Archived entries for Policy Advocacy

State and Federal Land Conservation Programs are at Risk

If ever there was a time for Wisconsin’s land trusts and the conservation community to work together with a common purpose, this is it. Many of our top priorities at the state and federal levelsWisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and public land ownership—face grave threats, and we need your support and involvement.

State Threats

Lands purchased through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program help protect Wisconsin’s air and water quality, and provide outdoor places that are close to home, where folks go to find peace, recreate, and reap the health benefits associated with such areas. Assembly Bill 338 seeks to reallocate most of that funding to create scholarships for students and purchase low-value lands currently owned by the state.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program helps keep pace with an ever-growing need for public access to undeveloped, natural greenspaces throughout the state–like the one pictured here. Photo by Amy Singh

Federal Threats

The President’s 2018 budget proposal threatens to completely eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provides critical funds that clean up and reduce pollution, prevent invasive species from ruining our waters, and keep our Great Lakes healthy.

The federal budget proposal also includes severe cuts to the Land & Water Conservation Fund, a program that creates and protects national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development. It also provides matching grants to states for their local parks and recreation projects.

These federal programs protect our nation’s most valuable assets: clean water, air, and the kind of natural landscapes that are so important for our physical and mental well being. Photo by Mindy Petersen.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Urge Wisconsin legislators to oppose this bill.

Let your state senators and house member know why you care about these important federal programs.

Looking for additional ways to help? Here are 7 ways to help protect your public lands and waters.

Trump Budget Eliminates Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Leaving Fate of Lakes in Hands of U.S. Congress

The following statement was released today by The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 16, 2017)—The Trump Administration’s budget released today eliminates the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a popular program responsible for cleaning up toxic pollution, restoring wildlife habitat, controlling invasive species and reducing runoff from cities and farms. The cuts are part of the administration’s efforts to gut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by $2.6 billion, almost one-third of the budget for the agency responsible for ensuring every American has clean, safe drinking water. During the presidential campaign, representatives of Trump pledged to support federal Great Lakes restoration investments.

Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said:

“For the 30 million people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, health, jobs, and way of life, the Trump Administration budget is a total non-starter. The Trump Administration’s budget makes it abundantly clear that real leadership to benefit the people of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois will have to come from Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who have worked together over the last seven years to invest in Great Lakes restoration projects that are producing results for the environment and economy in local communities across the region. We look forward to working with Congress to restore funding to these important programs to ensure that Great Lakes restoration remains a top national priority.”

Read the White House budget at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/2018_blueprint.pdf

EPA and Great Lakes restoration cuts can be found on page 41-42

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 145 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. For more information visit http://www.healthylakes.org Follow us on twitter @healthylakes.

Help Protect the Great Lakes

The original version of this article was updated on 3/16/17 in response to the release of the Trump Administration’s preliminary federal budget (EPA and Great Lakes restoration cuts can be found on page 41-42.)

The Great Lakes–which provide drinking water for nearly 40 million people, including more than a million Wisconsinites–are at risk. Gathering Waters staff is in D.C. this week for Great Lakes Day with more than 100 advocates from the region to let members of Congress know how vital and valuable the Great Lakes are to our state’s economy and quality of life.

Executive Director, Mike Carlson and Government Relations Director, Chris Danou were in Senator Baldwin’s office on the morning the draft budget was released.

Read on for more information about:

  • The potential for a complete loss of all federal funding for Great Lakes protection and restoration;
  • How you can help protect the Great Lakes;
  • Wisconsin land trusts and the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a critical federal program for cleaning up toxic pollution, reducing polluted runoff, controlling invasive species and restoring habitat. Cuts to this funding would be devastating.

Bi-partisan Great Lakes Programs at Risk

The Trump Administration’s preliminary budget eviscerates funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)–a critical federal program for cleaning up toxic pollution, reducing polluted runoff, controlling invasive species and restoring habitat. The loss of the $300 million annual funding would devastate Great Lakes restoration efforts. The GLRI has enjoyed strong bi-partisan support in Congress, and we’re looking to Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation for leadership in defending critical Great Lakes funding and programs.

Read a statement from the Healing Our Waters Coalition to find out more about the immediate threat to one of Wisconsin’s most valuable assets.

