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Conservationists: Wisconsin Needs Land-Water Conservation Fund

Conservation organizations are supporting bipartisan legislation to permanently reinstate the lapsed federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been used in counties all across Wisconsin to preserve scenic beauty and natural resources. Credit: CleanWisconsin
Conservation organizations are supporting bipartisan legislation to permanently reinstate the lapsed federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been used in counties all across Wisconsin to preserve scenic beauty and natural resources. Credit: CleanWisconsin
November 24, 2015

MADISON, Wis. - For decades, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has helped the state preserve the scenic beauty for which Wisconsin is famous, but Congress has let the fund lapse.

Conservationists – such as real estate consultant Dick Steffes, who for decades ran the DNR's land acquisition program – say the fund should be reauthorized. Steffes sees the Fund as a remarkable program that helps bring balance to government.

"The government needs to be focused on security – safety nets for the poor, education, highways, all these things," says Steffes. "And to have a balance, it's important to protect your natural lands as well, and that's what the Land and Water Conservation Fund does."

Steffes says during his tenure at the DNR, the LWCF helped provide funds to preserve and protect irreplaceable land for state and local parks, providing outdoor recreation activities and playing a critical role in the state's economy.

Wisconsin's congressional delegation was split along party lines in allowing the fund to expire; Democrats voted to save it, Republicans voted to end it. But there has long been support for the Fund from both political parties, including a new bipartisan Senate proposal to provide for permanent reauthorization of the fund.

Alan Rowsome, The Wilderness Society's senior director of government relations for lands, says his group supports the proposal.

"In an incredibly polarized world where Congress isn't doing much, you see this incredible bipartisan cooperation among those members, and it shows you that this is a special issue," he says. "This is an issue not like many others, and one that shouldn't be caught up in politics."

Rowsome calls the fund "a program that works," and says it should be funded to do what it's doing.

Steffes says LWCF dollars have helped preserve natural beauty in counties all over the state. He mentions a park in Marathon County, the Dells of the Eau Claire River Park, as one example of many.

"It helped buy some of the land and preserve it for that really unique place, where there are little waterfalls all through that county park," he says. "That's also a node of The Ice Age Trail, which is a National Trail administered in Wisconsin by Wisconsin people."

Rowsome and Steffes both believe the Land and Water Conservation Fund should be permanently restored and funded, to help keep communities all over the nation livable and balanced.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI