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Wisconsin is home to some of the most scenic vistas and outstanding wildlife in the midwestern United States. The dense forests provide valuable habitats to various species of animals such as white-tailed deer, elk, black bears, river otters, and eastern gray wolves. The lakes and rivers provide a home for a wide variety of bird species including ducks, geese, black-crowned herons, black terns and even bald eagles. Every year countless visitors flock to Wisconsin to experience the wonder of these natural resources. Visitors here can experience the great outdoors by canoeing, hiking, hunting, biking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, camping and more. While the beauty of nature has created these outstanding recreational opportunities, the conservation movement should receive due credit for their role in preserving these resources for our use and enjoyment.
While Wisconsin's environment and natural resources are uniquely important and spectacularly beautiful, they are also not immune to the effects of environmental damage that is all too familiar in today's modern world. Large scale development, fertilizer run-off, the use of pesticides, the effects of climate change and lumber depletion are but a few of the factors negatively impacting the natural resources of this rich and beautiful land. While these are certainly serious issues, it is also not too late to slow, or even halt, some of these negative effects. Conserving land and natural resources is an important mission here in Wisconsin; a mission that should be embraced now, before it is too late to reverse these effects.
Land conservation has long been an important goal in this country. Some of the first conservation efforts were spearheaded by the United States Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service. Today, this organization is referred to as the National Resources Conservation Service, also known as the NRCS. The NRCS today helps landowners implement measures to help conserve the natural resources of the land. Programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program pay landowners rent for setting aside cropland for the purpose of planting trees, creating wildlife ponds and more. Qualifying lands must meet strict eligibility requirements. Easement programs administered by the NRCS provide help to protect working agricultural lands and enhance native Wisconsin wetlands. Other programs help provide financial incentives for landowners who successfully implement conservation practices improving the soil and water quality on their lands.
In Wisconsin farmers and government officials assembled together to strategize ways to combat soil erosion in the late 1920's and early 1930's. In fact, one of the nation's first projects focused on combatting soil erosion was reportedly started in Coon Valley, Wisconsin. In 1993 Wisconsin formally established the Soil Conservation Committee. Today, this group is referred to the Land and Water Conservation Board and helps direct state efforts to stop soil erosion. County groups help support these efforts, as well. In facts, the 1972 Clean Water Act motivated the state of Wisconsin to directly entrust land and water conservation programs to the counties themselves under the theory that they could more closely monitor implementation and compliance.
Whether federal, state or local, all of these conservation groups strive to protect the environment in a variety of different ways. Some groups seek to provide sustainable forest management methods to preserve the majestic forests existing here. Other groups focus on controlling access to protected land in order to minimize the environmental impact human beings will have on the area. All of the conservation groups recognize that the health and sustainability of natural resources plays an important part in Wisconsin's environmental health, as well as the economic health of the state as a whole. Not only are jobs created by implementing conservation methods; beautifully preserved natural lands attract visitors to the region who come to experience the beauty of the Northwoods, thereby adding to the economic health of the region as a whole.
There are a multitude of conservation-minded groups making an impact in Wisconsin today. Associations such as the Wisconsin County Forest Association (WCFA) help ensure that this mission of protecting natural resources and wildlife is fulfilled. The WCFA's goal is to allow the public access to land while simultaneously protecting the land from the detrimental impact of human actions. The WCFA works on goals such as managing valuable resources, providing opportunities for public recreation, improving native wildlife habitats, preserving wetlands and preventing the depletion of timber land. Other groups such as the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association help advance the conservation mission by developing conservation standards, providing access to youth education, obtaining grants, building strategic partnerships and advocating for the protection of vulnerable, environmentally significant lands.
Other groups such as the West Wisconsin Land Trust help protect wildlife habitats by obtaining conservation easements over environmentally significant parcels of land. Conservation easements are legally binding agreements entered into by property owners, detailing how land will be protected in a sustainable way for future generations. Conservation easements still allow landowners to benefit from the use of their property while simultaneously protecting it from overuse or depletion. Many of these protected lands and easements are protected with public funds. Conservation easements typically protect the land permanently, binding both current and future owners alike to their terms. Purchasing land next to a conservation easement can be a valuable boon for property owners, as they will be assured that the neighboring property will be protected from detrimental use in perpetuity.
Soil erosion remains an important threat here in Wisconsin. High levels of fertilization make it difficult to protect wetlands, streams and lakes receiving run-off from these lands. The high levels of phosphorus in fertilizers cause dramatic and uncontrollable algae blooms in the natural waters of Wisconsin. Wisconsin conservation groups are also engaged in a constant battle with invasive plant and animal species that are capable of slowly destroying habitats and native species. Climate change consequences including unpredictable temperatures and precipitation amounts are also having a negative impact on the rich natural resources of this great state.
While the problems seem daunting, there are ways to protect our environment if we are willing to work together and provide adequate funding for conservation ventures. Individuals, governments and conservation groups, working together, can make a dramatic impact on these environmental issues.
If you are a Wisconsin landowner, or interested in becoming one, there are a myriad of ways that you can assist conservation efforts to help protect our land and natural resources for future generations. Even if you do not own land here in Wisconsin, you can certainly volunteer for a conservation group to help assist them in their efforts to protect natural wildlife habitats. Donations are also welcome and extremely appreciated. The beauty of Wisconsin is outstanding. Providing a home to a wide variety of species of plants, mammals, birds and fish, Wisconsin is a truly unique environment worthy of being protected. Remember; we as human beings are directly affected by the health of the environment around us. Our food, air and water supplies are negatively impacted by pollution and encroachment by human development. Why not take the steps necessary now to conserve these natural resources for both ourselves and our grandchildren?