Wisconsin’s legislature has passed what some conservationists describe as one of the worst budgets for natural resources in years.
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters (WLCV) kept track of each change that will affect the state’s natural resources programs, and there are plenty of negative changes in the 2015-17 state budget.
WLCV calls it a “grab bag of anti-conservation policy.”
About the only positive things to come out are that the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) reversed the governor and restored regulatory powers to the Natural Resources Board. And JFC restored funding (though at reduced levels) to the Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Program.
Legislators, and the governor’s office, tried to sneak in a restriction on open record law access. That was pulled at the last minute, but the attempt was there to reduce what transparency there is to state actions.
Increasingly, the Wisconsin budget includes policy issues that do not deal with specific budgets, but change the way government works without substantial debate and public hearings had the policy items been topics of individual bills.
Among the conservation losses identified in the budget by the WCLV that were passed by the JFC, senate and assembly are:
- Remove shoreland zoning regulations that protect water quality in 30 counties.
- Allow Enbridge, which has had environmental problems, to expand oil pipelines and prevent counties from requiring higher insurance coverage to cover full clean-up of oil spills.
- Reduce DNR staff by 66 full-time positions, aimed specifically at the bureaus of science services, education, and communications.
- Eliminate the Environmental Education Board, though keeping the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education.
- Limit DNR forestry from overseeing cutting notices for timber harvests on land enrolled in the Managed Forest Law. In addition, develop a plan to relocate DNR forestry headquarters to northern Wisconsin.
- Eliminate all taxpayer support from state parks, and increase state park vehicle stickers from $25 to $28, camping fees by $2 per night, increase reservation fees by $9.70, and look for new ways to fund state parks.
- Reduce funding for nutrient management plans by $500,000, opening the door to more phosphorous and nitrogen pollution in waterways.
- Reduce recycling grants to local communities by $4 million; a 22 percent reduction.
- Eliminate the requirement that bicycle and pedestrian facilities be incorporated into new highway projects, unless federal funding requires them.
The governor has yet to sign the budget and can make changes via line item vetoes. He is expected to sign the budget next week before he announces his candidacy in the presidential race.