DNR board makes decision on stewardship program dollars - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

DNR board makes decision on stewardship program dollars

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Chippewa County (WQOW) - A state program aimed at preserving land in Wisconsin is feeling the pinch of state budget cuts.  The DNR's stewardship program funds land purchases, trail development and other public projects. Wednesday night the state natural resources board met in Baraboo to help set a new direction for the program because of those cuts.

Areas like the Hallie Marsh in Chippewa County are there for all of us to use thanks to the stewardship program through the DNR.

"Hallie Marsh was assembled through private landowners who had holdings around an 80 acre landlocked piece of state land. Its marshlands, uplands, grasslands," said Dave Carlson of Northland Adventures.

With the new state budget, lands like this will be tougher to pull together. The DNR had $60 million to spend in 2011. When the new budget came out earlier this year, that number dropped to$47.5 million.

Approximately half of the stewardship budget is matched dollar for dollar by local municipalities and non-profit organizations. Together, they establish places like Phoenix Park and other hunting and fishing grounds.

"Over the years, there's typically three times the amount requested that has been available. So now with the overall reduction in budget, the overall allocation is also reduced," said Mike Dahlby, Stewardship Advisory Council Co-chair.

Despite the cuts, other aspects of the stewardship budget have stayed the same. Specifically, the county forest program that produced $37 million in profits from county-owned timber statewide last year.

"The county forest program actually faired very well, and I believe that's because it's also an investment in the state's forest product industry," Dahlby added.

The board decided last night to divide up the majority of its reduced budget by targeting county forest, land purchases, and acquiring easements.

"The best route I believe is outright acquisition. Outright acquisition gives the public access. It also creates an opportunity for that land to generate payment in lieu of taxes for the local town government. Some people think that when the land is purchased, the towns lose tax base. Wrong. They get payment in lieu of taxes through this program," Carlson said.

But with less money all around and the same amount of interest…

"It's going to be more difficult to get your application approved," Carlson explained.

That budget also calls for the DNR to sell off 10,000 acres of land by mid-2017.

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