Volunteer organizations critical partners in protecting Wisconsin’s waters
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of articles aimed at celebrating Wisconsin’s Year of Water by highlighting water resources and some of the major challenges to sustaining these resources for now and future generations. Todd Ambs leads the DNR Water Division, which houses programs and staff responsible for managing water quality in lakes and rivers; assuring the safety, quality and availability of drinking water and groundwater, and managing and monitoring aquatic ecosystems and habitat and commercial and sport fisheries. Ambs previously served as executive director of River Alliance of Wisconsin, as executive director of Rivers Unlimited, the statewide river protection organization in Ohio, and spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.]
By Todd Ambs, Administrator, DNR Division of Water
We have a special tradition and indeed, legacy here in Wisconsin. Part of our heritage, which is embedded in our state constitution and supported by over 150 years of law, is the principle that the waters of our state are held in trust for all of the citizens of our state. Thousands of folks take that premise to heart every year when they invest their time, money and expertise to support one of the hundreds of locally based, largely volunteer environmental, conservation, sporting and angling groups in Wisconsin.
As we all know, there is plenty of water to protect and support: 15,000 lakes, 57,000 miles of flowing rivers, 5.3 million acres of wetlands and 1.2 quadrillion gallons of groundwater.
Add to those totals statewide organizations ranging from the Wisconsin Association of Lakes, to the Gathering Waters Conservancy to the Conservation Congress and Wisconsin chapters of national conservation groups including the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited. Wisconsin boasts the largest DU chapter, with nearly 53,000 members and leads other DU chapters in grassroots funding with $3.9 million.
These conservation groups are manifestations of the love Wisconsin citizens have for their natural resources -- a love that some suggest is deeper and more prevalent here than in other states. These organizations, as well as individual citizens, have been critical partners in the last century in protecting Wisconsin lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater. They’ve spurred and helped set natural resource laws and policies, completed conservation projects in their communities and statewide, and have secured resources for their own and governments’ conservation efforts.
In recent months, for example, the news has been filled with stories reflecting the effectiveness and influence of community-based conservation groups on Wisconsin waters:
These are just a few examples of how conservation groups, alone and in partnership with DNR or other governments, have been and will continue to protect and enhance Wisconsin’s water quality and assure public access to these waters.
And these organizations will become even more important in coming years because of several converging trends:
When I led the River Alliance of Wisconsin, I often said that our organization was a partner to DNR when appropriate and a watchdog when necessary. I still believe that mantra and urge all citizens and groups to feel free to employ it.
The waters of this state do not belong to the DNR or to property owners who live along those waters. Collectively we hold these precious resources in trust for future generations. Thousands of citizens embrace that principle every year as part of Wisconsin’s thriving community-based conservation tradition.
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