Some $5 million in improvements OKd in budget, many already complete
A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation published in September 2012 revealed that it's nearly impossible for the public to find more than 1 million acres of privately owned land in Wisconsin that is supposed to be accessible to the public for hunting and other uses.
The state never so much as plotted the parcels on a map -- even though it is granting land owners tens of millions of dollars per year in property tax breaks for enrolling in the public access program.
In response, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and legislators from both parties said they would push the Department of Natural Resources to improve public access to the private lands.
Such action on private land might please hunters.
But it wouldn't address a promise about public lands that Walker made as a candidate in the 2010 election for governor.
During the campaign, Walker pledged to "increase access to state lands so hunters have more hunting opportunities."
So, in the midst of Wisconsin's gun deer hunting season, let's see where this promise stands.
In May 2012, the DNR announced it would spend $5 million over the next two years to make improvements to more than 200 publicly owned properties.
The money had been allocated by the Legislature as part of the 2011-2013 state budget.
The plans are for 294 improved or new parking areas, 90 miles of improved or new access roads, and 1,220 property and boundary signs.
Steve Miller, director of the DNR's facilities management bureau, told us $3 million of the $5 million has been committed to projects that are completed or are under way; the remaining $2 million in improvements are to be done in spring 2013. A detailed progress report will be made to the DNR board as soon as January 2013, he said.
A note on how the work is being paid for:
The $5 million comes from a stewardship fund that is used for property acquisition and development. The money is borrowed and is repaid from general tax revenues over 20 years, Miller said.
Walker promised to "increase access to state lands so hunters have more hunting opportunities."
The 2011-2013 state budget allocated $5 million for access improvements and some $3 million worth of that work has been completed or is under way, with more work to come.
We rate this as a Promise Kept.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin program's open hunting land tough to find," Sept. 16, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State officials to push DNR on access to public land,” Sept. 20, 2012
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, "Access, signage for state properties to be improved over next two years,” May 1, 2012
Interview, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources facilities management bureau director Steve Miller, Nov. 16, 2012
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, board meeting agenda, December 2011