Wisconsin Conservationists: Don't Sell Off Public Lands
MADISON, Wis. - A large number of conservation organizations are adamantly opposed to a platform plank approved at last week's Republican Natiopnal Convention that advocates the sale or disposition of federal public lands.
Rather than selling public lands, said Michael Carlson, executive director of Gathering Waters, a Wisconsin land-trust organization, what's needed is bipartisan solutions and additional investment.
"One example would be permanent reauthorization of the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, in Congress," he said, "which would continue a more than 50-year bipartisan legacy of funding for federal, state and local land-protection efforts."
Former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer, who now is executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said maintaining public lands in the Badger State is critical.
"Whether you're a trout fisherman or elk hunter, deer hunter or walleye fisherman," he said, "there's really alarm in the sporting community about this trend to sell off lands."
Supporters of the sales have said the land belongs to the people anyway, and shouldn't be under government control.
Jennifer Giegerich, legislative director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said the idea has very little support among Wisconsinites. She said recent polling shows support of maintaining public lands at 80 percent or greater.
"That's true all cross the state," she said. "Whether you're in Wausau or Madison, if you're in the northwoods or the south shores of Milwaukee, voters care about conservation and they care about protecting our public land."
Carlson and other conservation leaders are calling on the Wisconsin congressional delegation to push back against the plan. He said the strong Wisconsin tradition of supporting and protecting the state's public lands is only one reason. He also cited the huge economic impacts, including the state's $12 billion outdoor recreation industry.
"Wisconsin is home to national forests, national wildlife refuges, waterfowl protection areas, national fish hatcheries and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, just to name a few of the treasured public lands here in the state," he said. "Public lands are as important to Wisconsin's economy as anywhere in the United States."