles and Gaylord Nelson.

Featured image by Dave Hoefler, 2022.

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