An angler on a lake shoreline. Many similar recreation areas have been protected through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

State legislature eliminates proposed DNR programs from budget

Other environmental initiatives also reduced, including Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

Writing for the Milwaukee State Journal, Laura Schulte reports that the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee has struck down a number of Governor Evers’ proposals to help protect Wisconsin’s environment.

Many measures related to PFAS toxic “forever chemicals” that can contaminate water, were removed by the committee, including grant programs for communities and funding for testing labs. However, Democrats are hoping to reintroduce legislation with similar goals, called the CLEAR Act, to continue pursuing management of PFAS.

Some DNR projects did get a green light, such as dam safety, wetland mitigation programs, and removal of contaminated sediment from the Great Lakes. However, other projects were passed over, “including one that that would have provided free park access to all fourth-graders and their families, and another that would have provided nearly $900,000 to plant trees on vacant properties … as well as address emerging threats to urban forests, such as the emerald ash borer.”

Renewal of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program met with mixed success. The Joint Finance Committee voted to reauthorize the program for four years at $32 million. While conservation organizations are relieved that Stewardship survived, the renewal is far less than Governor Evers’ proposal to fund the program at $70 million for the next 10 years.

“It’s disappointing they didn’t make a long-term commitment,” said Charlie Carlin, director of strategic initiatives for Gathering Waters. “Those long-term commitments are what nonprofits and local governments need to implement projects. While we’re excited that this is a rare moment of bipartisanship, it’s a missed opportunity.”

The funding is not likely to be sufficient to cover a large maintenance backlog on properties held by the Wisconsin DNR, especially after “a record-breaking year for state park visits in 2020, with 20.7 million people flocking to enjoy the state’s natural areas.”

Featured image by Mara Koenig with USFWS – Midwest Region, 2016.

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