Wisconsin Update

Wisconsin Update

Property Tax Changes Will Significantly Impact Conservation Lands

A new set of property tax rules— the “use value” assessment— intended to protect farmland may have dire consequences for woodlands, wetlands and other conservation properties throughout Wisconsin.

Use value assessment is intended to lower the property taxes for farmers to safeguard against high assessments resulting from nearby development. The lowered assessment will apply, however, only to acreage that is actually farmed, leaving ungrazed pastures, woodlands and wetlands assessed at considerably higher rates. Since conservation lands can comprise up to 50% of many Wisconsin farms, this will have significant impact on farms throughout the state. Even the very successful “Wetland Reserve Program” developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be assessed at the higher non-agriculture rates. NRCS staff have voiced concern that this will result in lowered enrollment in this popular program. The new rules will be a disincentive to protect land for conservation, and an incentive to graze or cultivate acreage that was not being used previously. We expect that tens or even hundreds of thousands of new acres of wetland and woodland will be grazed as a result.

The tax rules are presently in Assemby and Senate committees, and a decision will have been made for their adoption prior to your reading this article. This seemingly innocuous set of rules has been “fast tracked” by the Department of Revenue with little attention from the conservation community. Anticipating that the new rules will be adopted this summer, our tentative strategy at this time is to introduce new definitions for agriculture in the next legislative session (2001) that will exempt certain targeted conservation lands.

Wisconsin Joint Venture Committee Shares Successes

The Wisconsin Steering Committee of the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Region Joint Venture (North American Waterfowl Management Plan) shared their annual accomplishments at a recent meeting. Almost $10 million were contributed by federal, state and private agencies and organizations toward habitat protection and improvement in 1999. Approximately 7,500 acres of wetland were protected or restored through diverse agency programs, and over twice that amount of upland came under management or protection. Committee partners include the Fish and Wildlife Service, NRCS, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Wisconsin waterfowl Association, Madison Audubon Society, Wisconsin Wetlands Association, and other entities.

“Wisconsin Naturalists: Readers of the Landscape”

Wisconsin Wetlands Association is collaborating with Sumner Matteson, ornithologist with the Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources, who is writing a book on Wisconsin’s greatest naturalists of the latter half of the century. As WWA’s “natural history historian”, Sumner will complete research and writing he has undertaken since 1979. Through a series of personal interviews, Sumner has chronicled the diverse human and natural history of our state. Among the naturalists interviewed was the late Jim Zimmerman, co-founder of Wisconsin Wetlands Association 30 years ago. Other prominent Wisconsin figures interviewed include: Sigurd Olson, Roy Lukes, Ken Lange, Sam Robbins, Francis Hole, Fred and Fran Hammerstrom, and Charles and Nina (Leopold) Bradley. Sumner plans to complete the writing of his book in spring, 2001.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.