Conservation Losses in 2015 Tell a Different Kind of Story

The conservation news – the conservation history, really – that was made in Wisconsin during 2015, was most definitely a “different” story – as in, it was a completely different kind of story than the one we’ve long been known for here in the Badger State. In brief, it’s the news of the state’s marked shift away from supporting things related to conservation.

It’s a big story – there were many, many items in the state budget, proposed by the Governor, that directly affect the state’s natural resources.  And it’s a sad story for many, and certainly for everyone who works in, or contributes in other ways, to the many things related to natural resources within the state.

Winter . . .

Winter . . .

And, of course it’s a political story.  All of that – big, sad, and political – put it beyond the scope of this blog.  Not that only “happy” stories are told here at The Badger & the Whooping Crane; but whooping cranes exist here in Wisconsin – and thus, this blog exists – because of the excellence of the state’s natural resources; not because they’re in sad shape, or threatened with such.

There are other blogs and sources for the politics of the situation. (The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is a good source for info on all legislation that affects natural resources. Another, the Wisconsin Budget Project is a good source for most aspects of the budget in general.)

Spring . . .

Spring . . .

But it does seem not-quite-right for a blog that concerns itself with the state’s natural resources, to never mention the biggest, baddest conservation story of 2015. So, how to talk about it? I’ve been mulling this over for months, and now, in the new year, I think I’ve found a way to tell a small – and hopefully illustrative – part of this story.

For quite a few years now there have been something called capacity grants that involve contracts between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to various conservation non-profit groups that work on such things as the Ice Age Trail, and shoreline issues, land conservation, etc. All those grants – and with them, the partnership agreements between the DNR and citizen-led nonprofits – have now been eliminated.

Summer . . .

Summer . . .

Although that is but a small part of the state budget, it’s one that affects just the kinds of groups that are often talked about here at The Badger and the Whooping Crane; the very groups that play an important part in keeping up the excellence of the state’s natural resources. These are groups like the Ice Age Trail Alliance (which I wrote about earlier this week, and will again soon) and the Gathering Waters Conservancy, a Wisconsin Lakes association, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and another 8 or 9 more.

Fall . . . There are seasons within season in Wisconsin. And plenty of reasons to get outdoors. . . and lots of groups that want to help you do that.

and Fall . . . There are seasons within seasons in Wisconsin. All you’ve got to do is get outdoors. . . there are lots of groups that want to help you do that.

I don’t know much about the others yet, but I’m looking forward to learning about them. Who they are, what is their purpose, what are their programs? I want to learn and share something about the history of each one, and what they mean to other Wisconsinites.

What are we losing by denying the state funding, that these groups had come to depend on?  I don’t know that I’ll really learn the answer to that, but I am looking forward to just knowing more about each group. I hope you’ll read and learn along with me.

Quick Links to Conservation News

The following are links to half a dozen conservation stories that have happened recently, or are happening now around Wisconsin. These include stories of things some “citizen conservationists” are doing for causes like land conservation, and water pollution monitoring. There are also links to:

  • a Snowy Owl update, 
  • Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters updates on legislation affecting ground water and the state’s sand mining industry,
  • Followup to a train derailment and ethanol spill

Citizen Conservationists:  Private Land Owner’s Donation to a “Conservation Corridor”

For over a decade the Jim Pines family of Chicago has been a private partner in a large effort to conserve land for wildlife habitat on the Wisconsin River, not far from Portage, WI. Others in the partnership with the Pines family include other private landowners, and non-profits – the Aldo Leopold Foundation, as well as the Sand County Foundation – and government agencies – the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and US Fish & Wildlife Service. Together they manage an area of nearly 12,000 acres known as the Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area.

