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A hunting promotion ploy that smells like road kill PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 September 2013 17:28

The governor was right to kill a grant to a sham conservation group, but does it ever make sense for the state to spend tax money to persuade people to hunt?

In the annuals of smelly gambits perpetrated in the Wisconsin Legislature, this one, the political equivalent of three-day-old road kill in a heat wave, rose to new heights on the stench-o-meter. The fumes were so pervasive they seeped under the door of the chief executive’s office, leaving Gov. Scott Walker no alternative but to clean up the odoriferous mess made by some of his fellow Republicans.

    The gambit and its ensuing mess were the awarding of a grant of $500,000 in Wisconsin taxpayer money to an organization for the ostensible purpose of promoting hunting and fishing in Wisconsin. The grant was slipped into the new state budget by former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (which means by stealth with no debate) with language that effectively made it impossible for any organization except the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation to qualify for the money. There were no other applicants for the grant, and it was dutifully awarded to United Sportsmen by the Department of Natural Resources.

     Meanwhile, it came to light, thanks in large part to the investigative reporting of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that United Sportsmen is more a lobby for Republican causes than a conservation organization, that it has no experience in educating people about hunting and fishing, has not even qualified for nonprofit tax-exempt status, has failed to pay taxes as a for-profit organization and, for good measure, has a president who was fined in 2005 for killing a bear without the required hunting license.

    Confronted with unimpeachable evidence of a failed smell test, the governor rescinded the grant last week. That cleared the air, but a question about the grant persists: Why should the state be spending taxpayer money to encourage people to go hunting?

    Hunting is a proud tradition in this state blessed with abundant wildlife habitat and it brings great enjoyment to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents. There is no doubt that tradition will endure, as it should, but the fact is that participation in hunting has been steadily declining.

    This is neither a mystery nor a cause for alarm. Outdoor recreation is more popular than ever in Wisconsin and there are more opportunities than ever to enjoy it. Hunting today has to compete for time in people’s lives with camping (state parks are jam-packed), cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking and birdwatching among other great reasons to spend time in Wisconsin’s great outdoors.

    The further society evolves from the time when hunting was a necessity to feed a family the more likely it is that the numbers of hunters will decline. There is no reason to believe that any expenditure of state money promoting hunting will change that, or to believe it should be a concern of the state government.

    Controlling the deer population is sometimes mentioned as a reason to encourage hunting. That sounds logical, but hunting in more developed areas, such as Ozaukee County, though pushed aggressively by the DNR by opening state parks and other natural areas to hunting, has had no measurable effect on the exploding suburban deer population.

    In the north woods, nature, mainly by means of severe winters, can probably do more to control deer population than any army of hunters.

    Had the governor not nixed it, the $500,000 inserted in the budget in the name of promoting hunting and fishing would have accomplished nothing more than to reward an organization that raises money for Republican candidates. That was probably the intention all along.

Walking to school–what a concept PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 September 2013 14:26

The ‘walking school bus’ has come to Port Washington, giving today’s kids the benefit of an old, discarded advantage of small-town life

Generations of children in Port Washington walked to school every day. Children from “the country,” as any address outside of the city limits was then known, rode the school bus. City kids got to school on their two feet or on two-wheeled bikes. It was the norm, a taken-for-granted feature of small-town life.

    Today the idea of young children getting themselves to school is so far from the norm that the concept is exotic if not subversive. What is taken for granted today is that streets near schools will be jammed with early-morning traffic as parents by the hundreds deliver their children to the doorstep of their school.

    Fear explains some of this. The perception that children in public places are more at risk today than they were in the past is widely taken as truth. Crime statistics say the opposite is true, but you can hardly blame parents for being anxious about their children’s safety in an age when electronic news media dwell excessively on the rare but horrifying evil of sex offenders and others criminals who target children.

    Beyond that, something as unstructured as children finding their own way to school, even though they may be perfectly capable of doing it, is out of sync with a society that now expects parents to maintain highly organized lives for their children. The expectation of parents is that they will chauffeur the kids to a list of sports, social and educational activities according to rigid schedules. Delivering children to school is just another item on the daily to-drive list.

    But now, happily, some change seems to be, so to speak, afoot. In Port Washington and a number of communities across the country, there is a dawning that something has been lost in the micromanaging of children’s lives. A movement known as the “walking school bus” is seeking to restore the simple pleasures and benefits of walking to school.

