Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A flurry of negotiations last week in Congress produced a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package that pleased most U.S. conservation and environmental groups.
The 2,232-page plan was notable for what it included – full and even increased funding of several key programs in the Upper Midwest, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and North American Wetlands Conservation Act – as well as one measure left out – no gray wolf management provision was included.
Over the last several months and as recently as Wednesday, preliminary versions of the bill included as many as 12 riders, including one to remove the wolf in Wisconsin and the western Great Lakes region from protections of the Endangered Species Act and prevent any future legal action that would return the species to the list.
However, the riders were stripped from the final version of the legislation approved by the House and Senate and eventually signed by President Donald Trump.
As a result, the wolf is still listed under the Endangered Species Act and it’s uncertain when Wisconsin will resume state management of the species. The wolf has been listed under the ESA since a Dec. 2014 federal court decision.
The rejection of the wolf rider was hailed by some environmental groups, including the Endangered Species Coalition, Howling for Wolves and Natural Resources Defense Council.
Ben Voelkel, communications director for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), said the senator was disappointed the wolf remained under federal protections and that he would continue to push to return the species to state management.
Reaction to other parts of the omnibus package were more harmonious.
Support for the legislation came from Ducks Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy and Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coaltion.
The bill will help restore the Great Lakes, provide additional resources to protect the most significant lands and waters and help maintain healthy forests for jobs, wildlife and outdoor recreation, said Mary Jean Huston, director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin.
“This is more than just a positive step,” Huston said. “It is a leap forward for conservation.”
Among the spending plan’s highlights, it will provide:
– $1.595 billion in total funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an increase of $75 million from fiscal year 2017 enacted levels that includes a $53 million increase to address maintenance backlogs, primarily on national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.
– $300 million to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the amount requested by most regional officials.
– $40 million to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants program, the largest appropriation since 2010 and one that will continue to support waterfowl, wildlife, fisheries and economic contributions across the continent.
– A seven-year fix to the “fire borrowing” problem that addresses wildfire funding and also forest management reforms and other conservation priorities.
– $3.054 billion in total non-fire funding for the U.S. Forest Service, an increase of $627 million from fiscal 2017 enacted levels that includes a $35 million increase to address maintenance backlogs on national forest lands.
– $3.828 billion for wildland fire management by the Forest Service.
– $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an increase of $25 million from FY 2017 enacted levels, including $24.916 million provided specifically for land acquisitions.
– $8.821 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, a $763 million increase.
– $3.2 billion for the National Park Service, a $270 million increase.
– $1.148 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey, a $63 million increase.
– $65 million for U.S. Sea Grant.
– $33.29 for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
– $16.7 million for operations and management of the Chicago Electric Barrier intended to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.
“The budget is a victory for the 30 million people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
Preliminary CDAC recommendations up for review: County Deer Advisory Councils have completed their preliminary recommendations for the 2018-’19 Wisconsin deer hunting seasons, including the number of antlerless permits to be issued on public and private land.
The Department of Natural Resources is accepting comments on the suggestions through April 12.
The preliminary recommendations can be viewed and comments submitted on the DNR’s website at dnr.wi.gov. The county councils are scheduled to review the feedback and make final recommendations from April 16-19.
Wisconsin high school anglers honored: Bailey Bleser of Burlington and Tyler Cory of Amherst were named to the 2018 Bassmaster High School All-State Fishing Team presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods.
The high school anglers were among 64 from across the nation selected for the honor.
The students were chosen based on their success in bass tournament competitions, academic achievement and leadership in conservation and community service.
Two other Wisconsinites, Jacob Bigelow of Cecil and Mitchell Hammes of West Salem, were named to the honorable mention list.
Twelve finalists will be chosen from the 64 all-state team members to fish in a one-day Bassmaster All-American High School Bass Tournament in mid-May on Lake Travis near Jonestown, Texas.