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Scenic Wisconsin

An Affiliate of Scenic America

Current Issues

Charlie Mitchell, Editor

Billboard Reform Bill Introduced in State Assembly

10 April 2022

By Charlie Mitchell

A bill that would prohibit any more billboards from going up along the major highways in the State of Wisconsin was introduced in the state assembly by Representative Jill Billings (D – La Crosse) on March 10 and was referred to the Committee on Rules.

Dubbed the Billboard Reform Bill, it also had provisions to prevent rebuilding of non-conforming billboards, to disallow conversion of existing billboards to changing-message electronics, and to repeal allowing trees to be removed for the sole purpose of improving the view of a billboard.

On March 15, the bill (AB1146) failed to pass out of committee.

Due to blunt opposition from the leaders of the Republican-majority legislature during the course of the 2021 – 22 legislative session, the bill lacked co-sponsors. The provisions of the Bill, a distillation of provisions of scenic bills in previous years, were provided to Rep. Billings by Scenic Wisconsin. The bill is a strong statement of scenic principles applied to sign regulation.

Scenic Wisconsin president, Gary Goyke, stated at the Scenic Wisconsin board meeting in October that the main role of Scenic Wisconsin is to encourage state and local government officials to control billboards by respecting and enforcing sign regulations. The Billboard Reform Bill goes a long way toward accomplishing that goal, he said.Rep. Billings is a member of the Preservation Alliance of Wisconsin, was a member of the La Crosse County Board from 2004 to 2012, and has a reputation for scenic advocacy. She has been instrumental in getting new regulations into effect in La Crosse where there had been rampant billboard clutter.

Representative Jill Billings (D – La Crosse)

Supreme Court Sides with City of Austin over Reagan National Advertising in First Amendment Case

April 21, 2021

On April 21, in a victory for scenic beauty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the City of Austin over Reagan National Advertising, affirming the constitutionality of the longstanding distinction between content displayed on signs that are located on-premises and off-premises.

With this ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which determined that the City of Austin violated Reagan’s First Amendment rights by denying its request to convert static advertising signs to digital billboards—a decision that had the potential to undo significant portions of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act.

“This is a big win for Scenic America, Scenic Texas, and all of our allies and a victory for common sense,” said Scenic America President Mark Falzone. “The Supreme Court’s ruling puts a stop to this latest attempt by the outdoor advertising industry to chip away at the sacred legacy of the Highway Beautification Act, and it affirms a city’s right to have a say on what its streetscapes look like.”

In the majority opinion, authored by Sonia Sotomayor, the Court noted:

“…federal, state, and local governments have long distinguished between signs (such as billboards) that promote ideas, products, or services located elsewhere and those that promote or identify things located onsite… tens of thousands of municipalities nation- adopted analogous on-/off-premises distinctions in their sign codes.

“In this case, enforcing the City’s challenged sign code provisions requires reading a billboard to determine whether it directs readers to the property on which it stands or to some other, offsite location…the City’s provisions at issue here do not single out any topic or subject matter for differential treatment… The on-/off-premises distinction is therefore similar to ordinary time, place, or manner restrictions.”

…It is the dissent that would upend settled understandings of the law. Where we adhere to the teachings of history, experience, and precedent, the dissent would hold that tens of thousands of jurisdictions have presumptively violated the First Amendment, some for more than half a century, and that they have done so by use of an on-/off-premises distinction this Court has repeatedly reviewed and never previously questioned. For the reasons we have explained, the Constitution does not require that bizarre result.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on November 10, 2021. Scenic America and its chapters and affiliates joined an amici curiae brief in support of Austin, which argued for personal property rights as well as scenic interests.

On the majority opinion, Sotomayor was joined by Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and John Roberts. Samuel Alito filed a concurring opinion, and Breyer also filed his own concurring opinion. Clarence Thomas filed a dissent, joined by Neil Gorsuch and Amy Comey Barrett. The opinions can be viewed here.