    Port Washington this year will have such “transportation” for its school children. It’s a chaperoned walk to school on a planned route every day. Adult volunteers will walk with the children and there will be various stops along the way for students to join the group walking to Port’s two public elementary schools and the middle school.

    The walking program is being organized by Derek Strohl, the community activist who led the long, frustrating but, in the end, spectacularly successful effort to establish a community garden in Port Washington. His new initiative will give children back a lost benefit of simpler times, though it is tailored to modern times. It addresses parents’ worries about the safety of their children and is highly organized—it will get the kids to school on time, guaranteed.

    The list of benefits goes on. It improves the air children (and all of us) breathe by reducing driving and exhaust emissions. It makes streets safer by reducing traffic (especially near schools, where the real danger to school children may lurk in frenetic early-morning scenes of too many cars driven by stressed parents). Most important, it’s exercise for the children.

    Child obesity is a big health concern these days, but even children who are not overweight are not getting enough exercise. At least 50% of American children are not engaging in the minimum of 60 minutes per day of physical activity they need for good health, according to the Institute of Medicine.

    Schools aren’t helping much—none around here provides the recommended five days a week of physical education classes.

    But now in Port Washington, just getting to school can help, provided it’s via the walking school bus.

Wisconsin's need for speed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 August 2013 14:33

The state should get with it and raise the speed limit on interstate-type roads; meanwhile, in downtown Port, slower-moving traffic is a sign of progress

Wisconsin is the only state between Pennsylvania and Oregon that doesn’t have a speed limit higher than 65 mph on its interstate highways. A bill to raise the limit to 70 has been introduced in the Assembly, but indications so far are that a number of legislators are clogging the passing lane, unwilling to get out of the way of progress.

     Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has come out in favor of the change. Now Gov. Scott Walker and Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb should join him and tap their horns and flash their headlights to get the lawmakers moving.

    This should be an easy call for the Legislature. Interstate highways and similar multi-lane, limited access roads through non-urban areas are designed to move traffic efficiently and swiftly. As the experience of other states attests, they can safely handle speeds faster than 65.

    In fact, as everyone who has driven on Wisconsin’s interstates in the last five years should know, the roads are already doing that. The 65 limit is rarely enforced on I-roads. Faster speeds are the norm. The speed limit needs to catch up with reality.

    The musty maxim “speed kills” is not relevant to a debate about raising the speed limit on made-to-be-fast highways by a mere 5 mph. It is probably safe to say that drivers who slavishly observe the 65 mph limit while camping in the passing lane are more of a menace than faster drivers, given the frustration and consequent right-side passing their clueless behavior engenders.

    Some roads are designed for speed; others are designed to slow traffic down. One of the latter is Port Washington’s Franklin Street, which has proven to be a remarkable success at calming downtown traffic to make the shopping district friendlier to pedestrians.

    This was accomplished by narrowing the street, improving crosswalk design and emphasized the requirement that motor vehicles yield to pedestrians.

    The result is that traffic moves at a sedate pace when the street and sidewalks are full of farmers market customers, shoppers and visitors. Drivers and pedestrians have a nice, friendly relationship. That was the goal in the rebuilding of Franklin Street, a goal the city had the luxury of pursuing because it has an alternative for drivers who want to get through town a little faster—the Wisconsin Street bypass.

    It is a wholly a good thing that the downtown has become a walkers’ haven, though the pendulum may have swung a bit too far from the days when street-crossers risked life and limb even in crosswalks. In a display of what could be called do-gooderism run amok, some drivers are insisting on stopping for pedestrians intent on crossing Franklin Street at mid-block, away from crosswalks.

    Jaywalking is a small-town privilege, with no harm done as long as those who opt not to walk the half of a block or less to a crosswalk  understand the onus is on them to cross without conflicting with vehicular traffic.

    Drivers who stop and encourage jaywalkers to cross can push congestion past the tolerable level and, worse, expose street crossers to danger from drivers coming from the opposite direction who are not inclined to commit acts of misguided kindness.

    While Wisconsin law makes it clear that motor vehicles must yield to pedestrians crossing streets and roads in crosswalks, there is nothing in the statutes that requires drivers to stop for people crossing elsewhere.

    The law puts a burden on pedestrians too: It is illegal for pedestrians, even in crosswalks, to cross so suddenly that “it is difficult for the operator of a vehicle to yield.”

    Those are sensible laws. The Wisconsin traffic law setting the speed limit on interstate-type highways at 65, on the other hand, is outdated and overdue for change.

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