Reader says governor privatizing state’s natural resources
Gov. Scott Walker sure is a piece of work. For every transparent “goodwill” gesture he sends hunters these days, he’s quick to turn right around and leave lasting dents on the state’s once proud Department of Natural Resources and hunting heritage.
Walker’s hits include buying a deer hunting license once when he became governor (then declaring he was “sick of sitting out there and not seeing anything” after having hunted for a few hours) and signing into law stricter measures on individuals who interfere with a hunter’s right to lawful hunting.
His misses are too long to mention here, but they include gutting more than 500 employees from the DNR; eliminating the DNR’s Science Bureau, including the last two wildlife research scientist positions earlier this year; near elimination of the state’s research efforts on chronic wasting disease; and paying a Texas businessman more than $125,000 to provide some very obvious and superfluous suggestions on how to manage the state’s deer herd.
Now, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that Walker has added another miss to his fine outdoors legacy: The certain shutdown of what will likely be thousands of acres of woodlands that had been opened to public hunting. This happened when Walker signed a new law that changes how the state runs its managed forest program. The managed forest program was created to grant large tax breaks to private woodland landowners who agree to cut timber at prescribed levels and also open up the land for public access (hiking, hunting, birding and other activities).
For landowners to get the biggest tax break, they had to allow public access to their property. In the past, larger landowners were allowed to set aside up to 160 acres for private use. The new law lifts that cap and allows landowners to restrict all public access.
Under the new law, landowners who restrict public access will still get a sharp tax break, but not as large as they would if they opened their land to the public.
According to the MJS article, an annual tax bill for a 1,000-acre parcel of woodland would cost a taxpayer $42,700 annually if the land was not enrolled in the managed forest program. If enrolled in the program, the tax bill would be lowered to $10,680 if the landowner chose to restrict public access, or $2,140 if the landowner allowed public access.
Theoretically, landowners enrolled in the program are not allowed to turn around and lease that land to private individuals, however, numerous landowners have skirted the law over the years and double-dipped on both the tax break and leasing income. The state has investigated some of these infractions over the years, and has charged those violators back taxes.
I proudly voted for Tommy Thompson in 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998. Sure, he wasn’t perfect, but he knew when to leave well enough alone. And, at least Thompson worked to build some kind of natural resources legacy (namely his work in 1991 with the Wisconsin’s Forest Legacy program).
Walker seems intent on nothing more than privatizing our natural resources while thumbing his nose at science-based wildlife management.