Wisconsin State Budget: 2015-2017

There is no question this budget was one of the worst in history for conservation. But, because of conservation voters like you weighing in time and again, we walked away with some victories, too.

The Role of a State Budget

The state budget should reflect the values of Wisconsin citizens, which includes a desire to protect natural resources for today and for future generations. A pro-conservation budget should:

  • Maintain or increase the DNR staffing levels needed to carry out the agency’s mission of protecting and managing Wisconsin’s natural resources, including enforcing the laws in place to protect our natural resources.
  • Prioritize the protection of public health and natural resources over polluters and bad actors. This includes making it more difficult for polluters to cut corners and expose our air, land, and water to more toxins.
  • Maintain transparency by keep the public informed about changes that impact natural resource programs and our exposure to pollutants.
  • Refrain from reallocating funds collected for conservation purposes to finance unrelated programs.
  • Avoid non-fiscal policy changes that impact natural resources and public health protections.
  • Promote practices and programs that prevent pollution and environmental degradation to minimize the need for cleanup funds in the future.

Budget Victories

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

Governor Walker’s proposed budget froze land acquisitions until 2028.

The Stewardship Program protects vital lands and waters in Wisconsin, providing us with places to hunt, hike, fish, bike, and canoe. Read more about the Stewardship Program here.

Governor Walker tried to freeze the popular land protection program, but conservation voters like you weighed in almost 14,000 times with members of the Joint Finance Committee and the Governor to save it from extinction. Citizens held meetings with their legislators, wrote letters to local newspapers, and asked friends and family to join in. The thousands of stories you shared with legislators about the importance of this program brought it back to life, restoring over $33 million for land protection in Wisconsin.

Department of Natural Resources Board

Governor Walker’s proposed budget eliminated citizen oversight of the DNR.

Wisconsin has always been a leader in conservation, in large part because Aldo Leopold created the Natural Resources Board to be the citizens’ voice for our natural resources. The Board – made up of well-informed citizens from across the state – helps the DNR set scientifically sound natural resource management policies.

In another victory, just one day after hundreds of dedicated conservationists like you called for it at Conservation Lobby Day, the Joint Finance Committee fixed Governor Walker’s proposal to turn the Department of Natural Resources Board into an advisory board – a move that would have eliminated citizen input in our natural resource decisions.

County Conservationists

Governor Walker’s proposed budget called for $800,000 in cuts to County Conservation staff.

County Conservationists are the local boots on the ground working to reduce polluted runoff and providing critical testing and monitoring that keep our land and water clean. Governor Walker’s proposed budget would have cut the number of County Conservation staff, limited their ability to support local conservation efforts, and reduced the state’s ability to monitor soil and water pollution. Your letters – over 11,000 – helped restore $675,000 to this vital program.

Conservation Lowlights

The number of bad, ugly, and downright terrible policy items and cuts to critical conservation programs in this budget is appalling. Wisconsin has long been a leader in conservation, but this budget takes us backwards. Here are some of the worst parts of the budget:

  • In a move that attacks the very core of good natural resource decision making, the budget severely cuts Department of Natural Resources science, education, and communications staff.
  • The budget makes it easier for oil companies to bring tar sands oil through Wisconsin communities. It also prohibits local governments from requiring pipeline companies to have adequate insurance to cover cleanup costs, removing the expectation that oil companies will clean up their own messes.
  • The budget removes shoreland zoning standards that over 30 counties use to protect lakes and rivers, opening the way to more frequent and severe stinky, toxic algae blooms.

View our full summary of the 2015-2017 budget.

While there is much to be frustrated about in this state budget, together, our voices made a difference. Because of conservation voters like you, we were able to take one of the worst budgets of all time and work with legislators to win some important victories for your air, land, and water.

Moving forward, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters will continue to hold your legislators accountable and, with your support, keep up the fight to protect the Wisconsin we love.