From our lakes and rivers to our parks and trails, Wisconsin’s environment is an integral part of what makes our state a special place to live and what encourages visitors to contribute to our economy. That is why I was pleased by the provisions in Governor Evers’ biennial budget which increase Wisconsin’s investments in expanding access to the outdoors and protecting our environment and wildlife. This Earth Day, I wanted to elaborate on some of the budget proposals which I believe will make a positive impact on our environment and on Wisconsinites in northwestern Wisconsin and across the state.
The outdoors has always been a space for which I have great respect and admiration. During the gravest moments of the pandemic, nature was a safe and healthy place that we could all turn to. Whether it was to clear our minds, get some exercise, or safely spend time with loved ones, many people made their way to Wisconsin’s parks and trails to enjoy recreational activities during this time. Several of the governor’s budget proposals would help protect these important outdoor areas and encourage people to continue spending more time outside.
Governor Evers has included a provision that would reauthorize the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program for 10 years at $70 million per year. This program, named in part after the founder of Earth Day – who also happens to be a former governor of Wisconsin and former State and United States Senator – has had a tremendous impact on our state since its creation in 1989. Each year, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program provides millions in grant funding to expand outdoor recreational opportunities, develop ATV and UTV trails and facilities, and acquire forest land. The program also gives the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the authority to acquire land to preserve environmentally sensitive and valuable land and expand recreational opportunities.
It is important to foster appreciation and curiosity for the outdoors at an early age so a new generation of leaders are inspired to be environmentally conscious and develop innovative solutions to some of our most challenging environmental issues. The governor's budget proposal helps to encourage this in Wisconsin’s youth by providing free admission to state parks for fourth-graders. This provision would allow a student’s parent or guardian to apply for a waiver for the annual resident parks vehicle admission fee and would apply to fourth-grade students in any school setting including public, private, or home school.
Those who enjoy hiking and exploring Wisconsin’s trails will be happy to know that the governor’s budget provides $135,000 annually for the maintenance of two national trails in Wisconsin: The Ice Age Trail and North Country Trail. Two hundred miles of the North Country Trail runs through northwest Wisconsin. North Country Trail users have access to many scenic rivers, streams and parks, including the popular Brule River in the 73rd Assembly District.
During the pandemic, the usage of ATV and UTV trails increased considerably. I was glad to see that Governor Evers made significant investments in ATV and UTV trails in his budget. Budget proposals include increasing annual funding for local ATV and UTV trail aids by over $610,000 and providing a $250,000 increase in funding for ATV and UTV trail maintenance.
While there are several other budget provisions that warrant discussion and support for the good they would do for Wisconsin’s environment and wildlife, I wanted to highlight the proposal to increase the cost of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Stamp from $7.00 to $12.00. The waterfowl stamp is an excellent opportunity for our state to raise money for wetland and waterfowl conservation efforts, and the price increase is strongly supported by Wisconsin’s sportsmen’s groups.
By investing in our environment, we are promoting healthier lifestyles, conserving valuable natural resources, and protecting important species of wildlife. These investments also help to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy and benefit from our environment as we have. In order to make this possible, I will be advocating for these and other environmental priorities in the governor’s budget to remain in the final version of the 2021-23 biennial budget.