 

You can help by contacting legislators and making a donation.

YOU Can Help

As part of the HOW Coalition’s annual fly-in to Washington DC, more than 100 Great Lakes advocates, including Gathering Waters staff, are meeting with members of Congress this week to talk about successful restoration efforts and the need for continued investment in the region. Can’t join us in DC? No problem–you can make a difference from home. Call your federal representatives today and ask them to protect critical Great Lakes funding and programs.

Find contact information for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators and your U.S. House member, or simply text your zip code to 520-200-2223. You’ll get a text back immediately with everything you need.

Also, consider a donation to Gathering Waters today to increase your impact.

More than a dozen Wisconsin land trusts help protect the Great Lakes in the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior basins through land protection and management.

Wisconsin Land Trusts and the Great Lakes

More than a dozen Wisconsin land trusts help protect the Great Lakes in the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior basins through land protection and management. These protected lands–such as the Frog Bay Tribal National Park–also provide access to the Lakes for all of us–for all kinds of recreation and enjoyment, forever.

Cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would be devastating to these efforts in the region.

Trump Administration Proposed Cuts to Great Lakes Programs, EPA Unacceptable

The following is a statement from the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition (HOW Coalition), which consists of more than 145 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Gathering Waters is a proud part of the HOW Coalition.

Republicans, Democrats in Congress are key to protecting Great Lakes, clean water programs

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (March 9, 2017)—The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition today expressed deep concern with the rumored Trump Administration’s budget cuts that would gut core Great Lakes programs, roll back Clean Water Act protections, and delay federal action to respond to serious threats like the invasive Asian carp. Absent a change in course from the Trump Administration, the Coalition is looking to work with the U.S. Congress to keep federal restoration efforts on track.

“The administration’s actions over the last few weeks threaten to stop federal Great Lakes restoration efforts in their tracks and undermine gains we’ve made,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “We strongly urge the White House to reverse course and put forward a strong Great Lakes budget that is in the best interest of the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, job, and way of life.”

Preliminary Trump Administration budget numbers leaked last week would eviscerate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – the popular and successful federal program to clean up toxic pollution, reduce runoff, control invasive species and restore habitat – from $300 million to $10 million, a 97 percent cut. This cut comes, even though President Trump’s campaign pledged to support Great Lakes restoration investments in September 2016. In addition to cuts to Great Lakes programs, the budget also contained drastic cuts to other critical programs and even the elimination of programs such as the EPA’s environmental justice office.

The preliminary budget was the latest in series of actions that could undermine Great Lakes restoration efforts. Over the last three weeks the Trump Administration has:

  • Proposed slashing funding for core Great Lakes programs by 97 percent;
  • Recommended cutting the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 25 percent;
  • Indefinitely postponed the release of a study needed to bolster defenses against invasive Asian carp; and,
  • Issued an executive order asking federal agencies to review the Clean Water Rule to determine whether to revise or rescind it.

“These actions have real impacts on local communities,” said Joy Mulinex, co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and director of government relations, Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “Federal investments are producing results, but serious threats remain. Cutting successful programs will not save the federal government one penny, because projects will only get more difficult and expensive the longer we wait.

President Trump is scheduled to release the final proposed budget the week of March 13. That week, as part of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition’s annual fly-in to Washington, D.C., more than 100 Great Lakes advocates will be meeting with members of Congress to talk about successful restoration efforts. Over the past three years, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have beaten back attempts to cut Great Lakes programs.

“Congress controls the purse strings, and we have been fortunate to have strong Great Lakes champions on both sides of the aisle,” said Chad Lord, policy director, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Now, more than ever, it will be important for Great Lakes senators and representatives to support Great Lakes restoration and protection efforts and defend the policies and agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency that are the foundation for clean water. Every single person in the United States deserves access to affordable, clean, safe drinking water, beaches that are safe to swim in and fish that are safe to eat.”

Learn more about the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition at www.healthylakes.org or follow us on Twitter @healthylakes.

