State of Wisconsin Would Upset Gaylord Nelson

This opinion was published in The Cap Times, March 16, 2016
By Dave Zweifel – Editor Emeritus

Wisenvirlegacyphotos

Gaylord Nelson*, the late Wisconsin governor and senator, would often confide to friends that if he were king he’d make it tough for big, smoke-belching manufacturing plants to locate in the state.

To say that publicly wouldn’t have sat well with the state’s business gurus. Nelson would have been pilloried for having an anti-business attitude and holding back the state’s economy, but he firmly believed that Wisconsin was a unique place, a natural wonder that needed to be protected for eternity.

And while the state never had a policy to keep big manufacturing plants out, it did develop laws to protect its natural beauty, adopting strong environmental safeguards for everything from the state’s towering northern forests to its thousands of blue-water lakes. Manufacturers were expected to follow those regulations and the Department of Natural Resources was charged with making sure they did. We didn’t want any Gary, Indianas, in our midst.

It wasn’t just Democrat Nelson who carried the torch to protect Wisconsin from potential polluters. A Republican named Warren Knowles did too. The two Wisconsin politicians grew up not too far from each other, Knowles in River Falls in Pierce County and Nelson in little Clear Lake in Polk County, about an hour’s drive to the north.

They knew firsthand Wisconsin’s rushing rivers, its fresh and unpolluted air, its varied landscapes that beckoned folks to enjoy the great outdoors. It was their love of Wisconsin’s unspoiled beauty that resulted in the two of them pushing the state to buy land and preserve it for the people.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program wound up protecting over a half-million acres for posterity and keeping Wisconsin as true to its natural roots as possible. The state became known for its environmental protections and was considered a model of how states could balance the interests of businesses, conservationists and environmentalists for the benefit of all.

I am struck by how much that’s changed under Scott Walker’s tenure as Wisconsin’s governor.

A recent story in the Wisconsin State Journal described how the current leadership of the DNR is hurriedly putting together a reorganization of the department that many fear will reduce the department’s ability to keep tabs on potential polluters. That is coming on top of several laws passed in the state Legislature’s most recent session that will harm our state’s waters.

And that’s on top of a gradual reduction in DNR staff, including educators and foresters, and decimation of the department’s Science Bureau. And that’s still on top of the Walker administration’s directive to the DNR to sell off some of the land preserved by the Knowles-Nelson fund.

In short, where just a few years ago the state’s environmental interests were on equal footing with those of businesses and developers, the playing field has been tilted in favor of the latter groups.

Wisconsin is already starting to show scars. The proliferation of controversial megafarms called CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) continues unabated around the state, often in areas where private wells and groundwater aquifers can be contaminated. In Kewaunee County, a high concentration of cows in CAFOs and the resulting liquid manure is suspected in the contamination of numerous residential wells.

Other CAFOs have experienced devastating accidental spills of manure, the most recent in Grant County, where two miles of a pristine trout stream were poisoned. Yet the CAFOs seem to get routine approval. One proposed to be opened near the town of Saratoga in Wood County, complete with 5,300 cattle producing enough waste to equal that of a city of 106,000 people, is being fought relentlessly by the local people, but the fight may all be for naught.

The DNR’s deputy secretary, Kurt Thiede, said the planned reorganization, which is targeted to occur as early as June 1, is aimed at taking best practices from other states. Arizona, Iowa and Tennessee were given as examples.

There was a time when other states came to Wisconsin to learn about the best ways to protect their natural resources.

No more.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.

Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day, celebrated in the United States and around the world annually, on April 22, since 1970. His last book was “Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise”.

Aldo Leopold was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book “A Sand County Almanac” (1949), which has sold more than two million copies.

About Mike Neuman

Identical twin; Long-time advocate of protection of our environment; Married; Father to three sons; Grandfather to one granddaughter; Born and raised in Wisconsin; Graduate of University of Wisconsin; post graduate degrees in agricultural economics and Water Resources Management fro UWMadison; Former School Crossing Guard for City of Madison; Bike to Work for 31 years with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Retired from DNR in 2007; Biked to school crossing guard site 2 X daily for 7 years retiring in 2019; in addition to being an advocate of safeguarding our environment, I am also an advocate for humane treatment of animal, children, and people in need of financial resource for humane living. I am presently a Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, Madison, Wisconsin. I oppose all long (>500 miles) distance travel (via fossil fuel burning) for nonessential purposes and all ownership of more than one home. I am opposed to militarism in any form particularly for the purpose of monetary gain. I am a Strong believer in people everywhere having the right to speak their minds openly, without any fear of reprisal, regarding any concerns; especially against those in authority who are not acting for the public good?in a timely fashion and in all countries of the world not just the U S.. My identical twin, Pat, died in June 2009. He was fired from his job with the National Weather Service despite having a long and successful career as a flood forecaster with the Kansas City National Weather Service. He took a new position in the Midwest Regional Office in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, Pat’s work for the NWS went sour after he began to see the evidence for concern about rising global temperatures shortly after relocating to Minneapolis, and how they appeared to effect of flooding on the Red River that flows out of Canada before entering the U.S. in North Dakota. . Pat and I conversed on a regular basis with other scientists on the Yahoo Group named “Climate Concern “ and by personal email. The NWS denied his recommendation to give his public presentation o n his research at the “Minneapolis Mall of America” in February 2000, which deeply affected h,im. I will h He strongly believed the information ought be shared with the public to which I concurred. That was the beginning of the vendetta against my brother, Patrick J. Neuman, for speaking strongly of the obligations the federal government was responsible for accurately informing the citizenry. A way great similar response to my raising the issue of too many greenhouse gases being emitted by drivers of vehicles on Wisconsin highway system, my immediate supervisors directed: “that neither global warming, climate change nor the long term impacts upon the natural resources of Wisconsin from expansion of the state highway system were to be any part of my job requirements, and that I must not communicate, nor in a memorandum to all the bureau, shall any person who works in the same bureau I do communicate with me, neither verbally on the phone, by email.

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