What would Gaylord say about Stewardship cuts? | WisCommunity

What would Gaylord say about Stewardship cuts?












Man MKE did an insightful, shorter post on the subject while we procrastinated. But no harm in piling on.

Here's the setup:

The Legislature's budget-writing committee voted Thursday to reduce from $86-million to $60-million a year what is available to be spent on Wisconsin's primary program to protect land from development and preserve it for recreational use by the public.


State Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) ripped into the Republicans' lack of support for the program, saying that Knowles and Nelson would be "ashamed of this Legislature" and "embarrassed by this proposal."


But state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), the committee co-chair, defended the vote, saying that the state couldn't afford to borrow more money for public land conservation.


"I bet Gaylord Nelson and Warren Knowles would agree with us," Darling said. "Because many areas of our state are saying, 'You know what? We better make sure we use these lands.'"

Gaylord Nelson's name is thrown around a lot by Wisconsin politicians, since he's a Badger who stands as one of the leading environmenmtalists in American history. Since his death in 2005, everyone feels free to specilate about What Would Gaylord Do (or Say, in this case.)

I can't speak for Gaylord, but as his biographer I'm confident in saying that Alberta Darling doesn't speak for him, either.

Better make sure we "use" these lands, she says?

The visionary Stewardship program dreamed up by Nelson 50 years ago is designed to protect land for open space, recreation, and wildlife habitat. From its inception, the program has recognized that some wild and scenic areas should be preserved, through easement or purchase, without being developed, and left in their natural state.

In many cases, that is the best "use" of the lands.

Darling's Joint Finance Committee recognized that when it restored the ability of local land trusts and the state to use the Stewardship Fund to purchase conservation easements -- something Gov. Scott Walker had proposed to eliminate. Conservation easements allowing the state and land trusts to leverage conservation dollars by purchasing development rights for important conservation lands. Doing that preserves key lands and waters while also keeping properties in private ownership.

Conservation easements are used to guarantee that lands will not be developed, but will remain in their natural state. And Darling voted for that provision.

Perhaps some background would be helpful. Much of this is from my book, "The Man From Clear Lake:"

In 1961, Gov. Gaylord Nelson proposed an ambitious, visionary program to expand the state’s recreational land holdings, at a time when a growing population and new mobility by automobile was putting increasing pressure on scarce public lands. Its adoption put Wisconsin in the forefront of conservation programs in the nation. It was to make Nelson “The Conservation Governor,” stamp him indelibly as an environmentalist, and make him a national leader on the issue.

On its face, it was simple: a ten-year, fifty million dollar program to acquire land for recreation and conservation purposes, paid for by a one cent per package tax on cigarettes. But its underpinnings and inner workings represented an upheaval in the way Wisconsin handled conservation issues, and the huge scope of the program made it clear that preserving recreational land was a high priority for the state.

Nelson had hatched the basic idea – that he wanted to expand and accelerate land acquisition – during his first term as governor. He had a lifelong interest in the environment, but had been unable to accomplish much in ten years as a minority member of the legislature. As a first term governor he had some modest success, expanding the outdoor recreation budget, increasing public lake and stream access, and acquiring Blue Mounds State Park, but failing to win approval of a two-dollar sticker for state park admission to raise added revenue to expand the park system. He had warned then, in making a case for more money for state parks and forests, that “our state parks and forest recreation areas have been neglected for too long,” with park attendance growing twenty times as fast as expenditures for parks. One problem, he said, was that Wisconsin favored the traditionally male sports of fishing and hunting, while doing little for parks used by whole families.

Family recreation was the major factor in the booming park usage, as Illinois families headed for Wisconsin and families in southern Wisconsin headed Up North for weekend or vacation getaways. A study by the University of Wisconsin School of Commerce estimated that twenty five per cent of all Chicago area residents took at least one overnight trip to Wisconsin in 1959.

If Wisconsin residents needed to be convinced there was a problem, the Fourth of July weekend in 1960 did the trick. Every state park was jammed beyond capacity, and people were turned away. Southern Wisconsin parks were hardest hit with a huge influx of Chicagoans, and were overcrowded to the point where the park system experienced its first health and sanitation problems. The crush and resulting mess dramatized what state officials already knew – recreation usage was skyrocketing, while available land and facilities were static.

The number of camper days in Kettle Moraine Forest jumped eighty-five per cent from 1957 to 1959, and many public hunting and fishing areas had similar reports. In five years, camper use increased five hundred per cent at Big Foot Beach in Walworth County, near the Illinois border, and four hundred per cent at Terry Andrae State Park on Lake Michigan. Nelson toured ten crowded state parks in August 1960 and declared that the state should “double and redouble” facilities and land acquisition, before new Interstate highways worsened the problem. The need to expand recreational facilities was undisputed, but the state’s financial crisis – and traditional, bureaucratic decision- making – stood in the way.

