Lawmakers tell DNR to slow down in acquiring new land - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Lawmakers tell DNR to slow down in acquiring new land


Eau Claire (WQOW)- The Joint Finance Committee sent a message to the DNR this month about the state's Stewardship Program.  That program buys land for the public to enjoy, like state parks, state forests and wildlife areas.

"The message is that they'd like to see the state slow down and take a break from the amount that we'd been spending previously," explains the DNR's Kurt Thiede.

Under the committee's proposal, the DNR still has the ability to buy about 400,000 new acres of land on top of the nearly 1.5 million acres it's already acquired in the past 25 years.  But now there's another stipulation.  Some of that land needs to be sold.

"10,000 acres outside of project boundaries and then in addition, we'd have to identify at least 250 acres of farmland a year that we would have to look to sell," Thiede says.

Northland Adventures' Dave Carlson has been involved in the Stewardship Program in Eau Claire County.

"The people who sold some of these properties in the beginning, the deals were struck because they knew that land was going to go to the state of Wisconsin," Carlson points out.  "It was going to wind up as public access and to turn around now and renege on some of those and start selling them I think is wrong."

The DNR says this isn't the first time it will have to sell land.  In fact, it says it's sold more than 14,000 acres over the program's existence.  Financing the program is similar to using a credit card.  Spend now and pay down the road.  Costs from the stewardship program top $80 million right now.   Some lawmakers are concerned about that figure growing even larger.  They want the DNR to act as a portfolio manager: sell what can be sold and use that money to pay down debt and acquire more valuable land.

"Republicans and Democrats ought to be working to together to continue it," states Carlson.  "Watch the money.  Watch the applications very closely.  They deserve to be screened very tightly, but not change it; not start selling these properties."

The Joint Finance Committee's vote would cut the programs budget by more than $60 million over seven years. It would also force the sale of 10,000 acres of land and 250 acres of farm land would also have to be sold each year for the next seven years.  The State Assembly, State Senate and Governor Walker must approve of the changes before they take effect.

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