Saturday, March 19, 2011

Policy changes proposed to Stewardship Program

By Danielle Kaeding, Ashland Daily Press

Efforts to preserve natural lands in northern Wisconsin may face more administrative hurdles under the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR)...

The Bayfield Regional Conservancy is one nonprofit organization whose work may be negatively impacted under the governor’s budget. Ellen Kwiatkowski, executive director, said the mission of the nonprofit is to protect lands in Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland and Sawyer counties. To date, the conservancy has protected roughly 2,500 acres of land throughout the region.

“We do that in a couple of different ways through outright purchases of the land and through working with private landowners to place conservation easements on their properties to restrict how the land is used,” said Kwiatkowski.

The conservancy has conducted 17 easements and 22 trail easements, as well as at least seven land purchases. She said their work would be most impacted by the elimination of purchasing conservation easements included in the governor’s proposed budget...

Meanwhile, Gathering Waters’ Carlson said conservation easements can be a more cost-effective tool for preserving lands in the state.

“It’s a tool that typically includes purchasing the development rights off of a property, so protecting the property from being developed in the future,” Carlson said. “But, you can also acquire other rights along with the conservation easement, such as public access.”

Kwiatkowski agreed and noted that lands can be preserved at a fraction of the cost of acquiring them through conservation easements.

“It stays on the tax rolls and the DNR doesn’t have to manage it. The landowner manages it so you’re able to get a lot more accomplished with a lot less money,” she said. “You would think that if money is really the issue than conservation easements would be allowed.”

Kwiatkowski said landowners enter into a voluntary agreement to restrict how their property’s used, noting existing pressures to develop near inland lakes in northern Wisconsin.

“Parcelization of inland lakeshore is a really big issue,” she said. Kwiatkowski added rivers, streams and Lake Superior also face the highest pressure for recreational development or second homes.

Local governments face a delicate balancing act in northern Wisconsin, Kwiatkowski said.

“We don’t want to sacrifice the health of our environment for money because I think that our quality of life and our personal health is directly related to our environmental health and environmental quality,” she said.

In addition, she added the region’s economy is dependent on forestry, agriculture and tourism.

“You don’t want to over-develop and lose what it is that people value about the area,” Kwiatkowski said...

While policy changes may move forward, Thiede said the take home message is that the WDNR, communities and organizations have the ability to purchase lands for conservation under the governor’s proposed budget.

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