Joint Finance Committee extends Stewardship Program, Cuts Easements

Joint Finance Committee Extends Stewardship 4 Years, Cuts Easements by $2 million

 

On Thursday, June 10, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (“JFC”) voted to extend the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program for four years at $32 million per year. Wisconsin TU commends the Legislators who worked both publicly and behind the scenes to make this extension possible.

 

These investments in Wisconsin’s iconic public lands initiative will ensure that our outdoor recreation economy, as well as our trout economy, continue to thrive.

 

Wisconsin TU is proud to be a part of Team Knowles Nelson, a coalition of over 70 conservation and outdoor recreation groups working together to advocate for a long term re-authorization of the Stewardship program.

 

We’d like to thank all of our volunteers who took the time to make contacts to your legislators this spring. These phone calls and emails really made a difference down the stretch.  A week prior to the vote, we heard rumors of a much more scaled back Stewardship program, and our efforts helped pushed legislators away from that idea.

 

Wisconsin TU is fortunate to have Brandon Scholz of The Capitol Group to represent us at the State Capitol. Brandon’s knowledge of the legislature’s inner workings and his guidance kept us at the table and a part of the discussions all the way to the end.

 

But we still have more work to do.

 

Historically, the KN Stewardship program has been reauthorized in 10 year intervals. This four year extension falls far short of history and Governor Evers own proposed 10 year reauthorization.

 

It appears the Assembly was ready to commit to a 10 year reauthorization but the Senate was unwilling to show long term support for the program.

 

Critics of Stewardship have long targeted the DNR Acquisition portion of the program. Over the last 12 years, funds available for DNR land purchases and easement acquisitions has dwindled from $46 million in 2011 to just $9 million in recent years.

 

Of this DNR Acquisition amount, 2/3 is limited to conservation easements, such as the public fishing easements anglers in Wisconsin have become familiar with.  The other 1/3 is for fee simple land purchases.

 

The Joint Finance Committee cut the DNR Acquisition portion of the program from $9 million down to $6 million.  This effectively reduces the amount of funding available for conservation easements from $6 million to $4 million per year.

 

We will need to monitor this closely to see the effects it may have on the Streambank Protection Program and our public fishing easements.

 

Wisconsin Trout Unlimited views these public fishing access easements as a critical tool to protect our cold water resources. These easements keep private lands on the tax rolls while allowing public access to our waterways. This public access is also key to the watershed restoration work we do.

 

In the coming years, Wisconsin Trout Unlimited will seek to further empower our volunteers by building better relationships with our elected officials.

 

Many legislators have expressed an interest in seeing the restoration work we do firsthand, and we hope to get them out for a streamside walk in their district. If you have a recent project you would like to showcase, contact Mike Kuhr at mikek.trout@yahoo.com.

 

We thank you for staying informed about advocacy issues in Wisconsin and for speaking up on behalf of our coldwater resources.

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