Funding killed for Wisconsin’s largest conservation project

Apr 18, 2023, 9:29 AM | Updated: 10:50 am

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee voted Tuesday to kill funding for the largest land conservation project in Wisconsin history, a move that came following concerns about the $15 million purchase of 56,000 acres of forest land that would have been open to both logging and recreational use.

Republican lawmakers objected in November to using $4 million from the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program to help finance the purchase of the property east of Rhinelander in northern Wisconsin known as the Pelican River Forest. The rest of the funding for the conservation easement would come from a federal grant.

Efforts to address lawmakers’ concerns since objections were raised were unsuccessful, Sen. Mary Felzkowski, one of the Republicans who objected to the project, said Tuesday. She was among the 12 Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee who voted to kill the project, while all four Democrats voted to fund it.

Felzkowski raised concerns about what effect it would have on northern Wisconsin’s economy to remove that much land from future potential development. Republicans have long raised concerns about taking blocks of private land off the tax rolls through the state’s stewardship program.

“Enough is enough,” Felzkowski said Tuesday.

Felzkowski faulted advocates of the project for not having conversations about concerns raised by snowmobilers, local communities and others who would be affected by the project. Felzkowski accused the state Natural Resources Board of voting to approve the project despite concerns raised by local communities that wanted some of the land available for future development.

Republican Rep. Mark Born, co-chair of the budget committee, said the state Department of Natural Resources “should be ashamed for what they did on this.” He accused the agency of attempting to “shove this down the throat of locals” and pretending like there were no concerns about the project.

A spokesperson for the agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment in reaction to the committee’s actions and Born’s accusations.

Under the committee’s process, lawmakers can object to funding a project in secret. The objection triggers a meeting to review the project, but projects can be left in limbo and effectively killed with long delays before a meeting is called.

Felzkowski previously came forward as one of those who objected, and on Tuesday committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein said he was another.

Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke said he was thankful for the discussion about the project in open, calling it “a little bit of sunshine.”

But Born discounted that, saying concerns about the project have been publicly reported for months.

“This wasn’t like I needed to have some secret code to find this information,” he said.

The Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based national land conservation group, bought the land that includes 16 parcels located mostly east of Rhinelander in Oneida County, but also in Forest and Langlade counties. The land straddles the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds and is a link between the Oneida County Forest and Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

The Conservation Fund said at the time it bought the land in 2021 that it will protect wildlife habitat while continuing sustainable timber harvesting as well as recreational uses such as hunting and fishing.

Under the state’s purchase plan, the land would have been left in an undeveloped state with public access for hunting, fishing, trapping and motorized recreation, such as snowmobiles and four-wheelers.

State officials have previously raised the possibility of launching a fundraising campaign or seeking landowner donations to come up with enough money to match the $10 million federal grant. The Conservation Fund has also said it may sell the property if the state DNR can’t secure funding for the project.

Clint Miller, central midwest regional director at The Conservation Fund, said the decision not to fund the project was disappointing, but pledged to continue working with the state to complete it.

National News

Associated Press

State election directors fear the Postal Service can’t handle expected crush of mail-in ballots

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — State election directors from across the country voiced serious concerns to a top U.S. Postal Service official Tuesday that the system won’t be able to handle an expected crush of mail-in ballots in the November election. Steven Carter, manager of election and government programs for the postal service, attempted to reassure the […]

7 minutes ago

South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick listens to arguments by attorneys during a hearing, Tue...

Associated Press

North Dakota judge will decide whether to throw out a challenge to the state’s abortion ban

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Attorneys argued Tuesday over whether a North Dakota judge should toss a lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion ban, with the state saying the plaintiffs’ case rests on hypotheticals, and the plaintiffs saying key issues remain to be resolved at a scheduled trial. State District Judge Bruce Romanick said he will rule […]

19 minutes ago

Associated Press

Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad: July 22 The Washington Post on what Kamala Harris needs to do to win the election With President Biden’s exit from the race, Democrats are quickly coalescing around Vice President Harris. Too quickly, arguably: Both she and the country would be better served by a […]

30 minutes ago

Associated Press

A sentence change assures the man who killed ex-Saints star Smith gets credit for home incarceration

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A 25-year prison sentence for Cardell Hayes, the man who killed former New Orleans Saints start Will Smith in 2016, was reduced to 22 years and two months on Tuesday by a Louisiana judge who sought to give Hayes credit for the time he spent confined to his home before his […]

31 minutes ago

FILE - Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen attends the summer conference of the National As...

Associated Press

Montana Supreme Court allows signatures of inactive voters to count on ballot petitions

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would allow the signatures of inactive voters to count on petitions seeking to qualify constitutional initiatives for the November ballot, including one to protect abortion rights. District Court Judge Mike Menahan ruled last Tuesday that Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen’s office wrongly changed election […]

44 minutes ago

Associated Press

Alabama universities shutter DEI offices, open new programs, to comply with new state law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The three University of Alabama System campuses on Tuesday shuttered diversity, equity and inclusion offices— and opened new offices — to comply with a new Republican-backed law attempting to ban the programs on public college campuses in the state. The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, along with the University of Alabama […]

1 hour ago

Funding killed for Wisconsin’s largest conservation project