For the first time in a long time, Wisconsin has engaged in a statewide conversation about conservation, prompted by both gubernatorial and legislative actions in response to a growing statewide water crisis.
Last January, Governor Evers declared 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water,” and subsequently included a slate of water quality-related provisions in his budget. Around the same time, the Wisconsin Assembly announced the formation of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality.
The Task Force traveled across the state, gathering public input from residents, stakeholders, and experts on local water quality priorities, and is expected to release a number of water quality bills in the coming weeks.
In both cases, the role of locally led conservation came under direct scrutiny in a way that it has not for years. It provided an opportunity for us – WI Land+Water staff, board, and members alike – to talk about the critical work that is consistently being accomplished by county conservation departments and committees to state representatives and the public.
One of the dominant themes of these discussions was the importance of supporting our professional, boots-on-the-ground conservation workforce as the best means to protecting and enhancing water quality.
I observed these high-profile public meetings and hearings with great interest, and was consistently and repeatedly impressed by the well-spoken, pragmatic, and informed testimonies of our members, as they demonstrated not only an understanding of statewide policy issues, but also spoke to implementation solutions to those issues at the local level. And while these particular issues were discussed in a statewide forum, there are countless similar conversations that occur at the county level, on issues no less important, on a daily basis.
In this capacity, WI Land+Water’s members demonstrate well-informed and practical perspectives on complicated conservation issues, as they fulfill their duties as county conservationists, technicians, or committee members. And it is WI Land+Water’s charge and challenge to ensure that our members, like Land Conservation Committee members Erica Roth and Lisa Derr, have sufficient resources to allow them be conservation leaders and advocates at the local level.
As a newly-elected Green County Supervisor and Land and Water Conservation Committee (LWCC) member, Erica Roth relies upon the up-to-date information provided by WI Land+Water on policy issues to help her thrive in her LWCC role.
“WI Land+Water is an excellent resource for research, best practices, and legislation relating to land and water conservation,” said Roth. “I find myself looking to WI Land+Water's newsletters, legislative bulletins, and webinars to keep current on the issues I see in my county and counties across the state.”
“I am a better advocate because I understand the issues and can provide accurate information at the local level,” continued Roth. “I am able to speak intelligently about the issues and have productive conversations with neighbors and colleagues, dialogues about state impacts on a local level. With the knowledge and understanding I gain from those conversations and from WI Land+Water, I am able to empower others to support conservation efforts.”
Second-term Dodge County Supervisor and LWCC member Lisa Derr, who is an attorney by profession, has found similar value in the suite of services that WI Land+Water provides to its members.
“As I am not a conservationist by day, at first I just tried to understand the broad concepts,” Derr said. She initially sought out the WI Land+Water website for resources, where she discovered webinars and “Conservation Across Wisconsin” stories of water quality improvement.
As she learned more, she got more involved, attending trainings, the Annual Conference, and eventually, her Area Association, where she now serves in a leadership role. With the provided resources from WI Land+Water, Derr continued to amplify the impact of locally led conservation by writing a report summarizing current water quality issues, which she shared with her fellow county board supervisors.
“My membership has been critical in helping me become a better advocate for conservation at the local level,” said Derr. “I would encourage people to get more involved, joining and participating as a group or even just taking some time to explore WI Land+Water’s excellent website, because it has been invaluable for me.”
WI Land+Water works hard to provide a suite of services to better equip our members to lead on the local level. We are always interested in learning how we can achieve this even better, seeking to present “can’t miss” opportunities for our members to engage with us. Because ultimately, our organization is only as good, as strong, and as effective, as our membership.