Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) have essentially blocked the largest land conservation deal in state history “by employing underhanded procedural gambits to avoid even discussing the issue,” according to Wisconsin State Senator Jeff Smith (D–Brunswick) in a press release published by WisPolitics.
The Pelican River Forest project has been approved by the state Natural Resources Board for $15.5 million total for the purchase of conservation easements to protect the land, $4 million of which would come from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. The forest in northern Wisconsin would continue to be used for sustainable recreational and commercial purposes. The easements would allow the land to be “re-sold in small parcels to private owners who agree to maintain public access and use sustainable forest management practices.”
“This project will be a boon to hunters, anglers, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts,” said Sen. Smith. “Future commercial development of these properties should be done responsibly and sustainably.
After a 14-day passive review process, a member of the Joint Finance Committee, Senator Mary Felzkowski (R–Irma), objected to the project in November 2022. Objections may be raised anonymously, but in this case, we know who objected. State statute requires the JFC to meet to discuss the proposal, but there is no stipulation for when the hearing must be held.
“I wish I could say the Pelican River Forest purchase was an isolated incident, but we’ve seen this shadowy tactic used before,” said Senator Smith. “It’s unacceptable for a rogue committee member to anonymously halt funding for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to expand public land access. Historic acquisitions like the Pelican River Forest shouldn’t be held up by one person. I give Senator Felzkowski credit for coming forward as the objector, but sadly, this anonymous objection end-around tactic has been used far too often to torpedo incredibly important opportunities for the public.”
Featured image by Brian Lee, 2015.