As of this writing, the State Legislature has passed a new biennial budget, not yet signed into law by the Governor, that has some good and some bad news for environmental concerns. Below are two key budget issues.
A controversial budget item splits natural resources management in Wisconsin by moving the Division of Forestry out of the Department of Natural Resources and making it into a SEPARATE AGENCY, with a new secretary appointed by the Governor.
This major policy change comes with NO public support—but rather as a deal cut behind closed doors to satisfy one legislator. The split will cost the state more money, will reduce the effectiveness of the DNR, and sets natural resource management policy back many decades. DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell’s response to the split:
I have not and do not support splitting natural resources management. No one has shown that this is needed or has indicated how it can benefit the resources. Splitting weakens all our inter-related programs. Most importantly, it does not benefit the resources and environment.
How can we define natural resources in Wisconsin without having forests as an integral part of that picture? To assert that forestry is an appendage of DNR easily separated from the whole shows a lack of understanding of how the forest ecosystem works.
I am particularly disappointed that this proposal is moving forward without the benefit of public debate. Two hearings were held earlier this year on a proposal to create separate departments of parks, forestry, enforcement, fish and wildlife and environmental regulation. As you recall, the public was opposed to this proposal. Overwhelmingly opposed. Ten to one opposed.
The STEWARDSHIP FUND fared better in the budget negotiations. The Fund budget was increased from $46 million per year to $60 million per year. The Stewardship Fund is the State of Wisconsin’s contribution to this and future generations, as these dollars are the primary source of funding used to purchase ecologically important lands for protection.
The fate of the budget rests with Governor Scott McCallum, who has line-item veto power over the entire budget. A large coalition of statewide environmental organizations has voiced strong concern about splitting the Department of Natural Resources. These same groups have endorsed the $60 million allocation toward the Stewardship Fund.