Changes needed in Wisconsin

Human beings have been facing extraordinary challenges in 2020, the likes of which most of us alive today have never faced.

But the environment is likewise facing extreme challenges, from CWD in the deer herd and VHS in fish, diseases killing oak and ash trees, shortages of clean water, draining of wetlands, loosening of environmental standards by the federal government, and loss of independence of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

      There are important underlying concerns, such as the loss of touch that today’s citizens have with natural resources (i.e. where meat and heat come from), and youngsters who would rather play indoors with video games than go outside.  Of course, the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and it seems there are many adults who would rather sit on the couch and watch football than go out and slog through a marsh to put out a dozen decoys or walk a mile to a deer stand.

      Just as concerning is the growing divide between those who hunt and those who do not hunt.  Some hunters seem to think that everything they do is acceptable, and they deride those who don’t hunt because they don’t buy a hunting, fishing or trapping license.

      That is evident in some of the letters to the editor in outdoor publications who deride non-hunters as “fools” who “understand nothing,” or constantly chastise natural resources employees and volunteers who are trying to find solutions to problems.  That type of name calling is defamatory, serves no purpose, and is sure to drive a wedge further between hunters and non-hunters.

     This is no different than racial bigotry, chastising someone due to their beliefs rather than color of their skin.

      People who are clad in blaze orange or camouflage have many reasons to be proud of what past hunters have done and how hunting, fishing and trapping have been the backbone of conservation in the United States.  Indeed, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, called one of the greatest success stories in the world, realizes that what sportsmen have done with their license dollars and political support for conservation, has been responsible for abundance of many wildlife populations.

      But, take your blinders off and you’ll see that those who do not hunt or fish have also been active in the conservation field. Take a look at what organizations such as the Madison Audubon Society, The Prairie Enthusiasts or The Nature Conservancy have done to preserve native habitat and save rural land from being paved over and “developed” into housing sub-divisions.

      And, lest you weren’t paying attention during eighth-grade civics, you would have learned that in the United States wildlife belong to ALL the people, so everyone does have a right to have a say in how ducks, wolves, bears and all wildlife are managed. 

      The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that there were a little over 1-million waterfowl hunters in the U.S. during 2016. About the same time FWS estimated there were about 45 million birders in the U.S.:  There’s more of them than us!

      A major problem is that non-hunters haven’t had an easy way to provide financial help to the states and federal government.  Sure, you can say it’s easy to buy a hunting or fishing license; but if you don’t hunt or fish, why?

      States and the Feds need a product, license, or meaningful method for non-hunters to purchase so that money can go into the same state conservation fund as hunters and anglers.

      Is it that the state, and hunter interests, are afraid to let non-hunters “into the game” for fear they will grab more power?

      There is often a lot of concern about “anti-hunters,” and indeed there are people who don’t believe in hunting, fishing or trapping.  Some are strictly vegetarian.

      To those who are anti-harvest, they have the right to what they believe and they should be tolerated, but not bashed or persecuted.

      Indeed, the critical mass is the great majority in the middle who do not hunt or fish or trap, but realize the benefits and are willing to continue these outdoor traditions as long as they are ethically conducted and regulated by scientific management.  These are the people whom outdoorsmen need to pay more attention to.

      Both a person’s conduct in the outdoors, and just as important their conduct and “image” indoors at public meetings and events, and their letters to the editor, can turn those middle-ground supporters into a majority against hunting, fishing and trapping. The key to the future of outdoor sports is in the behavior and actions of today’s hunters, anglers and trappers.

      An official with the Montana Fish, wildlife and Parks Department said it well: “People are not necessarily concerned with the fact that we hunt, but rather how we hunt.”  He could have added the words: “How we represent ourselves as hunters to the public.”  

      Everyone should pay to protect natural resources!  We all need clean air and water, enjoy seeing eagles and herons, and walking in public wildlife management areas.  It is time that we all participated in funding these programs.

      People who hunt, fish and trap have paid much in licenses, stamps, excise taxes and donations to conservation organizations.

      But, it is time for a broad general funding mechanism for natural resources.  Missouri uses a percentage of the state sales tax and Minnesota showed it was light-years ahead of Wisconsin by establishing the Minnesota Legacy Fund.

      Minnesota was also light years ahead of Wisconsin because they banded hunters and non-hunters, (even a few of those “evil” art lovers), together to pass the increased tax.  They did it together!

      Wisconsin once used a penny-a-pack on cigarettes for purchasing land, and though legislators are shy about new taxes it is time for a way to pluck a downy feather from the public goose. The options are many, but something needs to be used. 

      We also need to return to an independent DNR and secretary selected by the Natural Resources Board. Then Governor Tommy Thompson upset the apple cart when he turned the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) into a cabinet agency.  Scott Walker put the nail in the coffin of the DNR by considering its mission as being “pro-business,” caving in to power-hungry northern politicians to eviscerate its science services bureau, and install a secretary who parroted the mantra that, “We can have business while having a clean environment,” which sounds good while DNR scientists and proposed pollution protections were shown the door.

