Safeguarding public lands
Lands are necessary for our health
With each passing year, mobile devices, television, video games, and computers compete more and more for our attention. When they pull us away from time in the outdoors, our physical fitness, stress levels, and healthy development suffer.
According to the Kaiser Family Fund, American children spend more than 7.5 hours a day on smart phones, computers, and watching television – over 53 hours a week plugged into electronic media. With skyrocketing rates of obesity, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, and other problems, the need for access to natural places to play and explore has never been more urgent for our kids, and it’s important for adults too.
A gym is no substitute for a protected outdoor place when it comes to stretching your legs, filling your lungs with fresh air, and clearing your head. There is a growing body of evidence that proximity to greenspace has been associated with lower levels of stress and lower levels of depression and anxiety. (1) Protecting land around rivers, lakes, and streams will keep pollution from flowing into these waters and prevent it from contaminating our drinking water. Protected places stave off poorly planned development that leads to congestion and smog and they preserve the vegetation that naturally purifies our air and water.
Huge economic benefits
Protecting our public lands is not just about Wisconsin values – it’s about the economy. In Wisconsin alone, our outdoor recreation industry generates $18 billion in consumer spending and our $4 billion hunting and fishing industries depend on public access to our shared public lands. (2)
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sells more than 1,000,000 resident and 500,000 nonresident recreational fishing licenses annually, collecting over $1.1 billion in fees. The DNR estimates those anglers spend another $2.1 billion in Wisconsin communities each year. (3)
Nationally, the figures are staggering. The outdoor recreation industry is an economic powerhouse, contributing $412 billion or 2.2 percent of total U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 2016, according to a report released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Undermining the resources that fuel the engine of this economic activity would take our state and our country in the wrong direction.
The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program
The legislature established the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson Stewardship Program in 1989 to protect recreational lands, wildlife habitat, and other natural areas. To date, it has protected lands and waters in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
More than 500,000 acres of the most ecologically important land in Wisconsin is protected thanks to the program. The Stewardship Program is a great source of pride for Wisconsinites, and its loyal supporters include Democrats and Republicans alike. In 2007, the legislature reauthorized the fund for another decade at a level of $86 million per year to purchase land. The victory came on the heels of Conservation Lobby Day 2007 at which 430 people from across Wisconsin met in Madison to ask legislators to reauthorize the fund.
Attacks on the program began under Gov. Scott Walker’s administration. Walker cut funding from $86 million annually to $60 million a year during the 2011-12 state budget. 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 public lands by removing their protections. The Joint Finance Committee restored the program, but further reduced its funding to $33.5 million, down from a high of $86 million.
A healthy future for our public lands is at risk. It all depends on what the legislature and Gov. Tony Evers do in the coming months. In January, as part of the state budget process, debate began on funding for land and water protection in Wisconsin. It’s an extraordinarily important decision because it will not just affect the next two years, it will set policy for an entire decade.
Legislators should reauthorize the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program at $70 million per year to protect our lands and the outdoor traditions and economic impact they provide.