We were disappointed to see that, in his 2015-2017 budget, Governor Walker is proposing to stop one of the most important public-private programs in Wisconsin – a program that directly benefits our economy and our lives by keeping our lands and waters healthy.
For 25 years, the bipartisan Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has been the backbone of a successful, collaborative effort among Wisconsin’s citizens, its elected leaders, land trusts, municipalities and state government to protect Wisconsin’s lands and waters. These natural resources are essential to water quality, clean air, human health, working forests and the jobs they provide, tourism revenue, wildlife habitat and the trails, parks, lakes, rivers and forests where we walk, fish, hunt, ski and enjoy the outdoors.
If we simply consider outdoor recreation alone, which is inextricably linked to Wisconsin’s lands and waters, it annually generates $11.9 billion in consumer spending, $844 million in state and local taxes, and provides 142,000 jobs in the outdoor recreation sector in Wisconsin.
These lands and waters are one of the reasons many companies choose to do business in Wisconsin and why talented people in all professions choose to live and work here. They provide multiple benefits today, and they are the foundation for our children’s future.
The Stewardship Program also makes the best use of our money by matching state dollars with private and federal funds to protect the things we all care about such as clean air and water, jobs and recreation.
Stopping the Stewardship Program’s ability to protect our lands and waters puts them and the many economic benefits they provide at risk and will have no beneficial fiscal impact on this state budget or the deficit, but it will significantly affect our lands and waters, our working forests and our tourism industry today and for years to come.
The Governor proposes to reverse the moratorium on the Stewardship Program at some distant point in the future. But the time to protect our lands and waters is now while they are intact and healthy and the opportunity exists to do so. Once the lakes and rivers have been polluted, large expanses of forest divided and developed, wetlands drained, our last prairies plowed up and replaced with houses, roads, and parking lots, it will be too late.
In general, land prices increase over time, so every dollar we invest in conserving our lands and waters at today’s prices is a better value than doing so somewhere down the road.
Wisconsin residents clearly understand this. In a bipartisan poll conducted by The Nature Conservancy, nearly 90 percent of Wisconsin voters agree that even in tight fiscal times, the Stewardship Program should be a priority.
We applaud Speaker Vos’ support for the Stewardship Program in his recent comments and as included in the Assembly Republican Forward Agenda. We hope that as the Legislature works through the budget process, it will continue the strong, bipartisan support for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program that has been a hallmark of its success during the past 25 years. We hope they will vote to keep this premier land and water conservation program working to protect the forests, grasslands, lakes and rivers on which our health, our economy and our quality of life depend.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at http://www.nature.org.