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Sporting heritage takes back seat under Walker

Rep. Nick Milroy

To say our sporting heritage is central to the Wisconsin way of life is an understatement: Any good Wisconsin hunter probably has as much blaze orange as they have green and gold.

From the Driftless Area, to the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, to the Penokee Hills, and everywhere in between, our abundant natural resources have always been both a source of pride for Wisconsinites and a vital part of our culture and our economy.

That’s why it’s so upsetting that Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican Legislature have diminished clean air and water standards over and over again since 2011, often in the name of rewards for their political allies.

They’ve disowned the Stewardship Fund by drastically cutting the program and are now even selling off these lands that have been open to the public for decades. This shortsighted sell-off will significantly decrease our quality public hunting opportunities. Modest regulations designed to protect wildlife habitat have been rolled back to the point where there will be less fish and game available to the average sportsman. Much of this was done to appease out-of-state mining corporations and land developers. All the while sportsmen get a million-dollar Texas deer Czar whose recommendations focus on private large tract landowner game management — so much for the average hunter.

Maybe most troubling was the scandal surrounding a Tea Party front group calling themselves “United Sportsmen.”

Under a proposal from former state Rep. Scott Suder in the state budget, the Department of Natural Resources would award a $500,000 grant to promote Wisconsin’s “sporting heritage.” At the time, Suder himself said the grant would help to avert a “looming crisis” for hunting and fishing, and ensure the future of those pastimes in the state. As an avid hunter and fisherman myself, I recognize the need to preserve these traditions.

Except Suder and his colleagues included language so specific that it excluded a host of organizations from being eligible to receive the funds —- groups like the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, a well-qualified organization with more than 60 years of experience in our state.

The grant was tailor-made for United Sportsmen, which ultimately was found to have no history of outdoors training in Wisconsin, or anywhere else for that matter. What they did have was a history of supporting Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the Legislature. In addition to endorsing the governor in the recall elections, the group was also involved in the 2011 Senate recall election, coordinating with the Koch brothers’ political outfit Americans for Prosperity to send misleading absentee ballot applications with incorrect election dates. Trying to trick people into voting on the wrong day is not very sporting — in fact it’s un-American.

This fleecing of our tax dollars to fund a shady political group is not only disgusting but should be criminal.

Playing politics with our conservation heritage has become the norm under Scott Walker and it is completely unacceptable.

In contrast, Wisconsin voters can choose to elect a governor who understands that our natural resources are one of our greatest strengths. Mary Burke would follow the lead of the great governors, Republican Warren Knowles and Democrat Gaylord Nelson, who understood the wealth of our nation and our state was in our air, water and forests. And that protecting the quality of our environment isn’t just about preserving pastimes like hunting and fishing for future generations — it’s essential to staying competitive in the 21st century economy.

It’s not too late to protect our natural resources and put our sporting heritage before special interests. We can start by electing a new leader in Mary Burke who will never let our sporting heritage take a back seat to partisan political games.

Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, represents the 75th District in the Wisconsin Assembly.