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We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
“If environmental history is successful in its project, the story of how different peoples have lived in and used the natural world will become one of the most basic and fundamental narratives in all of history, without which no understanding of the past could be complete.” (William Cronon) Few subjects in the world are more important than the interaction of humankind with nature. The waterway offers the opportunity for dialogue on this universal theme – and on the legacy we will leave to future generations.
The waterway is a cradle of leadership in conservation. Iconic leaders who have lived in and been inspired by the Wisconsin landscape include John Muir, Aldo Leopold and his many students, Frank Lloyd Wright, August Derleth, Increase Lapham, George Archibald of the International Crane Foundation, and many others. The Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway is inspired and guided in particular by three intellectual giants, each of whom built upon their love of the Wisconsin landscape to literally change the way the world relates to nature. They include a renowned preservationist, a celebrated conservationist, and America’s most famous architect. In addition, many of Wisconsin’s Indian tribes (the Ho Chunk, Menominee, Oneida and Potawatomi Nations) have a long legacy of conservation of natural resources. Due in part to the influence and leadership of these people, Wisconsin has long been at the forefront of environmental activism.
Wisconsin’s Conservation Legacy
Wisconsin has been home to many innovative, environmentally focused leaders who have influenced the national dialogue. The theory of our relationship to the land and its resources cultivated by these leaders has created an intellectual heritage for Wisconsin that is second to none. Whatever factors resulted in this confluence of environmental inspiration, they propelled Wisconsin to the forefront of the balanced management and conservation of natural resources.
- The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 states that “navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and St. Lawrence, and the carrying places between the same, shall be common highways and forever free as well to the inhabitants of the state as to the citizens of the United States, without any tax, impost or duty.” When Wisconsin, which was a part of the Northwest Territories, became a state in 1848, this provision was included in article IX, section 1, of the Wisconsin Constitution.
- Increase Lapham (1811-1875), Wisconsin’s first scientist, wrote the first book published in Wisconsin, made the first accurate maps of the state, investigated Wisconsin’s effigy mounds, native trees and grasses, climatic patterns and geology, and helped found many of the schools, colleges and other cultural institutions that still enrich the state today.
- In 1909, The University of Wisconsin-Madison became the first home of U.S. Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot’s Forest Products Laboratory. This national laboratory for the United States Forest Service provides cutting-edge scientific research on wood, wood products, and their commercial uses in partnership with academia, industry, tribal, state, local and other government agencies. Their focus is to promote healthy forests and forest-based economies through the efficient, sustainable use of the Nation’s wood resources.
- The Wisconsin Idea is the philosophy developed in 1911 that fosters public universities’ contributions to the state: ‘in the forms of serving in office, offering advice about public policy, providing information and exercising technical skill, and to the citizens in the forms of doing research directed at solving problems that are important to the state and conducting outreach activities.’ This Idea added abundant data and intellectual capital to test the innovative hypotheses that came from the professors in the UW system.
- Most forestlands were lost during 1850 to 1900 due to clear cutting for agricultural expansion. In 1927, the Forest Crop Law was enacted to encourage sustainable forest management on private lands by providing a property tax incentive to landowners.
- In 1927, Adolph Kannenberg created the Committee on Water Pollution, which encouraged scientific investigation of pollution in order to develop new technologically innovative methods of treatment in order to support industry in mitigating pollution.
- The Conservation Congress was created in 1934 to provide Wisconsin citizens with a local avenue for input and exchange concerning conservation issues. In 1972, Governor Patrick Lucy signed legislation that legally recognized the Conservation Congress as an independent organization of citizens of the state that would serve in an advisory capacity to the natural resources board on all matters regarding the state’s greatest asset, its abundant natural resources.
- In 1948, spurred by local citizens due to the grave public health issue that the Fox River had become, state authorities advised by the Committee on Water Pollution ordered thirteen companies and six municipalities to reduce waste discharge, thus beginning the decades- long political battle over the cleanup of the Fox River. This decision was at the forefront of the new environmental policies taking shape.
- Wisconsin Governors Gaylord Nelson (1959-1963) and Warren Knowles (1965-1971) created international conservation models in 1961 with their Outdoor Recreation Act programs.
- Later, as a U.S. Senator, Nelson (1963-1981) sponsored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and founded Earth Day in 1970. This bipartisan movement launched the modern-day environmental movement. Now, with over one billion participants each year, it is the largest civic observance in the world.
- The Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, the first reserve of its kind, was established in 1964 to preserve and explain glacial landforms and landscapes. Today, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail promotes appreciation of Wisconsin’s glacial geology.
- Enacted in 1989, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway was established to protect and preserve the scenic beauty and natural character of the river valley and to provide a quality public recreational area in a manner consistent with resource and aesthetics protection goals and objectives.
- The Wisconsin Hunters Rights Coalition — which includes the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Wisconsin chapters of Safari Club International and Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators — was originally formed in 2005 to bring together sporting groups that were committed to preserving our hunting heritage. There is a strong tradition of hunting and fishing in Wisconsin, which has produced a strong commitment to wildlife among people of the state.