The Wisconsin you love is defined by its land – all of those beautiful lakes, meandering rivers, rolling hills, thick forests, colorful prairies, and rocky Great Lakes shorelines. That land brings forth Wisconsin’s abundance of flora and fauna – and generates a large portion of the state’s $19 billion dollar tourism industry.
Governor Walker, however, cares little about the 3 million Wisconsinites who hunt and fish for recreation or subsistence. Walker has limited access to state parks, sold off public lands, and signed mining legislation that has scarred some of the state’s most beautiful places and threatens to pour toxic acid pollution into our rivers and drinking water sources. Under Walker, none of Wisconsin’s special places are safe.
1. Walker promoted and signed the Open Pit Mining Bill
Governor Walker’s signing of the Open-Pit Mining Bill (2013 Act 1) was a defining moment in his term as governor. The Open Pit Mining Bill opened the door to iron mining that could endanger human health, irrevocably scar the beautiful Penokee Hills, and contaminate waterways and Lake Superior. It was arguably one of the worst environmental bills in Wisconsin’s history, opening the door to legislation written to benefit one industry or company. With Walker’s signature, it became the law of the land.
2. Walker attempted to undermine the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program
The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is a successful public-private partnership that has protected 675,000 acres since 1990. Its goal is to “preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation.” In his 2015 state budget, Walker proposed a moratorium on new land purchases until 2028. His budget directive would have redirected funds meant to protect Wisconsin’s land into a slush fund for unrelated programs and endangered the state’s most critical lands by removing protections. The Joint Finance Committee restored the program, but further reduced its funding to $33.5 million, down from a high of $86 million.
3. Walker underfunded state parks, then hiked fees
Walker has increased fees for state parks and zeroed out state funding for them, a model that has failed in other states. Wisconsin State Parks are often the first place people experience the outdoors, and act as economic engines that bring in tourism dollars. Walker’s 2015 budget resulted in a $1.4 million deficit for the state parks. He then hiked fees in his next budget. Wisconsin now has the highest fees for daily state parks admissions in the Midwest. The financial burden to access the state’s most beautiful places has a ripple effect that targets lower income families and makes the outdoors inaccessible for many Wisconsinites.
4. Walker undercut the state’s forestry program
In his 2015-17 budget, Walker successfully limited the Division of Forestry’s authority to oversee cutting notices for timber harvests on land enrolled in the Managed Forest Law (MFL) Program and directed the DNR to develop a plan to relocate the division to northern Wisconsin, separating it from the rest of the DNR. Wisconsin’s 16 million acres of forestlands and millions of urban trees significantly enhance quality of life, providing ecological, economic, and social benefits to Wisconsinites. The DNR is responsible for the sustainable management and protection of these valuable natural resources. By moving the Division of Forestry away from related divisions, Walker limited the staff’s ability to collaborate on important decisions. Walker also removed the Division of Forestry’s authority to approve timber harvest plans on lands in the MFL Program. This important oversight helped ensure public benefits from the over 3 million acres of land enrolled in the program. Walker’s changes undermined the integrated work that Division of Forestry staff accomplish by working closely with other critical DNR programs and put private forestlands at risk for overharvest.
5. Walker politicized forest management
In 2016, Walker signed Senate Bill 434, which unnecessarily politicized the use of Wisconsin’s state forests by allowing the legislature to dictate that 75 percent of state forests be open to timber production, rather than basing production on individual forest management plans. To have sustainable and ecologically sound state forests, foresters and wildlife biologists need to make decisions based on proper data collection and the implementation of best practices that consider all uses. The bill also banned the DNR from offering guidance to property owners on state wildlife action plans or to require them to protect at-risk species.
6. Foxconn Edition: Walker is allowing Foxconn to destroy state-protected wetlands
The Foxconn bill allows the company to fill in state-protected wetlands. These wetlands protect local communities from flooding, filter groundwater, decrease pollution from runoff, and are essential habitat for wildlife. In exchange for the ability to destroy these vital areas, the company had to buy credits for wetland mitigation. That mitigation can happen outside the impacted area, which doesn’t help the communities actually being affected by Foxconn’s wetlands destruction. Adding to the problem, artificial wetlands are not the same as naturally occurring wetlands.
7. Walker helped Chronic Wasting Disease spread
In 2017, Walker signed legislation (SB 68) that increases the likelihood of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) further spreading across the state. CWD is a transmissible disease that causes the spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals including deer, elk, and moose. The legislation relaxes deer baiting regulations, which heightens the risk of transmission. Shortly after the law passed more counties tested positive for CWD. Deer hunting is not only central to Wisconsin’s outdoor heritage and tradition, it also contributes an estimated $1 billion to the state’s economy each year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
To be continued…
There’s so much more to learn about the damage Walker has done to Wisconsin. Every two weeks – until Wisconsin has a new governor – new items will be added to the Walker’s Wisconsin pages. Sign up for emails to get a heads up when we do. Check out more of Walker’s Wisconsin!