A view of the Wisconsin River from Ferry Bluff Hill, a few miles down river from the Pines Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area. (Photo at Wikimedia)

A view of the Wisconsin River from Ferry Bluff Hill, a few miles down river from the Pines Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Recently Jim and his wife Maggie purchased 1000 acres to add to the effort, calling it part of  “a beautiful conservation corridor,” as well as an extension of the legacy of Jim’s late father, Phil Pines. The family first purchased property in the area in 1979, and Phil Pines donated over 2000 acres to the Important Bird Area program in 2005.

Citizen Scientists: Monitoring Water Pollution in Kewaunee County

This next link, to a story in Door County’s Peninsula Pulse provides the details of a completely citizen-driven, hands-on project to monitor water pollution in adjacent Kewaunee County. Each month for the past three years, members of the group, Kewaunee Cares, have monitored water quality at 3 different rivers: the Kewaunee, the Ahnapee, and the East Twin Rivers.

Those who volunteer at their own expense, collect six samples from the 3 rivers. They date the samples, document what they’ve found with notes and photos and deliver the samples to a laboratory in Luxemburg, WI. In several weeks the group receives a report on just what’s in the water – nasty things like E. coli and nitrates.

"Welcome to Kewaunee County," in Wisconsin. (Photo at Wikimedia)

“Welcome to Kewaunee County,” in Wisconsin. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Kewaunee Cares samples specifically for these pollutants because they are the ones that are showing up in Kewaunee residents’ wells. And because – in the words of Lynn Utech, one of the founders of the group, no one else is collecting this information that could help identify Kewaunee County’s water problems.

Although this particular article does not reference the problems in the county from large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, I know from other articles that they are considered the source of much of the problem. Here is a summary of Kewaunee County’s CAFOs, By the Numbers, provided by The Pulse.

Another Season of Snowy Owl Visitors from the Arctic?

If you’ve been following snowy owl news at all, you know that the arctic-breeding Snowy Owls are generally a rare sight in Wisconsin; and that their arrival in large numbers all over the midwest and eastern United States in the winter of 2013-14 was a very rare thing called “an irruption;” and that a follow-up irruption last winter was surprising to the scientists that are studying this charismatic bird species.

Snowy Owl researchers, who are poised now to learn more about this arctic visitor (due to its increased availability), seem sure of one thing only: the complete unpredictability of these beautiful snowy birds.

Snowy Owl in flight over Hamden Slough NWR, in Minnesota in 2014. (Photo by Lee Kensinger, for USFWS Headquarters)

Snowy Owl in flight over Hamden Slough NWR, in Minnesota in 2014. (Photo by Lee Kensinger, for USFWS Headquarters)

The early arrival this year of 72 individual snowy owls in Wisconsin by November 9th, was completely beyond prediction; it was far more birds, and a far earlier arrival date than any known before here, in Wisconsin. And now, Ryan Brady, wildlife biologist for Wisconsin’s DNR, has tempered the excitement about that dramatic news with this update on Facebook: reports of snowy owl sightings since early November have dropped off drastically; and the news that many of the new arrivals had seemed to be in poor physical condition, and may have not survived.

It still is early, though, to speculate what this means for the possibility of more winter visitors, Brady cautioned on Facebook. Anything might yet happen. In addition to following snowy owl developments at the DNR’s website (recommended), you will find additional information at the website, Project SNOWstorm (also recommended!).

Conservation Voters: Keeping an Eye on Ground Water Issues

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters maintains that “staggering increases in the number of high-capacity wells” permitted in Wisconsin, threaten the state’s supply of ground water. This newspaper column describes the problem as being “at crisis levels in central Wisconsin.”

Last year, according to WCLV it’s members “took nearly 17,000 actions” – writing letters, making calls, and meetings with legislators – to defeat a bill that would have made our groundwater problems worse. “We are asking you to do that again,” says WCLV.

At their website, WCLV describes two bills being considered now:  Senate Bill 239, which they oppose, and Senate Bill 291 which needs amending to strengthen it.