Kevin Shafer, 2016 Policymaker of the Year Award

Kevin Shafer is a champion of the Milwaukee River watershed. As Executive Director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, Kevin has fostered a cooperative relationship between the district and a wide range of public and private conservation partners. His leadership has resulted in the implementation of cost effective, creative solutions for reducing water runoff and wastewater discharge with resounding success—drastically improving the water quality of the Milwaukee River watershed.

Kevin Shafer - Photo from Milwaukee Magazine

Shafer 246 feet below the Milwaukee River. Photo from Milwaukee Magazine

During his tenure at MMSD, Kevin has guided the agency’s embrace of ‘green’ infrastructure. By utilizing incentive programs that aid homeowners with the costs of rain gardens and rain barrels, in addition to removing the concrete lining and dams in Milwaukee’s rivers, lake and streams, rain water is trapped where it falls. This approach reduces the rate and severity of floods, and cleans the water as it’s filtered through the ground.

Kevin and Gina McCarthy the Administrator of the U.S. EPA

Additionally, Kevin has significantly shaped the ways in which MMSD works and collaborates with the communities it serves. “Kevin has transformed the relationship MMSD has with its surrounding communities,” says Christine Nuernberg, former Mayor of Mequon, “Kevin’s collaborative approach has replaced the adversarial relationship that predominated the past.” This newfound cooperation has enabled MMSD to work with municipalities, conservation groups and other stakeholders to implement ‘Greenseams.’

Greenseams is a program that places upstream shorelines and wetlands in Milwaukee’s watershed under conservation easements (meaning, development of the property is permanently restricted). In addition to preventing floods, filtering water and cleaning the air, these habitats revitalize natural areas in otherwise developed communities and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Kevin Shafer-2015

“By being a visionary and team player, Kevin has made Milwaukee a national leader in innovative storm water management,” says Jeff Martinka, Executive Director of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee. Given these reasons, it is Gathering Waters honor to present Kevin Shafer with the prestigious Policymaker of the Year award.  Kevin will receive his award on October 20th at the Sweet Water Annual Meeting in Milwaukee. Click here for more details or to register for the event. 

Congress passes permanent conservation tax incentive and LWCF extension

Today, Congress passed a year-end deal on spending and taxes that will make permanent the enhanced incentive for donations of conservation easements! The legislation also includes a brief but welcome reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  The bill is now headed to the president’s desk and the White House has indicated that President Obama is likely to sign the agreement into law over the weekend.

Conservation Easement Tax Incentive

Making the enhanced tax incentive permanent has been a top priority for the land trust community nationally, and this vote in Congress is a major victory for conservation.  Across the country, land trusts have been building strong bipartisan support for this powerful and cost-effective incentive by contacting  their members of Congress, writing Letters to the Editor, organizing tours of protected properties, and mobilizing their supporters.

The enhanced tax incentive has been highly successful at encouraging private, voluntary land conservation in Wisconsin and across the U.S., accelerating the pace of conservation across the country by nearly 33% and exceeding one million acres per year. First established in 2006, the enhanced incentive expired at the end of 2014.  With a permanent tax incentive, landowners will have predictability as they make important planning decisions about the future protection of their land.

Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is celebrating its 50th year in 2015, is one of the best tools available for creating parks and public lands across America. This fund takes a portion of revenues from offshore oil drilling and uses that money to pay for local, state, and national parks, as well as other public lands such as forests, shorelines, historic sites, and wildlife refuges.  In Wisconsin, LWCF has been critical for helping to protect special places ranging from the Ice Age Trail to large working forest conservation easements to local community parks.

Ice Age Trail near Gibralter Rock Photo By: Kate Zurlo-Cuva

Ice Age Trail near Gibraltar Rock Photo By: Kate Zurlo-Cuva

The legacy of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is outstanding — expanding Americans’ access to spectacular natural landmarks as well as parks and trails near home. Since 1965, this fund has helped to protect over 3 million acres of land in every state and territory. Every year, over 500 million people visit these places, dramatically boosting local economies.

The value of a strong alliance for Wisconsin’s land trusts

As the year draws to an end, we are incredibly thankful for everyone who played a role in strengthening Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts. The stronger the alliance between Gathering Waters’ staff and board members, land trust leaders, and the broader conservation community, the more successful we are—protecting the lands that provide so much value to us all.

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The value of our alliance was thrown into sharp relief this year as we defended the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program in the state budget. We built relationships with decision-makers, activated land trust leaders, shared communications tools and information, and supported advocacy efforts in communities across the state.love stew

Because of the strength of our alliance, millions of dollars per year will continue to fund land conservation efforts throughout Wisconsin, which means:

  • Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars will continue to be generated annually through tourism, outdoor recreation, forestry and agriculture.
  • Residents will continue to have cleaner air and water because of protected wetlands and forests.
  • Plants and animals will be more resilient to changing conditions.
  • Future generations will continue to have places to hunt, hike, fish and explore close to home.
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Photo by Alyson Tiffany

Unfortunately, while Stewardship was saved, Gathering Waters took a direct hit in the state budgetA grant, which provided significant resources for our work for more than twenty years, was eliminated. But we aren’t going anywhere; our mission and the value of a strong alliance for Wisconsin’s land trusts is far too important.

We hope you agree and that you will consider a special gift to Gathering Waters today to keep the alliance stronger than ever.

In the coming year, we will redouble our commitment to strengthening Wisconsin’s land trusts. We hope your dedication to strengthening land trusts, protecting Wisconsin’s special places, and growing healthy communities is as strong as ours.

watch video.jpgWant to learn more about the difference you can make by strengthening Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts? Watch this video today!

Representatives Loudenbeck, Kitchens, and Novak are the Policymakers of the Year

Representatives Amy Loudenbeck (R- Clinton), Joel Kitchens (R- Sturgeon Bay), and Todd Novak (R- Dodgeville) championed the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program in the last state budget – vocally supporting Stewardship with members of their caucus and actively participating in a working group that successfully negotiated a compromise restoring Stewardship funding to $33 million per year.

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Photo by Althea Dotzour Photography

From early on in the state budget, Representative Kitchens engaged the land trust community—meeting with constituents and stakeholders at the Door County Land Trust office and communicating regularly with helpful insights about the state budget.  Rep. Kitchens voiced his strong support for Stewardship early and often in the process.

Kitchens for blog

Representative Joel Kitchens (R- Sturgeon Bay). Photo by Althea Dotzour Photography

Representative Novak, who also serves as the Mayor of Dodgeville, has been a consistent proponent of Stewardship during his first term in the legislature and is quick to articulate the program’s importance to his district, which includes popular areas like the Lower Wisconsin Riverway and Governor Dodge State Park.  Rep. Novak spoke at length with both opponents and proponents of Stewardship to help find middle-ground.

Novak for blog

Representative Representative Todd Novak (R- Dodgeville). Photo by Althea Dotzour Photography

Representative Loudenbeck sits on the powerful Joint Committee on Finance and took the lead on natural resources issues in the state budget.  Rep. Loudenbeck engaged with a wide range of stakeholders including land trust leaders in her district.  She studied the details of the Stewardship Program and initiated a productive dialogue with her colleagues, working hard to find a compromise with fellow members of the Joint Committee on Finance. In her role, she was instrumental in the outcome of the state budget.

Loudenbeck for blog

Representative Representative Amy Loudenbeck (R- Clinton). Photo by Althea Dotzour Photography.

For all of these reasons and more, Gathering Waters is thrilled to honor these three outstanding leaders with Policymaker of the Year awards, on September 24th, at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website! IHeartStew

Keeping Forests Accessible for Timber & Recreation

Wisconsin is a leader in the forest products industry and our timberlands directly support the state’s economy. Funding from the KnowlesNelson Stewardship Program protects this valuable asset by limiting the subdivision of large forest properties and complementing the active management of adjacent public forestlands.

Since the 1990s, Wisconsin has lost more than a quarter of a million acres of industrial forestland—much of which is now in small, parcelized ownerships. The smaller the parcel, the less chance timber will be managed to support local mills. Hunters also lose out as “no trespassing” signs typically follow changing ownership.

Fortunately, through the leadership of land trusts, the Stewardship Program has been instrumental in slowing forest land parcelization. Funding from the program allows land trusts and land owners to find business solutions, ensuring our forests remain accessible for recreation and timber harvest.