With this ruling now in place, Scenic America recognizes that communities across the country may have questions about how to address signage issues moving forward to avoid legal actions while protecting local interests and concerns.

And while the decision represents a significant step in the right direction, Scenic America acknowledges that the issue may not be fully resolved. In its decision, the Supreme Court remanded part of the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to potentially consider if the digital billboard ban survives another constitutionality test known as intermediate scrutiny. However, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, which originally reviewed the case, already ruled in favor of the City of Austin on this question. It is unclear whether or not the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will revisit it.

In another promising development, the U.S. Supreme Court declined on May 2 to take up a related question regarding taxes for off-premises billboards in Cincinnati and Baltimore. Last year, the Ohio Supreme Court determined that Cincinnati’s billboard tax violated the First Amendment, while the Maryland Supreme Court found that a very similar tax in Baltimore did not.

“Scenic America is here to help towns and cities as they consider the impact of this decision on their own signage ordinances, now and in the future,” said Falzone. “For nearly 40 years, we have been fighting to protect the scenic beauty and visual qualities of our communities, and we are here to help any town, city, or resident that faces issues like this in the future.”

Learn more key facts about the case here.  Courtesy of Scenic America.

Research Shows that Digital Traffic Safety Messages Contribute to Highway Accidents and Fatalities

April 21, 2021

A new study suggests that digital highway signs that are designed to encourage safe driving contribute to an increase in nearby traffic accidents.

The study, published in April 2022 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science on science.org, looked at several years of data from Texas to find that the number of vehicle crashes increased by an average of 4.5% in the 6.2 miles following signs displaying year-to-date road fatality statistics. Although these signs were meant to encourage safe driving, the research suggests that they have an opposite, distracting effect.

“When you’re on the road, your eyes belong on the road. Signs that take your attention away from the road and break your concentration are going to cause distracted driving and accidents, no matter what message they’re trying to convey,” said Scenic America President Mark Falzone. “This study just adds to the body of research telling us that digital signs including billboards are traffic safety hazards that don’t belong on our roadways.”

For this study, researchers examined Texas highway crash data between August 2012 and December 2017. During this time, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) displayed messages on these signs reporting year-to-date highway fatalities as a means of encouraging safe driving. The signs appeared to have an opposite effect; the study authors noted an increase in accidents downstream of these signs during the weeks when such messaging was presented. In reviewing the data, the researchers found no difference in results when controlling for time of day, weather, vehicle type, driver age group, driver gender, and other variables.

The researchers concluded that the fatality messages caused an additional 2,600 crashes and 16 deaths for year, costing about $380 million each year. By applying this anticipated trend across the 28 states that used such messaging, the impact of this messaging platform and tactic multiplies. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 39,000 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2020, the highest number since 2007.

In 2021, the Federal Highway Administration determined that displaying traffic fatality statistics was not an appropriate use of these electronic messaging signs. The FHWA outlined acceptable uses for these signs, such as alerting travelers to traffic conditions and relevant, real-time travel information.

“Signs and digital billboards like these with changing messages serve one purpose: to catch drivers’ attention, which contributes to distracted driving, traffic accidents, and deaths. We’ve seen studies from Alabama, Florida, and around the world, and they all point to same conclusions,” added Falzone. “Any state or city that wants to add more signs to its roadways needs to take these risks very seriously.”

Courtesy of Scenic America.

Year End Report

December 8, 2021

Dear Friends,

Advancing and defending the principles of Scenic Wisconsin made 2021 another busy year. From efforts toward ending billboard blight to advocating for Scenic Byways, agricultural tourism, and barn preservation, Scenic Wisconsin actively engaged with decision-makers and the public.