Conservation Voters Support a Law to Monitor Sand Mining Sites

On their Facebook page the WLCV just announced support for a new bill to require air monitors at all frac sand mining sites. The monitors would measure dust leaving the site.

“This relatively new industry has very little oversight in Wisconsin,” asserts WCLV, adding that the few state laws that would apply to the frac sand mining industry are rarely enforced. Just five years ago Wisconsin had only a handful of frac sand facilities; that number has mushroomed to over 100 today.

A Wisconsin Train Derailment and Ethanol Spill

In early November a train derailment near the small town of Alma, WI, brought home the need for enhanced rail safety, as rail cars carry more and more hazardous cargo. This event also resulted in a spill of 18,500 gallons of ethanol into backwaters of the Mississippi River. At risk of fish kills from this, is a 300 acre backwater area within the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

Looking west over the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Looking west over the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. (Photo at Wikimedia)

There is a silver lining to an ethanol spill that differs greatly from an oil or gas spill, in that ethanol is known as highly soluble in water and will break down quickly. It will not persist in the environment. This article in the LaCrosse Tribune does a thorough job of explaining all these issues, and other potential environmental effects, as well.

Monday Morning Blogging: The Wisconsin River

Here is a picture of the lovely and expansive Wisconsin River, as it runs through Iowa County. It is the second to last county that is touched by the river on its 430 mile course through Wisconsin:  from its source in the far north (where it is a narrow winding stream) to its mouth where it empties into the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien.

Wisconsin River - photo at Flickr (Used with permission.)

The Wisconsin River, flowing westward through Iowa County – photo at Flickr (Used with permission.)

The Wisconsin River is currently “trending” for many conservationists in Wisconsin thanks to the personal odyssey of Ruth Oppedahl. Between September 27th and October 14th, Ruth is paddling the length of the river, often in the company of other conservationists, and talking to people who have spent whole careers working to protect water in Wisconsin.

Ruth, the leader of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (the NRF), has said she always wanted to paddle the length of the river “someday,” and suddenly, this year, forces aligned to make such a trip seem not just attractive, but compelling.

As explained on the NRF website: Wisconsin parks and all our natural resource programs have received “unprecedented funding reductions this year jeopardizing some of the things Wisconsinites love most about this         state. . .” Included in the state budget cuts: an $84,100 nonprofit capacity grant that NRF has received annually since 2000.”

A Hope to Rejunvenate:  ” . . by living outdoors for 18 days . .”

And as Ruth herself wrote: “Saddened by the reduction in support for conservation and natural resources in our state, I felt like I had to do something . . . people were asking me what could they could do?”

She scrapped plans to vacation in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, planning instead “to vacation in Wisconsin and paddle our namesake river . . . I hope to rejuvenate myself by living outdoors for 18 days. . .” While doing so, Ruth is meeting others along the river “and sharing the many ways we all care for our beautiful state.”

There are a number of ways you can follow Ruth’s adventures, meeting who she meets, learning how she deals with daily challenges from fixing a leaky kayak to portaging around dams; both beaver, and hydroelectric dams.
The quick and interactive method is NRF’s Facebook page where you can leave encouragement and advice, or ask a question.

My personal favorite is at NRF’s Wisconservation blog, where Ruth’s audio diary is transcribed each day. Here’s just one of the many Wisconsin River facts I’m learning along with Ruth: not all that long ago, the river near Hat Rapids (between Rhinelander and Tomahawk) was a polluted mess.

From Ruth’s post: ” . . . this was a place where human waste and paper mill – pulp mill – waste accumulated on top of the river and it was just a foam. Nobody lived on the river, it was disgusting. And then, thanks to the Clean Water Act, thanks to the work of people like Susan, the Wisconsin River is much, much cleaner than it was just 40 years ago.” I’d encourage anyone to get involved with Ruth Oppedahl’s odyssey; check it out.