      The DNR began leaking employees as they became eligible for retirement or grabbed by other agencies.  Exemplary employees the likes of Randy Stark, Paul DeLong, and Jack Sullivan are now long gone.

The DNR can no longer be independent of political influence as long as the governor appoints the secretary.

The citizen board was a far cleaner system and Missouri has the best system where three commissioners are of the conservative party and three are of the liberal party.  That way they HAVE to get together and board members often have a way of looking toward the long-term outlook of natural resources rather than the short-term vision of politicians who can only see as far as the next election.

      Wisconsin needs to change and allow the citizen Natural Resources Board to select the secretary, as it (and its predecessor the Conservation Commission) did from 1927 to the mid-1990s.  And if we want to improve the system, require that three Democrats and three Republicans always serve on the board, so that the legislature and governor would always have an open ear to listen to at least some of the board members.

      Wisconsin has a rich conservation history.  It has been home to Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, Warren Knowles, Harley MacKenzie and Ernie Swift, C.D. “Buzz” Besadny, among others.

      Wisconsin is also where devoted volunteers, not so well known, work behind the scenes to improve natural resources. Look at the resumes of men and women now enshrined in the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in Stevens Point.

      Volunteers and professional resources staff continually work with committees, boards, agencies, and organizations to protect and improve natural resources.  In the past they have made Wisconsin truly unique in natural resources, and what is needed is for those who hunt and those who do not to mend their ways, to work together on the bigger challenges faced today.

Vote for Natural Resources this November

Tim Eisele,  October 9, 2018, Editorial

 

Your vote is YOUR vote.

Your vote represents your ideals and desires of how you want this State to be when your children or grandchildren are your age.

Natural resources should be an important criteria in who you vote for.  If that is the case, you would do well to take time to study who you vote for November 6.

If candidates say natural resources are important, did they really work to protect Wisconsin’s resources?  Or did they attempt to give away protections so that a business could degrade them all the while saying they back a healthy environment?

Here are a few specific examples where legislators and the Governor failed to protect natural resources:

In 2013 the legislature and Governor passed a law requiring the DNR to put up 10,000 acres of public land for sale.

Granted some were scattered parcels, but “like they say,” they aren’t making land any more.  Each piece, though small, undoubtedly had a local hunter, angler, trapper or hiker who enjoyed that parcel.

The tragedy is seen when you look at a small parcel in the Town of Oakland in Jefferson County.

On September 24, 1969 Orlando H. Perry, Sr. wrote to then-DNR wildlife manager Harry Stroebe in Madison saying that the parcel, which Perry owned, was vitally essential to the quality of Lake Ripley.

The wetland contained a stream that passed through, filtering water that flowed into Lake Ripley, a lake that to this day holds the record for the largest largemouth blackbass ever caught in Wisconsin.

“Looking backward to my younger days, I certainly recall the numerous northern pike and walleyes that have called these lands their birth grounds.  It is only a shame that the upper part of the inlet to Lake Ripley was drained, but I guess that is the story of present day Wisconsin and most of the other states,” Perry wrote to the DNR.

“I have enjoyed many hunting moments, fishing hours, and deer and fox hunting days in the State of Wisconsin.  This small gift is in part payment to the State of Wisconsin and for the people of the Lake Ripley area as a token of our thanks to conservation.”

“It is my fervent hope that these wetlands remain wetlands for better conservation and reproduction of fish and wildlife in the Lake Ripley area.  It is hoped these wetlands will be the key to being a sponge and settling bed for all the silt, chemicals and fertilizer from upper farm lands.”

O.H. Perry donated the land to the State, FREE AT NO COST TO THE STATE, but that was a parcel that the legislature forced the DNR to sell, since it was an isolated parcel.

The DNR put the parcel up for sale and the Lake Ripley Management District and other conservation organizations realized it was too valuable to lose.

The locals had to raise funds and The Cambridge Foundation, Pheasants Forever Jefferson County Chapter, Oakland Conservation Club, Fort Atkinson Wisconservation Club, United Community Bank, Badger Bank, DeGidio Tooling, Kutz’s Hillside Rental and local residents raised funds.

Then Ducks Unlimited received $15,000 in North American Wetlands Conservation Act funds to permanently protect the parcel.

In the end, the Lake Ripley Management District paid $41,600 for 40.17 acres of land that was originally given FREE to the State.

This is just one example of events that make no sense to me, and should be taken into account when deciding whom to vote for in November.