Now, as his second term began, Nelson was ready to move on ORAP (Outdoor Recreation Action Program). To plan it, he chose David Carley, director of the new agency; Harold (Bud) Jordahl, Jr., a professional natural resource manager with the Conservation Department who became the DRD’s resource specialist; William Fairfield, Nelson’s press secretary; and James Wimmer, his executive assistant. Jordahl took the lead in putting the program together.

The first step was to ask the Conservation Department’s director, Lester Voigt, what was on its wish list – “If you had millions of dollars to spend, what would be your priorities all over this state? They produced a hell of a long list,” Nelson said. It included existing and proposed acquisition and capital improvements totaling 42.7 million dollars. That list and others from the Conservation Department became the nucleus of the ORAP proposal. It included projects of some type in nearly every county – and every legislative district – in the state. That would be key to selling the program to the public and to the Republican-controlled legislature.

Jordahl refined the idea, adding the use of “conservation easements” to stretch the budget and protect natural areas and scenic beauty without having to purchase the land. He proposed matching federal money for flood-control dams that would create twenty small new lakes in southwestern Wisconsin, the only part of the state without an abundance of lakes. The plan also included money for tourist information centers on the borders, youth conservation camps, aid to urban areas to expand recreation space, state recreation planning by DRD, and a study of the potential of recreation and tourism in the Lake Superior region. A cynic could say there was something for everyone, rural or urban, in all regions of the state, in order to generate support. The projects were solid on the merits, but their geographic distribution did give everyone a reason to support ORAP, because everyone would benefit.

“The choice we are faced with, quite simply, is now or never,” Nelson told a joint session of the legislature on March 15 in what was billed as a resource development message. “Wisconsin’s entire recreational future will continue to be undercut, month by month, unless we start immediately on a program of wise and prudent investment in our outdoor asserts, enhanced for future generations by careful planning and multiple use concepts.” He laid out the urgent need for a program – the increasing pressure on recreational land and facilities, fueled by the growing population and “massive urban expansion” in southeastern Wisconsin and the Chicago metropolitan area. Land acquisition was more urgent than development, he said.

“First priority should be given to securing for the public these vital assets which are fast disappearing,” he said, calling for expansion of a number of state parks, fish and wildlife habitat, and state forests. “If you adopt this program, whatever else you do this session, you will leave a permanent mark in history as the Conservation Legislature,” he said.

Editorial support was strong, backing Nelson’s plan as “one of the finest things to come out of the statehouse in many a year.” Attorney General John Reynolds said it would be “the greatest plan that any state has ever passed,” and proclaimed that “Kennedy, Nelson and conservation” were the three things that would foster the growth of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Three hundred hunters and fishermen, delegates to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, gave Nelson a standing ovation as they unanimously endorsed the plan. ORAP “might turn out to be the most fruitful things politically (Nelson) has devised in his career,” columnist John Wyngaard wrote.

Mail to the governor’s office also ran strongly in favor of the plan, but there were a few naysayers. Why should hunters and fishermen have “the recreation financed at the expense of the taxpayer?” one Stevens Point man wrote. His hobbies were bowling, photography, and spectator sports, he told Nelson. “How soon may I expect the state to provide me with a bowling ball and shoes, film for my camera, and free passes to all basketball, football, and baseball games?” Nelson replied that not only sportsmen would benefit, but the entire population, including bird watchers, amateur photographers, and picnickers.

When ORAP got a public hearing before the legislature’s conservation committees, it generated more support than anything else Nelson had ever proposed. “The opinion of the North is unanimously in favor of this program for resource development,” a Vilas County Chamber of Commerce spokesman said. Representatives of local governments, sportsmen’s clubs, conservation groups, civic organizations, and farm groups all testified in support of the plan. Nelson said the stated faced “a now or never situation,” with the state losing its natural resources “not by the inch and the ounce, but by the square mile and the ton.”

But the Republican Senate leadership plotted to kill the bill, or at least hijack it. Senator Earl Leverich, Nelson’s pipeline to the GOP caucus, told him the Republicans thought the bill was too popular to give him credit for it. The problem was that the bill was “popular as hell,” Nelson knew, and several Republican mavericks, led by Krueger, intended to vote for it. But a Republican head count showed that a motion to table the bill would result in a tie vote, allowing Lieutenant Governor Warren Knowles, a Republican, to cast the deciding vote to table. Technically, they wouldn’t be voting to kill the bill, so the vote could be defensible. Republicans then could rewrite the plan and introduce some sort of similar proposal, for which they could take the credit. It was a technique they had used in the legislature for years, as with Nelson’s bill to integrate the Wisconsin National Guard.

Republicans offered “a fistful of amendments” to Nelson’s bill. State Senator Robert Knowles called it “the most ingenious pork barrel bill ever drafted. There’s something in it for almost everybody.” The key vote was on tabling the bill. The Democratic floor leader, Senator William Moser, said, “The only problem with this bill is that Governor Gaylord Nelson introduced it. The only purpose for the delay is for the Republican party to draft a new proposal and take the credit.”