Michael Anderson

This Stewardship project supports an economically viable forest, which creates jobs while ensuring access to outdoor recreation. Photo by Michael Anderson

 

In fact, as a nationally recognized leader among land trusts, The Conservation Fund has become a champion of Wisconsin’s northern working forests. Its most recent victory for the state was the permanent protection of the 13,732-acre Twin Lakes Legacy Forest in Iron County.

This Legacy Forest has been a top priority for supporters of working forests because its resources and outdoor recreation opportunities are major drivers of the regional economy. An important aspect of this land deal is providing permanent public access for recreation, including vehicle access on over 10 miles of private-woods roads that enable hunters to continue accessing the interior of the property.

Amy Singh (1)

“These investments in our future are made possible by the Knowles-Nelson State Stewardship Program, helping communities safeguard the state’s habitats and inhabitants.” – Tom Duffus, Vice President – Midwest for The Conservation Fund, Photo by Amy Singh

 

It will also now continue to support jobs and provide a sustainable supply of forest products in perpetuity, ensure and enhance access to outdoor recreation, and protect habitat for important game and non-game species.

Why Stewardship Matters:

  • It supports Wisconsin’s $20 billion forestry industry, including jobs.
  • It provides a sustainable supply of forest products.
  • It ensures that our forests remain and are accessible for recreation, timber, and sport—major drivers of the regional economy.
  • It protects important habitat for game and non-game species.

A printable version of this story and others are available on our website. Feel free to share with legislators and media outlets to help save the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program! This story is also available as a 3 minute video watch it today!

Community Asset, Local Treasure

When landowners Alex and Mary Erickson decided to sell their 220-acre property nestled between the Pecatonica River and the Village of Argyle, the community was deeply concerned. As local resident John Soper described, “This property came up for sale and I thought, uh oh, are we going to have that access to it that we had before?” Luckily, the Ericksons were on the same page. “Seeing this land protected so that it will inspire kids and the Argyle community has always been our dream,” Mary explains. And because of funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, their local land trust, Driftless Area Land Conservancy (Driftless) was able to purchase the property – forever protecting the land and access for the public.

Photo by Ivan LaBianca

“We couldn’t have done this without the Knowles Nelson Stewardship grant. It paid for fifty percent of the appraised value of the property and that was significant. Without the Stewardship funding the deal wouldn’t have gone through.” – Dave Clutter, Executive Director, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, photo by Ivan LaBianca

 

Since the property became a permanent part of the Argyle community, Driftless and the community have worked together to truly make the most of all it has to offer. As Dave Clutter, Executive Director of Driftless, explains, “The community support for this project has been heartwarming. It is clear that this place has touched the lives of many people already.” The Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin funded a kiosk and boardwalk to facilitate public access to the land, and Driftless has “been working hand-in-hand with the school in developing curriculum and using this property as an outdoor laboratory.” Additionally, an anonymous foundation funded the purchase of binoculars, a computer, and a spotting scope for the school’s environmental education activities.

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Argyle youth now have an incredible outdoor laboratory and classroom while the entire community can rest assured that this treasure will always be theirs, Photo courtesy of Driftless Area Land Conservancy

 

And the students are loving it. “It’s just better to be outside because you get more fresh air and there’s just more to do,” said high school student, Kaylie Berget. Her friend Taylor Mathys added, “During school it kinda feels cooped up and when we get to get outside, it’s like you’re free.”

This special place will continue to enrich the lives of those around it, forever. Echoing the sentiment of fellow community members, local resident Neale Tollakson says “It’s a great comfort to me to know that it’s going to continue to be here for future generations.”

Why Stew Matters:

  • Locals have always felt this land was a part of their community’s identity and now they always will, as they continue to have a place close to home to get outside, explore, and be active year round.
  • Students benefit from the incorporation of an outdoor laboratory and classroom.
  • Living near parks and green spaces has been shown to boost mental well-being and reduce stress

A printable version of this story and others are available on our website. Feel free to share with legislators and media outlets to help save the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program! This story is also available as a 3 minute video watch it today!



Gathering Waters • 211 S. Paterson St. Suite 270 • Madison, WI 53703 • PH 608-251-9131 • FX 608-663-5971 • info@gatheringwaters.org