Thursday, May 9, 2019
UPDATE-2019 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks are working on behalf of Friends Groups and state land users. Key priorities and action items are listed below. Please share with your Friends Group, legislators and other decision makers. Find your legislator here https://legis.wisconsin.gov/. Consider contacting members of the powerful Joint Finance Committee https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/committees/joint/1968 Tell them about your Friends Group and ask them to support the following:
RANGERS MUST BE STAFFED AT STATE PROPERTIES- FWSP recommends that credentialed rangers be State Park employees. This is a public safety issue which needs to be resolved either internally or legislatively. The DNR is moving forward with a model in which rangers are Bureau of Law Enforcement employees.
Background: FWSP met with DNR leadership including Secretary Cole in March. FWSP cited concerns about safety, customer engagement and costs. FWSP requested that rangers do less than 100% law enforcement and perform visible park duties as they had in the past. Secretary Cole, State Parks Director Ben Bergey and Chief Warden Todd Schaller assured FWSP that rangers will be visible, engage park visitors and that law enforcement costs will be reasonable.
Action: FWSP will be a monitoring partner to the rangers/parks issue with FWSP Executive Director Patty being the FWSP contact.
DNR SHOULD HAVE RESPONSIBILITY FOR STATE TRAIL PLANNING- FWSP recommends that DNR have the responsibility for planning of department owned linear trails.
Background: DNR has many cooperatively planned and managed trails. The current agreements allow the planning to be the responsibility of the local cooperator which has caused trail use to “flip” based on the local political situation. This is an untenable situation for local Friends Groups who have made a long term commitment to these state properties. In order to ensure a statewide systematic approach to recreation opportunities, FWSP recommends that the DNR have the trail planning responsibility.
Action: FWSP raised this issue with senior DNR Leadership who are working with local cooperators to remedy. FWSP Policy Director Michael McFadzen will continue monitoring this issue.
STEWARDSHIP AND RESTORING TAX PAYER SUPPORT (GPR) FOR PARKS- FWSP supports the Knowles/Nelson Stewardship program at current levels including the segregated monies for Friends Groups. FWSP also supports restoring GPR for State Parks.
Action: FWSP voiced support for these programs and requested that FWSP Board Member Waldo Peterson be appointed to Stewardship Blue Ribbon panel.
Thursday, December 13, 2018
The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks (FWSP) is a non-profit organization that has existed for over 20 years with a mission to preserve, promote, protect, and enhance the Wisconsin State Parks, Trails, and Forests. While our direct work is with state park leadership, we represent and support over 80 individual state park, forest, trails, and recreation areas friends groups throughout the State of Wisconsin.
Collectively, these 80 plus organizations represent thousands of volunteers and partners that work alongside the Wisconsin DNR's State Park Program to ensure the parks, trails, and forests continue to be the premier destination for millions of people each year. Our support to local groups comes through advocacy and educational materials, communication and promotion, grants, and other donations made by FWSP to local friends groups.
The past few years has been both challenging and rewarding for FWSP as we have worked through the many changes in the WDNR and the WI State Parks Program. Through this, we have become a fully independent organization that has a very close working relationship with the WDNR as well as the State Legislature.
FWSP has asked many questions regarding operating costs and funding since the 2015-2017 state budget made the WI State Parks a self-funded program and removed all tax money support. In fact, we did not support this model originally but have since worked closely with the parks program to create an operationally self-funded model that is working well and we now support. This model allows for any additional outside money that comes into the State Parks program along with Stewardship Funds to be used for much-needed repairs and replacement of extremely old infrastructure throughout the parks.
One of our most noteworthy accomplishments over the past few years was our work in helping make over 8 million additional dollars available to the State Parks program. This included increasing the spending authority on the user-fee funded park segregated account and increase the amount of stewardship money available for critical infrastructure repairs and replacement throughout the state. FWSP worked directly with the millions of park users and elected officials to educate and raise awareness of these issues which ultimately resulted in several different legislative packages to enhance and repair our state parks to ensure the outstanding experience Wisconsin State Park visitors expect.
FWSP, along with the local friends groups, have been watching the DNR's alignment very closely since 2016. We were appreciative that program leadership met with us early in the process to discuss all the changes. The most significant change we were somewhat skeptical of was the changes made that took law enforcement credentials away from park and forest rangers. However, we were reassured the DNR's plan to have game wardens performing the work would only change the "color of the shirt" of the person doing the work and that visitors to parks, forests, and trails would not see any negative changes. During the summer of 2018 FWSP became aware of several problems associated with the law enforcement alignment. We were hearing about these issues directly from park users, volunteers, campground hosts, our local friends members, and reading articles in the Wisconsin Outdoor News. What we were hearing from those in the parks and forests was that visible law enforcement in the parks was all but gone in the mid-size and smaller properties. From our camping constituents at all properties, we were hearing of complaints of lack of LE presence in the campgrounds and lack of response to handle loud, intoxicated, or otherwise bothersome campers. Campground hosts are getting uncomfortable with the lack of law enforcement availability to handle issues within the campgrounds. Additionally, an article in the Outdoor News stated that the new warden model was going to cost the parks program millions more than using credentialed rangers had in the past. Therefore, hearing what we were, during the summer of 2018 we wrote a letter to DNR leadership regarding our concerns. We were pleased when shortly after we reached out to the DNR they announced they would be re-credentialing Rangers back in the Parks and Forests to ensure the financial sustainability of the parks account and to ensure all DNR customers were getting the service they deserve here in a state with a rich history in both hunting and fishing enforcement as well as park and forest enforcement. We were proud of the DNR for acknowledging that the replacement of law enforcement rangers with game wardens was not sustainable or practicable.
As we approach 2019 we are already thinking about the busy season coming up in our parks next summer. Many of us are year-round users or volunteers at our parks, forests, and trails. We understand that things take time to implement, but we are starting to notice an uneasiness from our constituents across the state as 2019 approaches and the lack of visible action by the DNR to implement putting credentialed rangers back into the parks and forests. We are proud to be part of the state park tradition here in Wisconsin. We are also proud of the fact that we were able to work with the DNR to make the self-funded model the program has been operating under since 2015 a success. In fact, as I talk to other friends groups around the country, we are one of the only states to be successful at this as many have failed. We will not support any initiatives that cost the parks program additional money and results in less service to the user paying the fees. FWSP believes it is imperative to return credentialed rangers back to our parks and forests for the safety and comfort our Wisconsin State Park users have come to expect and demand to keep the parks the envy of the nation.
FWSP values the relationship we have with the current DNR leadership team and look forward to meeting with the new DNR leadership shortly after the first of the year to discuss our concerns.
Pres. of Friends of Wisconsin State Parks
CC: Secretary Meyer
FWSP Executive Board
Pres. of Friends of Wisconsin State Parks
CC: Secretary Meyer
FWSP Executive Board
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks has awarded the Legislator of the Year Award to Representative Ron Tusler (R- Harrison).