NRB enters Stewardship Fund discussion fray

By Tim Eisele

Correspondent

Madison — The Natural Resources Board has created a special
Stewardship Fund subcommittee to help the DNR referee talks on Gov.
Jim Doyle’s proposal to renew the fund at a rate of $105 million
per year.

NRB member John “Duke” Welter, of Eau Claire, is chairing the
committee, which will meet again Feb. 27. Welter wants public input
on the Stewardship Fund and said his committee will accept written
comments on proposed changes. The public is welcome to attend the
Feb. 27, but the committee “will not accept or allow oral testimony
from citizens or members of interested groups at this meeting.”

Welter wants written comments to be submitted by 4 p.m. on
Wednesday, Feb. 21 to: Laurie Ross, NRB executive staff assistant,
P. O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921, or e-mail to laurie.ross@wisconsin.gov.

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, Welter’s subcommittee will convene at 2
p.m. in room G09 of the State Natural Resources Building (GEF 2),
at 101 South Webster Street, Madison.

Welter hopes to have a report ready for the full NRB meeting in
late March.

“We are looking for comments, questions, concerns, and
suggestions that people have about the Stewardship program,” Welter
said. “We are looking at ways to improve it and find out what it is
not doing, but could be doing.”

A year ago the DNR completed its Land Legacy project which
looked at all of the ecological zones of the state and needs for
land protection, not only for the DNR to consider, but also for
local governments and land trusts. The report provides priorities
for land purchases.

“There is a broad recognition by the citizens of this state that
this is a valuable program, but this is the time to look at it and
see if it needs to be modified,” Welter said.

“I think this is a useful exercise that will help those making
decisions about reauthorization to make an informed decision,” he
said.

The subcommittee includes Welter, Dave Clausen, and Jane
Wiley.

During his Feb. 13 budget address, Doyle proposed to renew the
Stewardship program in his 2007-09 budget at a rate of $105 million
per year from 2011 through 2020. The current program would expire
in 2010 if not renewed.

The Stewardship program now provides $60 million per year for
land purchases, of which the DNR can use $45 million per year to
buy land. Doyle’s proposal that would increase that to $79 million
per year. In addition, property development and local assistance
would increase from $15 million per year to $26 million under the
new proposal.

DNR Secretary Scott Hassett said he knows there are some people
who are raising concerns about Stewardship because not every acre
is open to hunting, but the majority of acres are and some
modifications can be worked out when the rules are developed.

“In tough budget times, we are darn lucky to have a governor
willing to put this in his budget now,” Hassett said. “It is more
important now than ever before to get this going. The land being
divested by pulp and paper companies is an excellent example of
land that traditionally was open to the public to hunt, but now
won’t be. We are just trying to at least keep the same amount of
land open to the public as what we’ve had.”

Hassett is talking about Jeff Nania, of the Wisconsin Waterfowl
Association, and George Meyer, of the Wisconsin Wildlife
Federation. Both strongly support the Stewardship Fund, but want
the program renewed with assurances that procedures will be
developed to prevent local governments and land trusts from closing
land to hunting and trapping in areas where there are no safety
concerns.

Meyer and Nania have been pleading their case to Vicki Elkin, of
the Gathering Waters Conservancy, who is chairing the Stewardship
Fund reauthorization committee for Doyle.

Elkin said that more than 90 percent of all Stewardship lands
are open to hunting, making it a great program for hunters.

“Those purchases by local units of government that are closed
are often close to urban populations,” she said. “We are very
sympathetic to hunting and this is a great program for hunters and
this concern over access is being blown out of proportion.”

Elkin adds that (WWA and WWF have) legitimate concerns that
should be addressed, but they are more related to the DNR budget
which has been cut back and does not include new positions for land
managers.

“Stewardship should not be a controversial program, instead land
conservation should have widespread support,” Elkin said.

Nania and Meyer were joined by Denny Caneff, of the River
Alliance of Wisconsin, and long-time conservationists Dave Ladd, of
Dodgeville, and Herb Behnke, of Shawano, in applauding Doyle’s
proposal to renew the Stewardship Fund. However, all five men
called for Doyle to slow down the renewal process and establish a
“blue ribbon task force” that would identify areas within the
program that need improvement, including the hunting and trapping
access issue, and land management issue.

Ladd was on the 2000 Stewardship Fund task force and now sits on
Elkin’s committee.

Wisconsin Outdoor Newseditor Dean Bortz contributed to this
report.

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