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Aurora

Environmental education key to protection



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September 22, 2010 | 07:54 AM
Wisconsin is home to 11,188 square miles of water, 99 state parks and 42 state recreational trails which total more than 1,700 miles.

It is easy to see why people flock to our state during their vacations to enjoy the nature that surrounds us. Knowledge about those resources is key to preserving the health and vitality of our natural surroundings. It is also important this knowledge be passed along to future generations in order to maintain our strong environmental consciousness.

To that end, the Legislature created the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, or WEEB, in 1990 to foster environmental education. As a member of the Board for more than 11 years, I share that intent and goal to offer such educational opportunities to citizens young and old. The Board defines environmental education as "a lifelong learning process." It is important this process start at an early age and continues throughout our lives.

For me, it has been a privilege to serve on the board, as it has given me an unique opportunity to connect with numerous individuals and organizations who share a common value of protecting and enhancing our vast natural resources. Since its inception, the board has been most active in upholding their mission to "empower Wisconsin citizens with the knowledge and skills needed to make wise environmental decisions." WEEB administers an environmental grants program and operates as a consensus-building group on important environmental education issues.

The 17 member board is made up of officials with the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Natural Resources, the President of the University of Wisconsin (or designee), four members of the Legislature from both Houses and political parties, and representatives of environmental educators, conservation organizations, business and industry groups, agriculture, energy, forestry, labor, higher education and nature centers/museums/zoos.

In compliance with state law, the WEEB Grants program awards grants to corporations and public agencies for the development, dissemination and presentation of environmental education programs. With any grant program, applicants must compete with each other for funding and the Board has the charge of making the best possible decisions based on the goals of the proposed projects.

Funding for the WEEB Grants program generally comes from two funding sources — a $400,000 appropriation from the Forestry Account of the Conservation Fund and a 20 percent surcharge on environmental fines which supports this grant program and DNR initiatives. Once fully implemented the Board's portion of the surcharge will increase funding to an average of $250,000 per year. In 1990, the first year in operation, WEEB awarded $198,325 of grant dollars to 27 recipients. In 2010, a total of 105 applications were received, requesting more than $1.02 million in funds. Forty-nine applications were chosen totaling $509,617.

Currently, WEEB is seeking proposals for the 2011-12 grant cycle. Eligible projects do not necessarily need to focus on K-12 school children, as the beneficiaries of the grants can be pre-school children, college students, adults, community members, members of civic organizations, landowners, and businesses. The Board anticipates awarding $70,000 for general environmental grants, $135,000 for forestry grants and $135,000 for school forest grants. Proposals are due Feb. 12, 2011. Decisions will be made at the April board meeting in 2011.

The Wisconsin Environment Education Board is another example of Wisconsin's commitment to the environment, molded in the tradition of conservation leaders who laid the foundation for protecting and preserving our outdoor way of life. For an application packet, or more information about the program, visit the WEEB Web site at: www.uwsp.edu/cnr/weeb or by phone at (715) 346-3805. As always, you may contact my office for more information, or with any other legislative questions or concerns.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI, 53707-7882, or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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