See Wisconsin on a Natural Resources Foundation Field Trip

If you’re in Wisconsin – or you’re someone who will be visiting Wisconsin in the next six months – and if you appreciate a good field trip with knowledgable guides at affordable prices – then this post is for you! The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF) which has been offering “get-outside-and-get-to-know-Wisconsin” field trips since 1993, recently published their Field Trip Guidebook for 2015.

You can download a PDF copy of the guidebook online and see the depth and breadth of what the NRF is offering in their 151 guided trips to the state’s natural resource gems. The opportunities begin in mid-April and continue through mid-November.

The guidebook will also show you at a glance what level of physical demand each trip requires. They are rated this way: Accessible, Easy, Average, Challenging, and Extreme. See page 1 of the guide, for the color-coded key, and the number that show where in the state each field trip is located.

Moonlight Bay State Natural Area, an NRF field trip destination in May.

Moonlight Bay State Natural Area, the destination of an NRF field trip focused on rare plants and birds; in May. (A “Badger & Whooping Crane” photo)

You can also quickly ascertain which are “family friendly,” which are birding trips, which focus on Wisconsin’s wilderness gems – our State Natural Areas. This year, the NRF announced, it is proud and pleased to be offering over 50 field trips to visit State Natural Areas – which are “Wisconsin’s precious wilderness gems.”

Registration for those who are already NRF members began today. As of April 1, the general public can register, and also join the NRF for the discounted price of only $15 (you must become a member to go on a Natural Resources Foundation Field Trip). The trips themselves range in cost from FREE up to $100, but the great majority of these field trips seem to range between $12 – $30, so even with your membership fee, these are still a seriously good deal.

The higher-priced trips are fund-raisers for various good causes, so they still can be considered a good deal that provides you with a wonderful experience along with the opportunity to financially support a cause you care about!

Last year, for The Badger & the Whooping Crane I participated in NRF’s special Rare Bird Field Trip (which I reported on here), and this year there are 3 trips in late Spring in Door County, and I hope to participate in at least 2 of them.

On my rare bird trip last year I met, and enjoyed a conversation with the NRF’s Barb Barzen about the history of these field trips. Whose idea are these? When did they start? Were they always this numerous and popular? “You’ve come to the right person,” Barb told me in an email; “I was the first person hired by the NRF of WI back in 1988. . . . After four years of working around DNR staff in the Central Office (the NRF was initially set up and run, on a part-time basis, by DNR staff.) Barb began to think about the”very important and interesting work many in the DNR were doing,” and she began to envision a way for them to show the importance of this to a general audience of Wisconsin citizens and visitors.

In the Northern Kettle Moraine, the destination of an October field trip in which can sharpen your autumn photography skills. (A "Badger & Whooping Crane" photo)

In the Northern Kettle Moraine, the destination of an October field trip in which can sharpen your autumn photography skills. (A “Badger & Whooping Crane” photo)

“As a transplant from Minnesota, I also came to realize what a keen interest the citizenry of Wisconsin has in natural resources and nature-based activities in general,” said Barb.

Barb Barzen’s thinking and observations led to the offering of 3 field trips in 1993, and she remembered them all, sharing these details of each trip: “seeing the Trumpeter Swan Recovery Program in action at the Mead Wildlife Area with Sumner Matteson and Becky Abel; hiking Rush Creek State Natural Area in the Mississippi Bluffs with Mark Martin; and howling for wolves with Adrian Wydeven.”

In the years that quickly followed, the program expanded by leaps. “I ran it for five years,” said Barb, “and then hired Christine Tanzer to take it from there. The best thing I ever did. Christine has carefully and masterfully grown the program to the point of offering 151 trips this year.”

What about Wetlands?

