Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, recently unveiled a budget plan that would put an end to Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine. The publication has existed for nearly 100 years in one form or another and serves to inform Wisconsin residents, hunters, anglers and visitors about how their tax dollars and license fees are being used by the Department of Natural Resources for research and resource management. It also simply shares stories and photographs of the natural wonder of our beautiful state.
In other words, Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine is an important outreach tool. It reaches more than 75,000 subscribers and many more who pick up a copy at the waiting room of their doctor’s office or mechanic’s shop or state park ranger station. And it does so without taxpayer support – the magazine is fully funded by its subscription fees of $8.97 per year (including the subscriptions included for the 40,000 or so people who annually purchase $165 “conservation patron licenses”).
Earlier this year, we pledged that we would stand up for science. At the Center for Limnology, we believe strongly in producing sound, relevant science to help inform how we use and protect Wisconsin’s freshwater systems. We also believe strongly in communicating that science to the residents of this state and, really, anyone interested. More often than not, taxpayers have funded our work. Sharing what we’re doing and what we’re learning with that money is simply part of our job.
A spokesman for governor Walker was quoted as saying that it is not the government’s role to “produce magazines that duplicate what is available in the private market.” That may be true, but we would argue that there is nothing exactly like Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine. Sure Wisconsin Trails* may sometimes cover a similar story, but only Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine is dedicated to showing people what their state resource managers are up to. It’s often difficult for stories like this to make the news in other outlets. Editors at privately run magazines are often only interested when a research project is completed and the results are published in a scientific journal. They also often lean toward stories only about environmental conflict or disaster.
Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine fills a niche that allows it to tell readers about research that is currently ongoing and offers up stories that may not be considered “newsworthy” by outlets that must consider their bottom line or angle for lots of clicks on the Internet. It recently shared the story of how we at the CFL are going to start using state-of-the-art technology to try to detect invasive species in our lakes before their numbers get out of hand. A couple of years ago, the magazine featured a true “good news” story about a successful conservation effort on Vilas county’s Sparkling Lake and the return of native species of plants and fishes. These and countless other stories about the beauty and wonder and fish and wildlife of Wisconsin are available in the magazine.
In our opinion, Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine is a communication and outreach tool and it provides a service not duplicated by other outlets. We at the CFL feel it is crucial that information about publicly funded science be made available to the public and, indeed, that it is the duty of such institutions to do so. Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine does just that for the WDNR and it would be a shame to see its near century of history come to an end.
*NOTE: Wisconsin Trails magazine ceased print publication a few years ago but a site housing Wisconsin outdoor news (http://www.jsonline.com/trails/) is housed at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s website.