Nature is vital to our physical and mental health and well-being. That’s become even more evident as we’re drawn outside during this challenging year.
The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program provides access to outdoor recreation activities and a place for life to thrive. Its stewardship protects woodlands, water quality, and fights the impacts of climate change.
The stewardship program has quietly helped conserve the best of outdoor Wisconsin since 1989 when Gov. Tommy Thompson and the State Legislature first authorized the program. Local communities and nonprofits (matching the state investment dollar-for-dollar) have expanded parks and public nature preserves, purchased land and easements and added infrastructure, like boat ramps and nature trails to community parks and other natural areas. Stewardship dollars have been invested in every one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
The State Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers must now decide whether and how to reauthorize the Stewardship program for the next 10-year period. U.S. Census Bureau data shows Wisconsin ranks in the bottom half of states for parks and recreation operating spending overall and second to last for spending at the state level. Funding for natural areas is crucial to supporting quality of life – wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, water quality and flood protection.
Nature underpins our $22.2 billion (2019) tourism economy. The Stewardship Program is under threat – it will expire in July 2021 unless included in the next state budget and reauthorized by the Wisconsin Legislature. Gov. Evers has proposed $70 million annually (down from a high of $86 million).
Please consider contacting your state legislators before March 31 urging them to reauthorize this critical conservation program for 10 more years. An action alert is at nature.org/WIStewardshipProgramNow.
Kathy Kascewicz of Fifield
Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.