One thing always leads to another, often in unpredictable ways.  For example, it’s a long-held and persistent interest in the environment – what sustains us on earth  – that has led me on a lot of “learning journeys,” including the one that ignited my fascination with the endangered whooping cranes, and the stories about the species’ reintroduction into Wisconsin. And it’s that interest in the whooping cranes in Wisconsin – how they’re doing here, why they’re here, what their habitat needs are, and why our state was chosen as the northern terminus of the re-introduction – that constantly leads me down new avenues of appreciation for the gifts of the natural world that bless Wisconsin. Like wetlands.

Rieboldt's Creek flowing from Mud Lake to Moonlight Bay in Door County.

Rieboldt’s Creek flowing from Mud Lake to Moonlight Bay in Door County.

“Until recently, wetlands were often viewed as wastelands,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “useful only when drained or filled.” But now we know better.

“Wetlands Benefit People and Nature,” the DNR proclaims,  listing what we know and celebrate about wetlands: that these unexpectedly special places “are nurseries for fish and wildlife, purifiers for lakes, rivers, and groundwater, and storage for floodwaters. They’re also playgrounds for birders, hikers, hunters, and paddlers, and a storehouse for carbon.”

A statewide advocacy group, the Wisconsin Wetlands Association (WWA) cites yet another benefit: “Wetlands protect our shorelines” – so important in tourism-conscious Wisconsin. Both the DNR, and the WWA offer wonderful resources for online learning about wetlands.

Moonlight Bay in Door County, Wisconsin; designated a Wetland Gem

Moonlight Bay in Door County, Wisconsin; designated a Wetland Gem

Each site has multiple pages and each page includes multiple links to more pages of information and yes, even more links.  There are literally dozens of ways to begin learning about wetlands!  Where to start depends on what you want to do or learn.  Do you want to explore wetlands, or learn how to identify them?  Do you own property with some wetland?  Do you want to protect a wetland, or restore one? I wanted some basic information – a definition of wetlands, and descriptions of them, and some historical context for wetlands in  Wisconsin. And I wanted to explore some wetlands in the real world, too. A wetland, as defined by the Wisconsin State Legislature in 1978, “is an area where water is at, near, or above the land surface long enough to be capable of supporting aquatic or hydrophytic (water-loving) vegetation and which has soils indicative of wet conditions.”

Part of the Moonlight Bay wetlands complex.

Part of the Moonlight Bay wetlands complex.

Types of wetlands, and their descriptions, are far more varied than the simple terms “marshes” and “swamps” that first come to mind. The WWA describes 12 different types of wetland communities that are found in Wisconsin, and the DNR uses nearly three times that. But let’s just look at WWA’s dozen terms. From the group’s Wetland Communities of Wisconsin page you can click to detailed descriptions of: marshes, sedge meadows, wet prairies, fens, shrub-carrs, alder thickets, floodplain forests, floodplain basins (also called ephemeral ponds), open bogs, coniferous bogs, lowland hardwood swamps and coniferous swamps. (Currently – for a quick and efficient introduction to wetland types – the Wisconsin Wetlands Association is running a 5-part series on its Facebook page, summarizing an abbreviated classification system.)

North Bay in Door County; designated a Wisconsin Wetland Gem.

North Bay in Door County; designated a Wisconsin Wetland Gem.

Wisconsin today has only about one half of the 10 million acres of wetlands that existed here (it’s been calculated) at the beginning of European settlement. Land surveys in the early state of Wisconsin helped identify where wetlands existed at that time, but not with accurate statistics. Soil scientists helped to provide a better estimate of the state’s pre-settlement wetland acreage.

The state completed its most current Wisconsin Wetland Inventory in 1985. This is where you can find wetlands acreage for every county in the state. Wetlands are distributed throughout the state. Each county has some, but seven of the eight counties that have the highest percentage of mapped wetlands (3% or more of the statewide total) are in the far north.

A rustic trail runs inland through a forested portion of the North Bay wetland complex.

A rustic trail runs inland through a forested portion of the North Bay wetland complex.

For a personal exploration of the state’s wetlands, the WWA’s 100 Wetland Gems of Wisconsin is definitely the place to start. Earlier this fall I used this guide to visit and take photos – and to see in a new way – two Door County wetland complexes that on other occasions I’ve driven right by. These gems, North Bay and Moonlight Bay, lend their names to the larger complex of swamp, sedge meadow, shrub carr, fen and marshland that comprise these extensive wetlands. Both these bays lie directly north of Bailey’s Harbor. They’re connected to the village and to each other by Door County’s scenic Highway Q. Knowing something about the many little ecological miracles that these wetland gems harbor within, makes their scenic wonders, all that more wonderful.

What Wisconsin Does for Birds

Having written last week about the new State of the Birds 2014 report (produced by such bird scientists as the Cornell Lab or Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and many similar experts) The Badger & the Whooping Crane would be remiss not to give a few paragraphs of space to Wisconsin and the supportive actions we do here, individually and collectively, on behalf of birds.

At the top Wisconsin is the kind of place where an organization like the International Crane Foundation could put down roots and thrive.  We are a state where the DNR is an active partner in acclaimed efforts to restore the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, and of course, the endangered whooping crane.

At the citizen level we are a state of “birders.” Earlier this year we discovered, through a survey conducted by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that we rank in 2nd place in the nation for the percentage of active birders in our population. In addition to our birding citizens – or maybe, in part because of them – we are enthusiastic leaders of such bird-centered undertakings as the Annual Midwest Crane Count, Bird City Wisconsin, and the Great Wisconsin Birdathon; and there are many more.

Birders setting up to view a rare Kirtland warbler on a Natural Resources Field Trip, Spring 2014.

Birders setting up to view a rare Kirtland warbler on a Natural Resources Field Trip, Spring 2014.

Let’s take a closer look at just a little of the evidence. The Great Wisconsin Birdathon, launched in 2012, is one of the state’s newest “for the birds” projects, and it combines zealous birders with supportive donors who pledge a dollar amount for each of the bird species the birder can locate in one 24-hour period, at any time in the month of May.  In this way over 200 birders raised $56,000 for important bird projects in 2014.

About $112,000 has been raised by The Great Wisconsin Birdathon since it began. Birders of all ages participate in a myriad of ways – birding as teams, and by joining organized Birding Blitz hikes, and by birding as individuals.  Participation can be as simple as birding out one’s own kitchen window.

The projects that are supported by the funds raised are: the  2nd Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, Bird City Wisconsin, Wisconsin Bird Monitoring, Kirtland’s Warbler Monitoring and Management, Southern Forest Initiative, Wisconsin Stopover Initiative, Reforesting the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, and the Whooping Crane.  The Great Wisconsin Birdathon is a joint project between the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, and the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.

In closing, I’d like to direct your attention to 10 Ways You Can Help Birds from the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.  It’s a great reminder of what you may already know – that coming to the aid of birds can be as simple as “Offering birds food, water and shelter in your own yard,”

Land Conservation and the Gathering Waters Conservancy

After reporting in the previous post (below) about the Barn Dance & Chautauqua at the Saxon Homestead Farm near Cleveland WI, I was curious and wanted to learn more about one of that event’s co-sponsors, The Gathering Waters Conservancy.

In case you need it, too, here’s a capsule description – the Conservancy is a kind of umbrella land conservation group that exists to support and connect all the individual land trusts throughout the state; in its’ own words, to support “the remarkable growth and success of Wisconsin’s private land conservation movement.”

Gathering Waters Conservancy was established in 1994 and since then “the number of non-profit organizations permanently protecting land has increased from 12 to over 50.”


Niagara Escarpment Forest at the Door County Land Trust’s Bayshore Blufflands (Photo by Joshua Mayer)

The Barn Dance is just one of the big events on GWC’s plate for September. On Thursday, the 25th, the Conservancy will host its 12th annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration, at Monona Terrace in Madison.

