A deep blue river running down the middle of tree lined banks of forestland with green and brown pine trees and a blue sky with a few wispy white clouds,

Sen. Wirch: GOP obstruction threatens prime opportunity for state land investment

Funding for the Pelican River Forest is held up indefinitely until the Joint Finance Committee holds a hearing.

WisPolitics published a press release with a statement from Wisconsin State Senator Bob Wirch (D-Somers) “denouncing Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) for obstructing what would be the largest land conservation effort in state history, putting the project in jeopardy, and abusing committee rules to do so without public scrutiny.”

This statement is in response to Senator Mary Felzkowski’s (R-Irma) actions to block the state from funding the Pelican River Forest project, a 70,000 property that would be the largest land deal in state history. Felzkowski sits on the powerful Joint Finance Committee. The committee’s approval is the last step in authorizing funds for the project.

“Republicans in the State Legislature seem to know no limit when it comes to abuse of power and twisting the rules to get what they want. This project is a once in a lifetime opportunity. These lands don’t often come up for sale, and when they do, they only last on the market a short time. It’s clear that this investment would be good for those who enjoy the outdoors, but it’ll also pump money into the state economy through tourism, and it’s in keeping with our state’s great tradition on protecting our natural resources, something Republicans like former Governor Warren Knowles used to support,” said Wirch.

Funding through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is on hold indefinitely until the JFC schedules a meeting to review the project. State law requires that a meeting be scheduled, but does not give a timeline for when this has to happen. The Natural Resources Board has already approved the $15.5 million conservation easement for 56,000 acres of forest, of which $4 million in Knowles-Nelson funds would cover a portion of the easement cost. 

According to Wirch, “Republicans on the committee have been using that loophole to delay Stewardship projects indefinitely.”

Featured image by John Gremmer, 2020.

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