Madison, Wisconsin, May 18, 2011 —American Farmland Trust (AFT) today congratulated Wisconsin citizens for their efforts to save key parts of the Wisconsin Working Lands Initiative.
The Legislative Joint Committee on Finance Wednesday voted 16-0 to keep the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements programs on the state statutes and to honor the state’s commitment to the
16 PACE projects approved during the first-ever statewide selection process. Funding will come from the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund. PACE allows farmers to voluntarily sell development rights on their land and keep the land in productive agricultural uses for perpetuity.
“The grassroots support for a strong farmland preservation package in Wisconsin has been outstanding and inspiring,” said AFT President Jon Scholl. “Support came from farmers, local government officials, land trusts and other citizens interested in farmland preservation across the state.”
Citizens contacted lawmakers numerous times, testified at public hearings across the state and reached out to local and statewide media to tell their story.
“It’s obvious that interest in farmland preservation in Wisconsin is at an all-time high,” said Scholl. “It’s a good thing too, because Wisconsin is near the top of the list of states that have lost prime agricultural land to development pressure. Agriculture is crucial to Wisconsin’s economy, and protecting farmland is an investment in the state’s economic future. In addition, well-managed agricultural areas provide an array of environmental benefits.”
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget called for eliminating PACE and the bonding authority to fund the first
16 projects. The unanimous vote to keep PACE on the books shows strong bipartisan support for farmland preservation among lawmakers, Scholl said.
While PACE remains on the books, the committee also voted to require the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to undertake a year-long study of the program, future sources of funding and other details. It will be important to make sure supporters of farmland preservation are at the table as active participants throughout the study, Scholl said.
In the same amendment, lawmakers voted to eliminate conversion fees that helped support Wisconsin’s Working Lands Initiative, which AFT and other organizations backed and which became law in 2009. The fees were to be assessed when land in farmland preservation zoning districts was rezoned for development. “We supported a compromise on the conversion fees and are sorry to see them eliminated. We believe they served as an important tool for farmland preservation,” Scholl said.
“But at the end of the day, key parts of the Wisconsin Working Lands Initiative remain in place. This gives us a chance to continue working to assure that we leave the land better for our children,” Scholl said.
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