Wisconsin Gov. James Doyle is being lauded for acting decisively to protect Wisconsin working lands in the state's biennial budget. The governor's budget proposal, unveiled Tuesday night, provides a set of tools to protect farm and forest lands.
In his budget message delivered at the state Capitol, the governor said, "Wisconsin's farms are an essential part of our economy. Under the working lands program, this budget will slow the loss of good farmland." He listed the working lands program among several steps the state will take to strengthen itself in key economic areas. "Our economy is tough and is likely to stay tough for awhile. But any state that doesn't prepare itself to come out of this recession stronger than we went in is making a serious mistake. Now is our chance to get stronger and get ready for better days to come."
Those applauding the governor's actions on working lands are the co-chairs of the Wisconsin Working Lands Initiative Steering Committee. Dan Poulson and Linda Bochert, who led the year-long WLI study, credited the governor for taking steps to stem the loss of working lands in the state.
"I am pleased the governor showed the foresight to bring this critical issue to the surface. In these difficult economic times, the governor recognizes the need to support our state's top industry by protecting our agricultural land base," said Poulson, a former president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
Bochert, a Madison attorney, added: "One of Wisconsin's greatest assets is its land base. Protecting that base and maximizing its role as an economic engine is more important today than ever. I applaud the governor's leadership to move us toward that goal."
The governor's proposal includes updates to the state's farmland preservation program, creation of a state purchase of agricultural conservation easements (purchase of development rights) grants program to support local protection efforts, and establishment of voluntary agricultural enterprise areas targeted for agricultural preservation and development. The proposal is budget-neutral.
The WLI Steering Committee, comprised of state residents from all walks of life, issued its final report in 2006. It contained recommendations to stem loss of and fragmentation to the state's working farm and forest lands. The loss of Wisconsin agricultural lands in recent years has been estimated to be as high as 30,000 acres a year. Private forestland has rapidly fragmented due to changes in ownership and land use.
At the request of several groups that support the WLI, American Farmland Trust has initiated an effort called the Campaign for Wisconsin Farm and Forest Lands, an outreach and education effort that supports the governor's proposal. AFT is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting America's strategic agricultural resources. Vicki Elkin serves as coordinator of the Wisconsin campaign. More information on the campaign and protecting Wisconsin working lands is at www.wisconsinfarmland.org.
"Gov. Doyle has set the stage for strategically protecting working farm and forest lands and enhancing rural economic development," said Elkin. "We look forward to working with the governor, lawmakers and Wisconsin citizens in this important effort."