Land Conservation Leadership Honorees for 2014

This will be an impressive gathering of the conservation community from all parts of the state and the party this year is also an occasion for GWC to celebrate its own 20th anniversary. But the major focus of the evening is to spotlight those Wisconsin citizens being honored for their conservation leadership.

The honorees will include:

Roy and Charlotte Lukes, Egg Harbor, recipients of the Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Achievement Award, for their decades of work as Door County naturalists and conservation icons;

Matt Dalton, Minocqua, recipient of Conservationist of the Year, for his work as The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Conservation for Northern Wisconsin;

Melissa Cook, Milwaukee, Conservationist of the Year, for her vision and perseverance over 15 years in the development of the Hank Aaron State Trail in the Menominee Valley;

Margaret Burlingham, Palmyra, recipient of the Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation, for her work to preserve and protect Wisconsin farmland;

and, The Conservation Fund, a national land trust whose Upper Midwest Initiative has had significant impact on Wisconsin, is being recognized as Land Trust of the Year.

It’s interesting to have a look at the past award winners, as well, to see the depth and breadth of conservation work that has been honored by the Gathering Waters Conservancy over the past dozen years.

If you’d like to learn more about the Conservancy and the land trust movement in general, the GWC website has a wealth of information, and the Find A Local Land Trust tool may introduce you to nearby resources you never knew were so close-at-hand.

Keeping Score: The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Grades the Lawmakers

The new month of July has dawned with the annual Conservation Scorecard from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters at the top of my InBox. It’s always an interesting resource, and to me it seems well worth the price of a membership with WLCV.

This one was particularly nice to get since it identifies some bi-partisan co-operation on important conservation issues and some hope for Wisconsin’s tradition of strong protections for natural resources. And it gives the credit for that renewed bi-partisan spirit not to the politicians in our state legislature, but to the thousands of engaged Wisconsinites who kept the pressure on their state lawmakers to do the right thing for clean air and water.

IMG_2451 (2)

Keep Wisconsin Beautiful: At Necedah NWR (A Badger & Whooping Crane photo).


“We were happy to see glimmers of Wisconsin’s nonpartisan conservation legacy this session” said Ann Sayers, the Program Director WLCV, noting that more than anything, this year’s Scorecard “tells the story of the power of individuals to successfully protect their air, land, and water. It’s their efforts that prevented the terrible groundwater bill and both frac sand mining bills from ever seeing the light of day.”

[The groundwater bill referred to, SB302, would have prevented the DNR from considering the cumulative impacts of high capacity wells throughout the state; the frac sand mining bills were attempts to prevent, or limit, local authorities from having any say in regulating sand mining in their communities.]

Sayers went on to say that on the biggest defensive measures – efforts to stop bills that were deemed harmful to natural resources – the conservation interests prevailed 75% of the time. The place where natural resources took a real hit, Sayers said, was the Open-pit Mining Bill “which exempted iron mines from having to meet most environmental laws. it passed despite the historic outpouring of citizen opposition.”

Keep Wisconsin Beautiful (A Flickr photo "Willow River Falls," by zman z28.)

Keep Wisconsin Beautiful (A Flickr photo “Willow River Falls,” by zman z28.)


The Conservation Scorecard 2013-2014 lists the way our elected state reps and senators voted on six bills, and assigns them a score for these votes and also a “lifetime score.” It includes A Conservation Honor Roll and a DIShonor Roll.

The Scorecard also offers an explanation of each bill, as well as an analysis of the legislative session, an enlightening Case Study (“What One Week and a Lot of Conservationists Can Do”), an analysis of the Good News and Bad News for conservation to be found in the State Budget, and tips for communicating with your legislator.

If you click on this link for the Conservation Scorecard 2013-2014, you will get the 16-page booklet as a pdf-file. If you join the WLCV, a hard copy will come in your mail. As the WLCV says: “Before you vote, know the score!”