Ace in the Hole

But Nelson and Company were one step ahead this time. Leo O’Brien, Republican State Senator from the Green Bay area, was neither a maverick nor an independent thinker. An insurance salesman and public relations man with no real political ambitions, he was a reliable vote who “rarely strayed from the regular Republican fold.” The Republican leadership took his vote for granted, but in this one important instance that was a mistake.

A Republican businessman with close ties to O’Brien had become impressed with Nelson, whom he had heard about ad infinitum from his friends John J. Brogan and his son, John. The Brogans were long-time Democrats from Green Bay, and young John had worked in Nelson’s campaign for governor as a staffer and frequent driver on Nelson’s campaign trips. Through the Brogans, the Republican also came to know key Nelson staffers Bill Fairfield, his press secretary, and Ed Bayley, his chief of staff. One weekend in 1959, at the Brogan cottage in Door County, the Republican made an offer. “If you ever need a vote in the State Senate, let me know.” It was understood that it was a one-time offer, to be used only in a real emergency. With the impending defeat of ORAP, Nelson and Fairchild decided the emergency was at hand. Fairfield, through Brogan, reached the businessman and told him the situation. The governor needed the vote in the State Senate the next morning. The Republican, who was largely responsible for the election of O’Brien to the Senate, agreed to ask O’Brien for his vote.

O’Brien didn’t attend the Senate Republican caucus the next morning, idly walking around the empty Senate chamber while his colleagues caucused. He did not want to make a commitment on the bill. His absence didn’t cause any alarm among the GOP leadership. O’Brien was a safe vote in their minds. But when the roll call vote to table ORAP was called, O’Brien voted no. Republican leaders, thinking he had made a mistake, huddled with him to try to get him to change his vote. But O’Brien held firm. It was no mistake, he said, repeating his instructions: “No on all amendments, yes on final passage.” The tabling motion and a series of other amendments all failed on identical seventeen to fifteen votes, with O’Brien casting the deciding vote every time. When it came to final passage, the vote was twenty-six to five as “ten Republicans jumped on the bandwagon.”

On 28 August 1961, with Jordahl and the heads of the Conservation and Welfare Departments and Highway Commission looking on, Nelson signed the ORAP bill into law. It was “perhaps the most important single act by a Wisconsin legislature in the last quarter century,” Nelson said, guaranteeing that the 1961 legislature would be remembered for “the foresight shown in assuring our children and grandchildren of the outdoor resources with which our state is so richly blessed.” Wisconsin’s innovative program quickly drew national attention, was praised and promoted by Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, and was used as a model by other states. Udall called it “the boldest conservation step ever taken on a state level in the history of the United States.” Wyngaard wondered about the “relative ease of the achievement” and why no one had thought of it before. “If one of Governor Nelson’s predecessors in statehouse control has shown such enterprise and imagination, Nelson might now continue to be a relatively obscure state legislator.”

For ORAP was much more than a pork barrel, laundry list of projects and land acquisitions, even though that had helped sell the program. It marked a fundamental change in the way the state viewed and used its natural resources. It involved the state in conservation, recreation, and tourism to a greater extent than ever before. It expanded the boundaries of conservation programs beyond hunting and fishing, and broadened the constituency for such programs beyond the so-called “red shirts” – outdoorsmen – to encompass family recreation, camping, picnicking, swimming, hiking and boating. It recognized that some wild and scenic areas should be preserved, through easement or purchase, without being developed, and left in their natural state.

It broadened the tax base for conservation programs, which had relied mainly on segregated fees from licenses and permits. In concert with new requirements for natural resource planning insisted upon by Nelson, the legislation laid the groundwork for a huge expansion of state-owned recreation land. In the words of one scholar, it marked “a watershed moment in the rise of Wisconsin environmentalism. It influenced the direction of both state and national policy-making, injecting one of the first ‘modern’ environmental issues into the political milieu. . . . challenged the status quo in Wisconsin’s conservation community and established Gaylord Nelson as a national environmental leader.”

The first year after it was enacted, the state spent three million dollars to acquire more than 36,000 acres of land through bonding, an additional fifty-six million dollars for recreation and conservation and 144 million dollars for local water treatment plants. By 1981, when ORAP-200 expired, the two ORAP programs combined had acquired more than 450,000 acres and spent $93 million in state and matching federal funds. ORAP-200, in turn, was succeeded by the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which in the year 2000 was allocating forty-six million dollars annually to conserve and protect wildlife habitat, sensitive lands, and recreational opportunities.

The program, now the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund -- it's always had bipartisan support in the past, but clearly the GOP was in charge when the program was named, putting Knowles first -- has protected a million acres through state acquisition, partnerships with non-profit organizations and local units of government, and through the purchase of conservation easements.

What would Gaylord Nelson say? How about, "Hands off the Stewardship Fund."


May 29, 2011 - 7:15pm