UN Report: Many Species Threatened by Climate Change

A United Nations report released Monday says around 1 million animal and plant species are at risk of becoming extinct within decades, which is more than ever before in human history. However, Wisconsin may be faring better than other parts of the nation and world.

The report compiled by 145 experts across 50 countries finds that the average abundance of native species on most major land habitats has fallen by about 20 percent since 1900.

Wisconsin is home to more than two dozen federally threatened and endangered species. But Owen Boyle, species-management section chief with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said some species on the list – such as the karner blue butterfly and rusty patched bumble bee – are doing well in the state.

“We’re starting to see now this sort of geographic variation where species in the Upper Midwest and particularly the Great Lakes region seem to be sort of a stronghold for many of our regional species,” Boyle said.

The UN report found the number of invasive species has risen by about 70 percent since 1970, according to countries that have kept detailed records.

Pollution, invasive species and habitat loss and degradation are major challenges facing the 232 plant and animal species listed as threatened or endangered by the state.

Boyle said proactive conservation can stem or avoid the loss of at-risk species.

“When we see species declining, they’re sort of the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “They’re showing us that something’s wrong in nature.”

GOP Defends Anti-Abortion Bills during Hearing

State Senate and Assembly committees on Tuesday heard several bills restricting abortion or funding for organizations that perform them.

Abortion bills are also being proposed or passed in several other states as lawmakers try to appeal to their base before the 2020 election and attempt to bring a bill before the U.S. Supreme Court that could challenge abortion rights provided under Roe v. Wade.

Critics of the Wisconsin bills said several were unnecessary and redundant because of existing laws on homicide and another that restricts abortion for non-emergency reasons after 20 weeks. But supporters of a bill aimed at babies surviving the procedure contend otherwise. As for a proposal banning abortion based on sex, race or congenital disability, supporters say it has ramifications beyond abortion.   

Medical professionals say the bills interfere with the relationship between doctor and patient. Dr. Kathy Hartke called the proposals irresponsible and said supporters are using inflammatory rhetoric.

Another bill would prohibit the state from certifying certain private health-care providers so that they could receive Medicaid funds. It would apply only to those who perform abortions and is aimed at Planned Parenthood.

The bills are on a fast track, suggesting Republican leaders want to get them before lawmakers for a floor vote. Gov. Tony Evers has indicated opposition that would likely result in a veto, should the bills reach his desk.

Wisconsin Tourism Generates $21.6 Billion

Harley-Davidson’s 115th anniversary celebration and the Milwaukee Brewers playoff run helped Wisconsin’s tourism industry generate $21.6 billion last year, state officials announced Monday.

Total business sales in Wisconsin increased 4.68 percent, according to estimates from The Economic Impact of Tourism in Wisconsin, an annual tourism-impact study commissioned by the state, conducted by Tourism Economics and released by Travel Wisconsin in early May to celebrate National Travel & Tourism Week.

Direct visitor spending in Wisconsin is also up about 4.9 percent, to $13.3 billion in 2018.

The Greater Milwaukee area accounted for 26 percent of the total tourism economic impact to the state.

Statewide, direct visitor spending increased 4.86 percent.

A handful of Wisconsin counties experienced double-digit increases in visitor spending in 2018 including Adams, Bayfield, Richland, Clark, Grant and Kewaunee counties.

Kaul Reverses DOJ Position on DNR Authority

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul reversed the Wisconsin Department of Justice position on two lawsuits involving a dairy-farm expansion and high-capacity wells. The DOJ is now aligning its stance with an environmental group that’s challenging permits issued in both cases.

Clean Wisconsin filed a lawsuit in 2015 that challenged the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for allowing a Kewaunee County farm to expand without off-site groundwater-monitoring requirements and limits on the number of animals. Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt ruled in 2014 that the agency should add those requirements to a permit for Kinnard Farms as part of its proposed expansion.

The group also filed a separate lawsuit in 2016 when the agency approved eight high-capacity wells, alleging the state should have considered their collective impact on state waters.

In both cases, the agency said it lacked authority to impose requirements on Kinnard Farms and examine the cumulative impacts of the wells. Former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel said the DNR couldn’t take actions that weren’t explicitly required by law as set forth under Act 21, which was passed by the Legislature in 2011.

In the high-capacity-wells case, a Dane County judge ruled in Clean Wisconsin’s favor in 2017, vacating seven of the eight permits. The eighth permit was sent back to the DNR for further review.

Republican lawmakers passed a provision within the lame-duck legislative session in December that allowed them to represent the Legislature’s interests in cases when state laws are challenged in court.

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