The State of Wisconsin’s longstanding conservation ethic includes the passage of the Conservation Education Statute, which required conservation of natural resources be taught in public schools, and the creation of “Earth Day.” However, a lack of recent interest and scholarship in Wisconsin’s important conversation history and development of conservation law has driven us to write this Article which offers a brief legal history of Wisconsin conservation— how the state’s conservation values were expressed in law, how its natural resources law has evolved and what that has (and has not) embodied, and how Wisconsin helps us define modern concepts of “conservation.” Specifically, this Article discusses the pre- and post-WWII history of Wisconsin conservation law and explores the nature of Wisconsin’s conservation movement and law— why it came to be, why it now finds itself in decline, and what lessons should be carried forward. We argue that the elements that allowed for Wisconsin’s exceptional conservation record were neither surprising nor revolutionary. Instead, the combination of public investment in conservation causes, the creation of jobs that allowed working class Wisconsinites to become stewards to their natural resources, and the state’s established commitment to providing broad access to policymakers helped make environmentalism a personal issue for Wisconsinites from across the sociopolitical spectrum. The slow erosion over several decades of the coalitions between working class and academic environmentalists, large-scale divestment from conservation causes, and the rerouting of jobs in conservation to industry—led by groups who tend to oppose regulation for being anti-business—fostered the decline of conservation policy in the state. Moreover, this decline, we argue, effectively mirrors environmentalism’s decline at the national level. Nevertheless, by understanding how environmentalism came to falter in Wisconsin, we hope to better understand how it can regain its footing, both in the state and elsewhere.
Jason J. Czarnezki and Carolyn Drell,
A Brief Legal History of Wisconsin Conservation,
107 Marq. L. Rev. 519
Available at: https://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/mulr/vol107/iss2/7