Here are a few others:

  • The legislature proposes rules that affect natural resources in this state but the Wisconsin DNR is NOT allowed to testify either for or against the proposed rules. The DNR hires people who  have a formal background in natural resources and they are NOT allowed to present their analysis of whether the proposal is good or bad.  This came into being when Scott Walker and his hand-picked secretary, Cathy Stepp a previous state senator, began to rule the DNR.
  • The 2015-17 State Budget enacted by the legislature and Governor eliminated 16 DNR positions in science services. This was a move to gut the science positions that are supposed to provide guidance, opening more potential for decisions based on political intervention.
  • The Governor and legislature eliminated the Forest Mill Tax that paid for forestry in this state. This small tax amounted to  $27 that homeowners paid each year.  Now in every biennial budget, forestry will have to compete for funding with all other budgetary requests for funding, including education and roads.  This was an election ploy so that the Governor can say “there are no state taxes in your property tax.”  Yes, but taxes fund services and land maintenance.   Everyone who lives in houses built from wood, hikes in forests, and uses paper products benefits from state forests.  The Forest Mill Tax was the $90-million engine that drove Wisconsin’s forest train and used to be  envied by other states.
  • The Governor and legislature took the first steps to eliminate the popular and self-supporting DNR Natural Resources Magazine. The Governor originally proposed to eliminate it, even though it was self-supporting from reader subscriptions.  His appointed DNR Secretary (Cathy Stepp) concurred that the DNR was not in the magazine publishing business.  Eventually legislators heard the public clamor in support of the magazine and they restored the magazine, but only for four issues a year.  It could be the first step to eliminating the magazine, despite the fact that traditionally the DNR mission includes natural resources education.
  • Whether or not you agree that man-made causes are responsible for climate change, scientists agree the climate is changing. Our rainfall occurs in deluges, winters shorter, and summers warmer.  The DNR took any reference to climate change off its website and threw out its educational material on climate change.
  • The DNR went through a major realignment and eliminated state park patrolmen assuring that DNR Conservation wardens could handle the job. As a result, conservation wardens were driving all over the state to patrol parks, leaving local waters unenforced.
  • Fourteen conservation organizations asked the Governor and legislators to raise the cost of six licenses and stamps to help fund the shortage in the Fish and Wildlife Account at the DNR.  The request was ignored.  The organizations include  Ducks Unlimited, Federation of Great Lakes Sport Fishermen, Trout Unlimited, Ruffed Grouse Society, Quality Deer Management Association, Safari Club International Wisconsin Northeast, Badgerland and Southeast BOW Chapters, WI. Chapters of National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever, WI. Bear Hunters Association, Conservation Congress, WI. Trappers Association, WI.Waterfowl Associaiton, WI Bowhunters Association and WI Wildlife Federation.  Legislators and the Governor turned a deaf ear to the request, and instead DNR budgets are not adequate.
  • Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-2017 state budget would have halted any borrowing for the Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Program which would have stopped purchases of public land. He also proposed stripping regulatory authority from the Natural Resources Board.  In a future move, it has been reported (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 8, 2018) that the Governor is preparing a proposal in the next state budget to transfer regulations over agricultural pollution from DNR, that is supposed to protect air and water quality, to the farmer-friendly DATCP.
  • Also in Governor Walker’s 2015-17 state budget was a $500,000 “gift” to the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin for hunter recruitment activities.  However, the group did not qualify for non-profit status and the organization’s president was cited for a conservation violation.  The grant was cancelled, and money that could have gone to a valid conservation organization was never allocated.
  • Governor Walker signed Act 100 that limits DNR’s ability to take into account the total water withdrawal from high capacity wells while many people in Kewaunee County have polluted wells and line up at a high school for bottles of drinking water.
  • Legislators rolled back wetland protections (AB 547), with all Republicans in the State Senate in favor and all Democrats against. The bill that was signed by the Governor.  One legislator was quoted as saying, “Let me tell you today, this is the worst bill for sportsmen in a generation.”

The November, 2018 election will be monumental both in Wisconsin and the country.  There is much that will depend on the outcome.

Wisconsin is a shadow of its former self as a national leader in protection of natural resources.  The Department of Natural Resources is muzzled and neutered by the loss of positions in science and gag orders put on employees who are no longer allowed to testify in the capitol on proposed legislation.

DNR employees are not allowed to talk unless they are invited.  Even then, they can Not take a position based on their natural resources education.

We have bills being passed because polluters, CAFO operators, high-capacity well farmers, and Frac Sand operators want to make it easier for them to make money at the expense of the people’s natural resources, and nobody is there to speak up for natural resources from the DNR.

November 6 is an important election.

You need to consider the consequences and vote!

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were allowed to write our signature on our ballot, and then be able to bring it out and show it to our children or grandchildren when they ask, “What part did you play in voting for people who were supposed to protect the natural resources that you enjoyed and that Wisconsin used to have?”

Democratic nominee for governor Tony Evers launched Conservationists for Tony, a group of bipartisan conservation, environmental and outdoor leaders supporting Evers’ campaign. Photo by Tim Eisele

Note:  To see how different legislators voted on different bills in the 2017-2018 Legislature you can go to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters at: http://conservationvoters.org/vote-tracker/