The Herald ran a guest column on Thursday by state Sen. Terry Moulton addressing the recently enacted wetlands legislation. His column seriously misrepresented Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s role in the development of this bill and painted an incomplete picture of what the bill does for and to the wetlands of Wisconsin.
Sen. Moulton’s statement that Wisconsin Wetlands Association was a “key contributor in drafting this legislation” is erroneous and misleading. I’ll address more on this in a moment, but first let’s talk about the bill.
Wisconsin Wetlands Association opposed the wetland bill that Gov. Walker signed into law last week. Despite the rosy picture painted by the talking points Sen. Moulton borrowed from the bill’s authors, the bill weakens wetland protections by:
-- Removing explicit protections for our highest quality wetlands.
-- Reducing requirements to avoid wetland impacts.
-- Favoring uncertain/ unreliable mitigation as a means to justify wetland fill.
-- Allowing mitigation to occur far from the community where wetlands will be destroyed.
-- Creating inconsistency between state and federal laws for the review and approval of projects with potentially significant wetland impacts.
For these reasons, the bill passed without the endorsement of a single leader from the wetland professional community or any major statewide sportsmen’s or environmental group.
Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and many other groups worked tirelessly for weeks to try to convince legislators to adopt amendments to correct provisions in the bill that endanger Wisconsin’s wetland resources.
We made phone calls. We met with legislators. We testified at hearings. We even pooled our pennies to run advertisements in two major state newspapers to educate Wisconsin citizens about the bill and encourage them to contact their legislators.
These are not the actions of a community that believes their input was sought and adequately considered.
So what really happened?
Starting in April of last year, we tried to convince legislators and the DNR to bring everyone together in one room to talk through problems and potential solutions. They did hold a couple of meetings, one in October and a second in December. (Inexplicably, the meetings with conservation leaders were separate from those held with regulated business groups. Same agenda, same day, different times.)
Both meetings lasted one hour. In the first, we were briefed and asked to comment on their objectives for the bill. At the second meeting, they shared copies of a 42-page draft bill and briefed us on its content. We had time to ask a few questions, while simultaneously trying to listen and skim through the bill. The drafts were taken away at the end of the hour.
After the meeting, we shared our concerns, suggested remedies in writing, and offered our ongoing assistance.
When the bill was released in January, virtually every issue of concern we raised in December broke in favor of regulated industries. We spent the next seven weeks advocating for repairs on these issues to no avail.
Sen. Moulton was correct that the bill contained a couple of changes made at our request, but they were not the ones we or other wetland experts had identified as the most urgent or highest priorities for protecting Wisconsin’s wetlands. In other words, they threw us a few bones — just enough for them to justify using our name in their press releases.
Here’s the saddest part. Every major wetland bill in the past 13 years has been enacted with unanimous bipartisan support. This bill passed both houses with all votes exclusively along party lines. Prior bills were signed by governors with representatives from development and conservation organizations standing proudly in support of the bills they worked together to craft. Gov. Walker, however, signed this bill in front of a standing ovation at a Wisconsin Realtors Association meeting.
This bill could easily have been one that provided the necessary permit reforms while also providing the strong wetlands protections that make Wisconsin such a wonderful place to live. Wisconsin Wetlands Association and many others worked diligently to try to make this a balanced bill, but our expertise and ideas were rejected by our leaders.
With this new law in place, it is now more crucial than ever that the people of Wisconsin get involved, speak up and look out for the wetlands in their communities. For more information on why wetlands matter and how this law may affect the wetland resources of Wisconsin, please visit our website (www.wisconsinwetlands.org).
Tracy Hames is executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association in Madison.