The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the Promise of Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day I want to write a post focusing on a particular Wisconsin gem, our Natural Resources Foundation. I know many Wisconsinites who are unaware of it, so this seems a good day to try and spread the word and appreciate what it has accomplished for the state since it came to be in 1986.

First, though, I also want to share some nuggets of Earth Day news found around the internet today. Maybe some Gannett papers in Wisconsin are carrying this also, but I found it online at The Tennessean: this nice story about our own Gaylord Nelson, and the beginnings of Earth Day, featuring this stirring quote:  “The battle to restore a proper relationship between man and his environment . . . will require a long, sustained political, moral, ethical and financial commitment far beyond any commitment ever made . . . in the history of man.”

Happening this week in Washington: “Cowboys and Indians Ride on D.C.” – an alliance of “native peoples, farmers, and ranchers” are united in protesting the Keystone pipeline.

A Wikimedia Commons photo of a base mine and tailings pond in the Alberta tarsands region where the Keystone pipeline begins.

A Wikimedia Commons photo of a base mine and tailings pond in the Alberta tarsands region where the Keystone pipeline begins.

Finally, lest we become completely overwhelmed by environmental challenges that seem never-ending “5 environmental wins to celebrate” at the Christian Science Monitor is a good reminder that over time some of the challenges have been successfully met.

But, back to Wisconsin: compared to Earth Day, now 44 years old, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin is still a youngster. It is  working to address the pressing needs that Nelson articulated. When the Natural Resources Foundation was formed in 1986, declining budgets were compromising “critical programs of the Wisconsin DNR,” and the NRF was formed to recruit members and donors, and to boost “private sector investment and involvement in state-managed natural resources.”

Since then it has developed an active membership of more than 4,000 citizens that support the mission. It has contributed $4.6 million to public and private conservation efforts, and has also created the Wisconsin Conservation Endowment which currently includes 62 funds and $3.5 million in assets that permanently support specific lands, programs, and species. Our endangered whooping cranes are one of the species to benefit.

Fish Creek, in Door County, Wisconsin (A "Badger & Whooping Crane" photo)

Fish Creek, in Door County, Wisconsin (A “Badger & Whooping Crane” photo)

Impressive as all that is, when it comes to the “relationship between man and his environment”, Wisconsin’s NRF probably does that best through it’s dozens and dozens of annual field trips. These have gotten at least 28,000 people outdoors and into Wisconsin’s very best environments – into the State Natural Areas and parks, and in touch with its lands, waters, marshes, and wildlife.

These field trips are led by DNR professionals with other experts with a love and knowledge of the places they will lead you to. Have a look at this comprehensive list of field trips that are being sponsored by NRF from now through November. But look quick, because they’re filling up fast!




Train to Become a Wisconsin Master Naturalist in Door County this Winter

Yes, you read that correctly – in Door County, this winter.

While Door County is a go-to destination for so many of us in Wisconsin, I think very few give it a thought in the winter months. But if you’re anywhere near Ellison Bay, and have a passion for the natural world, and the time to pursue a certification that recognizes your skills and knowledge, here is a special opportunity.

The new Wisconsin Master Naturalist program will be offering its training course at The Clearing this January and February. The Peninsula Pulse has the sign up info and more about the schedule, which includes 40 hours of instruction in the classroom, with field trips, and a service learning component.

At Long Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest - Northern Unit.

At Long Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit.

That may sound like a heavy committment, and the cost of the course, $250, is significant too. But also significant is the knowledge of geology, ecology, plant life, aquatic life, wildlife, and 3 more topic areas, that you will be acquiring. So is the fact that when you successfully complete the course, you will be joining an elite new corps of informed volunteers dedicated to education and service within our Wisconsin communities and wild places.

Environmental Education Specialist Kate Reilly, the director of this new program, said that since launching in the spring of this year, two training courses, one at Saukville and one in Milwaukee have been completed, and two pilot training sessions (in Madison and Ashland) were completed in 2012. As a result there are currently 72 certified Wisconsin Master Naturalists and 16 trained instructors in the state.

Along Lake Michigan: a Door County beach, just north of Sturgeon Bay.

Along Lake Michigan: a Door County beach, just north of Sturgeon Bay.

Reilly added she is hopeful that 25 more (the maximum class size) will be trained at The Clearing. The Wisconsin Master Naturalist program is similar to Wisconsin’s well-known Master Gardner program, and also modeled on Master Naturalist programs in 25 other states.