I am delighted to report that, after a year of hard work, we can celebrate the passage of a new law in Wisconsin that will build a PERMANENT FUND for managing our precious state-owned and managed lands. We have been fortunate to have the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund available to purchase vital conservation lands for the past several decades. Increasing our holdings of public lands comes with responsibility– the need to responsibly manage and care for those lands we now own.
The conservation community has discussed for years the idea of “alternative funding“– dollars above and beyond what hunting and angling license fees generate in order to manage habitat on the lands we all share and enjoy. The sporting community has–rightly so–argued that significantly many more folks beyond hunters, trappers and anglers use our diverse public lands, and therefore all citizens should help pay for the care of them.
At long last there is a new “alternative funding” (I prefer to use the term “supplemental funding “) source that will provide dollars for management of a whole suite of public lands long into the future– a public lands endowment that will be built with contributions from thousands of Wisconsin (and Illinois and Minnesota!) citizens who make voluntary contributions when they buy a “service” from DNR– a park sticker, a hunting license, a snowmobile registration, or any number of other services. Those contributions will then be transferred to Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin for “safekeeping,” managed as a permanent endowment fund. It will take some years to build the “pot” large enough to make a significant difference…but our public lands aren’t going away, and the perpetual annual distributions from the endowment will be ever more useful in the future.
The Foundation is currently working with DNR to craft a Memorandum of Agreement that spells out the roles and responsibilities of each entity as well as the future use of the distributions from the endowment that will be managed and maintained by the Foundation. It will be awhile before we and DNR sort out all of the details and launch this new endowment with the opportunity for voluntary citizen (and corporate) donations. We’ll keep you posted!
Our pledge is this–the dollars will not be used for infrastructure on state lands –buildings, parking lots, bathroom facilities– but rather for ecosystem restoration, habitat management, removal of invasive species, and the many on-the-ground activities needed to steward our state-owned lands. As a Wisconsinite who loves our diverse public lands, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to “give back” to help care for those parks, natural areas, wildlife areas, forests and fishery areas. I hope you will be, too!!
We are grateful for the tremendous support provided by DNR Leadership–from Secretary Cathy Stepp, Deputy Secretary Matt Moroney, Executive Assistant Scott (Gundy) Gunderson, and Lands Administrator Kurt Thiede. We are also grateful for the support and leadership we received from the Governor’s office and from many legislators–on both sides of the aisle–for the unanimous passage of this important law.
I hope you’ll help spread the word… May our public lands continue to be well-managed and healthy landscapes long into the future!
Charlie Luthin, Executive Director
Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin