Bill would destroy Wisconsin’s natural resources

Good news, Wisconsin: The job-creators are saying through Big Government power that we have all the trout streams, wild and scenic rivers, endangered or threatened species, sensitive wetlands and waterways with special scientific value or otherwise needing natural resource protection that we will ever need.

Back in January, I said these special interest hires by Gov. Scott Walker to run the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would kill the state’s historic, constitutional public trust doctrine.

So our work as stewards is done! Put away your fishing pole and canoes and bring in the dump trucks and the front-end loaders, because we’ve got some wetlands to fill.

In just this one section of Walker’s Ruin Wisconsin’s Waters Bill – and remember, this is a "jobs-creating" bill (no, this is a bill to reduce public control of land and water, and to give away public resources, our resources, to private interests, period, for approval by the Legislature before Walker’s recall) – we read:

Areas of special natural resource interest…Under current law, certain exemptions for waterway activities do not apply in areas of special natural resource interest (ASNRIs). Current law defines, for purposes of exempting certain waterway activities from the individual and permitting requirements, an ASNRI to be a state natural area, a trout stream or other surface water that is identified by DNR as being an outstanding or exceptional resource water, or an area that has significant scientific value as identified by DNR. DNR has identified by rule various areas as having significant scientific value, including wild rice waters, waters that contain endangered or threatened species, and coastal wetlands. This bill incorporates into the statutes most of these areas designated by rule as having significant scientific value and prohibits DNR from identifying waters other than the ones specified in the statutes. And, the bill allows in another section for easier pier-building into public waterways, including those with the special ASNRI, sensitive/scientific designation:”

And …
“Piers and wharves…Current law also requires DNR to issue statewide general permits that allow a riparian owner to conduct certain activities on the bed of a navigable water. This bill requires DNR to issue a statewide general permit to allow a riparian owner to place a pier or wharf on the bed of a navigable water that is in, or that would directly affect, an area of special natural resource interest if the pier or wharf meets the requirements for an exemption for the placement of a pier by a riparian owner.”

So more piers – and maybe mining company structures – before waterway preservation and public usage.

If you read what makes up these existing ASNRI resources, you can see that they are all about applying science and stewardship to what makes Wisconsin’s environment so attractive to residents and visitors alike, drives the tourist industry and gives Native Americans connection to their heritage.

So we’re finished with this preservation work, this fundamental conservation work? We don’t need to do anything more?

We are supposed to suspend the use of science to save public, natural resources in Wisconsin – for the public good? Can’t you hear Homer Simpson saying, "Stupid science!"

As predicted: So the special session – theater aside – seems aimed at providing cover for bills to give business a freer hand to fill wetlands and weaken existing environmental protections – a sure-fire, pre-Walker recall fundraiser gimme pitched to conservative, corporate activists like the Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce and the Club for Growth/Americans for Prosperity.

And, in particular to smooth the way for easier private control of public waterways and land for everything from open pit mining to development to pier-building.

In fact, you could see this coming even before Walker took office. 

And he certainly signaled when he said he put Cathy Stepp in charge of the DNR because she had a "chamber of commerce mentality." 

And all this creates jobs, how exactly? Will vacationers head up North to watch a new strip mall being added in a drained wetland? It’s really the politics of degradation.

In this unnecessary and ideologically-driven clash between private landowners water-related (riparian) rights and the public’s broader rights through long-standing trust management, Walker and his legislative allies, on behalf of conservative, special interests are saying to the public: “Drop dead. We win. You lose. Check, please.”


James Rowen is a writer, a former reporter and a former mayoral staffer in both Madison and Milwaukee. He is the author of The Political Environment blog.

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