Thursday, January 18, 2018

Walker normalizing sacrifice of WI lands, public spaces

The business-obeisant managers running Scott Walker's 'chamber of commerce mentality' Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies want to wrench more peace, quiet, stewardship and affordable access from some of the best public natural spaces in Wisconsin.

The signs are everywhere and they put to shame the ethic and legacy of Wisconsin's historic conservationists John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson.

*  The Wisconsin DNR and its oversight body, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, are moving towards opening more state park land to snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. Want a quiet hike? Photograph the birds? 'Go elsewhere' is the state's message.

*  The Board will discuss the plan at the same meeting in Madison on January 24th where it will also take up DNR-proposed fee increases at some popular state parks.

If approved, the increases would be the second since 2015 when Walker and the Legislature through the budget stripped the parks of operating funding and put them on a faster-track to private exploitation. 

* The DNR yesterday approved a foot-in-the-door wetlands-filling permit that will help allow Kohler corporate interests to convert a 247-acre privately-owned nature preserve 

along the Lake Michigan shoreline south of Sheboygan into a high-end, privately-operated 18-hole golf course, club house and other amenities.

The project would will impact wildlife habitat, nearby residences, ground and surface waters and adjoining Kohler Andrae State Park's scenic beaches, hiking trails and popular camping destinations. 

The developers also want exclusive use of at least five acres of public land in the state park for an equipment building, and also seek use of the park entrance for golfers, diners and expected tournament visitors' access.

* With the support of then-DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, the Legislature ordered the DNR to sell 10,000 acres of state land - - more or less having pulled the number out of thin air. It didn't take long for one deal to raise the appearance of favoritism  - - and I see a straight line from that deal to the one sought by the golf course project into Kohler Andrae State Park.

It becomes easier to turn a blind eye to environmental degradation and water pollution if you treat public resources as profit centers and commodities.

And selling state land, transferring it to wealthy private businesses, or giving special interests with strong lobbies more one-sided access to it becomes normalized if you have systematically cut state science budgets, staff positions and public parks' funding in the name of very situational small government ideology which, truth be told, is more about boosting donors and businesses' bottom lines using public resources while turning the public sector and the Wisconsin Idea into memories.

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