Conserving Wisconsin's Natural Heritage Makes Big Strides in 2006
Guest column by Mary Jean Huston, State Director
MADISON, WI | December 31, 2006
As the year draws to a close, it is time for the inevitable year-end list-making and stock-taking. Here at The Nature Conservancy, we thought we’d add another list — a green list — celebrating some of the great natural resource conservation work across the state this year.
We know that the challenges we face are many, but we’re inspired by the vision and effort of an array of Wisconsin citizens working to conserve our natural heritage on the ground in their communities, through participation in forward-thinking planning initiatives, and financially through their charitable giving. So, I’d like to offer a toast to the many people and organizations working to safeguard Wisconsin’s lands and waters for nature and people and highlight five outstanding projects.
1) The Land Legacy Report released by the state Department of Natural Resources in January is a forward-looking document that identifies the places it will be critical to conserve to meet Wisconsin’s conservation and outdoor recreation needs for the next 50 years. Many agency staff, private citizens, outdoor enthusiasts, land managers, researchers and conservation organizations helped create this report, which will be an invaluable tool for educators; local governments, communities, and citizens engaged in land use planning; and public and private entities working on natural resource conservation.
2) The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund had a banner year in 2006 conserving Wisconsin’s natural lands and waters, including completion of the largest land conservation project in state history. A partnership among the State of Wisconsin, The Nature Conservancy, and two private timber companies conserved more than 64,600 acres in northeast Wisconsin. The purchase from International Paper ensures that the forests, wild rivers, and wild lakes will always be open to the public for recreation, will remain healthy and diverse, and will provide a future supply of forest products and local jobs. The project is an excellent example of how individuals, through their charitable giving, and private equity firms can leverage the State’s investment of Stewardship Fund dollars.
3) The Wisconsin Outdoor Alliance hosted its first-ever Wisconsin Outdoor Education Expo in May. The event gave more than 5,000 school kids and their families hands-on experience with outdoor activities including fishing, camping, wildlife, archery, and firearm safety. This event and the important work being done by nature centers and other environmental educators are critical to building and strengthening a love of nature and the outdoors in young people that enriches their lives and prepares them to be good future stewards of our lands and waters.
4) This summer, the Working Lands Initiative Steering Committee, composed of Wisconsin residents from the public and private sectors, completed a year-long effort to develop recommendations for sustaining Wisconsin’s working farm lands and forests — lands that are critical to our economy, our environment, and our quality of life. Their work — which recommends updating and strengthening land use planning, agriculture policies and programs, and education programs to meet today’s challenges — is an important contribution to shaping the future of our working lands.
5) In October, an additional 1,100 miles of northern Wisconsin rivers were designated Outstanding and Exceptional Resource Waters by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, adding an extra level of protection to stretches of such magnificent rivers as the Chippewa, Flambeau, St. Croix and Wisconsin. Thanks to the River Alliance, tribal governments, and many other citizens and nonprofit groups, the excellent water quality, valuable fisheries, and outstanding recreational opportunities on these 45 northern rivers will be maintained.
What excites me most about these five projects is the common vision emerging from so many places in Wisconsin right now for conservation. I believe that these kinds of projects have already made and will continue to make a real difference for conservation in our state, and thus our legacy to the future.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.