The concept of a Green and Gold Wisconsin is alive and well. That’s dual support for policies that promote economic prosperity on the one hand and environmental improvements on the other. Contrary to right-wing doctrine, they are not at odds.
Even though the economy is trying to rebound from the damage done by the COVID virus, leaders and citizens in Wisconsin are still pushing policies and projects that improve the quality of our natural resources. Current “green” advances at all levels of government are many:
- An unlikely environmentalist, Former President Trump signed into law two bipartisan bills during the 2020 campaign that will dramatically help conservationists with their short and long-term missions. One was the Great American Outdoors Act, which will use revenues from energy development to provide up to $1.9 billion a year for five years to provide needed maintenance and upgrade infrastructure in our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools. It continues to use royalties from offshore oil and natural gas to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to the tune of $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the country. In addition, Trump signed America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act into law, which reauthorizes and establishes important wildlife programs.
- In Wisconsin, Gov. Evers has proposed a ten-year extension of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund that provides for land and water protection. His budget raises the annual funding from $30 million per year to $70 million. Republicans have been winding the fund down over the last decade. The program enables the purchase of thousands of acres that serve as sponges for the collection of excess waters and the prevention of flooding downstream. It works side-by-side with local land trusts across the state. The preserved habitats are home for many species and for outdoor recreation for citizens of the state. The GOP-controlled legislature and governor will have to agree on the final level of funding.
- A partnership of the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, the state, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), We Energies and the federal government is launching a six-year, $100 million project to clean up its waterways badly polluted over 150 years. It will include the dredging of 1.9 million cubic feet of materials, an historic undertaking to enhance water quality, marine life and recreation. The total cost could rise to $200 million.
- The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust and Ozaukee County are working hard to raise the funds to preserve 1300 feet of Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs on Lake Michigan south of Port Washington. Quality of life in that part of the state will be maintained and enhanced with this large preservation.
- The leaders of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin have worked steadily and successfully to add segments to the trail over the last six decades. Its “green and gold” value to the state was proved dramatically during the COVID crisis when people thronged to the trials as a way of maintaining their physical and mental health. The trail was discovered and rediscovered by thousands.
- The 40-plus non-profit land trust in Wisconsin work year-after-year to add precious properties to their portfolios. Their work at the local level accumulates to a game-changing strategy for Wisconsin. The state’s army of land trust members are a force that cannot be denied.
All of those green initiatives can be viewed by fiscal zealots as non-essential. But what’s life all about? The quality of life in this state depends greatly on the quality of our natural resources.
We are blessed to have inherited some of the best water resources in the country with our lakes; rivers, great and small; streams and two Great Lakes. We have some of the most attractive and productive lands on the planet, including the Kettle Moraine topography that winds diagonally across the state, the spectacular bluffs on the Mississippi, and some of the richest farmland and forests in the world.
Beyond the economic value of our natural resources, Wisconsin people have a spiritual connection to their homelands and waters. No price can be put on that collective love affair. I am one of them.
That’s why the green movement endures, even as our economic prosperity rises and falls, mostly rises.
(Torinus is a former chairman of the Wisconsin chapter of The Nature Conservancy and a founder of the combined Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.)