MADISON, WI (February 15, 2023) – Today, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers released his 2023-25 state budget proposal, which includes major investments in Oneida Nation’s wetland restoration in Northeastern Wisconsin, and investments in the conservation of wild rice, an important natural and cultural resource.
“We applaud Governor Evers for prioritizing wetland conservation and uplifting the vital role that Wisconsin’s Tribal Nations play in protecting and restoring Wisconsin’s natural spaces,” said Brian Vigue, Policy Director of Freshwater for Audubon Great Lakes. “Vulnerable birds across Wisconsin depend on rich and abundant wetlands, many of which support the growth of wild rice. These investments in Oneida’s wetland restoration, and in the conservation of wild rice will ensure that Wisconsin is a place where birds and other wildlife can thrive for generations to come.”
The Governor’s budget proposal includes an annual investment of $175,000, over five years, for Oneida Nations’ habitat restoration work and bird monitoring project. Oneida Nation has restored 3,000 acres of the reservation's wetlands, grasslands, prairies, and forests in Northeastern Wisconsin, helping to alleviate water pollution and provide wildlife habitat.
“We know that nature can provide for itself if allowed to. A years-long restoration of Oneida’s lands in Northeastern Wisconsin has led to improvements in water quality and the return of wildlife,” said Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill. “We appreciate Governor Evers for supporting our work to restore and protect Wisconsin’s natural spaces. This investment will allow us to continue our collaborative work with partners, like Audubon Great Lakes, to heal the land and create a healthier natural environment.”
In 2021, Audubon Great Lakes and Oneida Nation launched a bird monitoring project on restored wetlands, in coordination with Northeastern Wisconsin (NEW) Audubon Society, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, to understand how birds are responding to the Tribe’s conservation efforts. Since the launch of the project over 60 volunteers have documented more than 120 bird species, and counted more than 75,000 individual birds at Oneida restoration sites. The project also aims to build community among bird watchers in the area and elevate Oneida’s rich culture, history, and language.
“We’ve witnessed first-hand as state-threatened bird species, like the Henslow’s Sparrow, have returned to restored Oneida Nation lands, an incredible testament to the importance of this restoration work,” said Erin Giese, President of NEW Audubon and National Audubon Society Board Member. “Oneida’s 300-acre restored Trout Creek grassland is dominated by native grasses that are essential to grassland birds — the bird group most rapidly declining in North America — and is one of the most productive, contiguous grassland complexes for birds in northeastern Wisconsin. This funding will help protect the hundreds of bird species that rely on Wisconsin’s habitats to thrive, while offering countless benefits to other wildlife, Oneida citizens, ecological health, and neighboring communities.”
The Governor’s budget proposal also includes an investment of $200,000 for the Wild Rice Restoration and Public Education Initiative to conserve and protect Wisconsin’s wild rice. A wetland grass, wild rice provides food and habitat for wildlife, helps maintain water quality, and is an integral part of the culture of many tribes located in Wisconsin.
The Great Lakes region holds part of the largest and last remaining extensive coastal wild rice bed in the world, yet wild rice abundance has significantly declined over the past century in part due to wetland loss and water quality degradation. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is working closely with Wisconsin's Tribal Nations to come up with conservation solutions to protect the state’s wild rice.
Wild rice is a critically important food source for waterfowl, and vulnerable marsh birds like the Sora, which relies on wild rice for up to 94 percent of its grain diet in the fall; and the state-endangered Black Tern, which relies on a patchwork mix of open water and emergent vegetation that is a common characteristic of wild rice beds. Conservation of wild rice will help protect declining breeding birds, migratory waterfowl and other wildlife, while offering environmental, cultural and recreational benefits to local communities.
The conservation of Wisconsin’s wetlands and natural resources is vital to protect wildlife and communities in Wisconsin. Audubon Great Lakes will continue to work with policymakers to help ensure that the final state budget protects these vital habitats.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.
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