We joined the fight to save the right to regulate billboards

Supreme Court decision on Reagan v. Austin expected in the spring

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Reagan Advertising v. City of Austin, Texas on November 10, a case that considers whether billboard restrictions violate first amendment rights. Reagan argued that regulating signs based on whether they are off-premises of the product advertised on them violates the right to free speech. At stake is whether federal and state governments will continue to have the right to regulate outdoor advertising signs, commonly known as billboards, along highways in this country. The justices expressed concerns about the implications of the case on the national landscape, the legacy of the Highway Beautification Act, and the costs of overturning long-standing scenic laws. The outcome is far from certain.
In August, Scenic Wisconsin joined other scenic-oriented state organizations in signing an amicus brief in support of the City of Austin. In October, we issued a strongly-worded bulletin in favor of Austin, to encourage people and organizations in Wisconsin to join the fray against Reagan. Attached to the bulletin was an improved edition of our policy statement “Billboards are not a benefit in Wisconsin”, which states the importance of scenery.

We facilitated drafting new Billboard Reform Bill in state legislature

We engaged with a Representative in the state assembly in drafting a new bill that would prohibit new billboards from being installed along the major highways of the state of Wisconsin. This new bill is much shorter and narrower in scope than the bill that was introduced two years ago and there were several senators and assembly representatives that indicated support for it. However, the bill has not yet been introduced due to heavy political headwinds: the stated opposition of majority party leadership and the uncertainty created by the impending Supreme Court decision.

We are active in support of Scenic Byways & Rustic Roads

During 2021, Scenic Wisconsin prepared for future efforts to establish a Northern Wisconsin River Scenic Byway. We have discussed needed statutory changes for the scenic byway with a prominent state senator and will continue those discussions in 2022. Also, we have been consulting experts as we continue to work with officials in the City of Milwaukee on strengthening the urban forestry programs which have important social, environmental and economic benefits.

Scenic website continues to present relevant, educational information

The Scenic Wisconsin website continues to present interesting and influential information that is important to sustaining our scenic objectives. Prime examples of this are the recent articles about the pending Supreme Court decision. Other subjects of articles over the past few years include: Climate change, how planting trees is practical as well as scenic; Scenic Byways and Habitat Highways; and saving iconic traditional dairy barns.

New directors this year: Emily Voight and Chuck Law

Emily Voight of Appleton, who ran for state assembly last year, is a member of the Calumet County Board of Supervisors, and helps manage Butterfly Gardens in Appleton. Chuck Law, professor emeritus at UW-Madison, directed the historic barns preservation programs for the UW-Extension and has advised Scenic Wisconsin about iconic barns for years.
It takes financial support to continue to defend scenery against self-serving actions of the well-funded outdoor advertising industry. Please contribute as much as you are willing and able to, however much fits into your budget.

Send your check to:

Scenic Wisconsin
705 West Avenue South
LaCrosse, WI 54601

Thank you and happy holidays.
Gary Goyke, President Charles Mitchell, Founder

Supreme Court decision on Reagan v. Austin expected in the spring

By Charlie Mitchell
Scenic News, November 25, 2021

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Reagan Advertising v. City of Austin, Texas on November 10, a case that considers whether billboard restrictions violate first amendment rights. Reagan argued that regulating signs based on whether they are off-premises of the product advertised on them violates the right to free speech. At stake is whether federal and state governments will continue to have the right to regulate outdoor advertising signs, commonly known as billboards, along highways in this country. The justices expressed concerns about the implications of the case on the national landscape, the legacy of the Highway Beautification Act, and the costs of overturning long-standing scenic laws. The outcome is far from certain.

In August, Scenic Wisconsin joined other scenic-oriented state organizations in signing an amicus brief in support of the City of Austin. In October, we issued a strongly-worded bulletin in favor of Austin, to encourage people and organizations in Wisconsin to join the fray against Reagan. Attached to the bulletin was an improved edition of our policy statement “Billboards are not a benefit in Wisconsin”, which states the importance of scenery.

Take the scenic route

Wisconsin’s Rustic Roads program is the finest in the country

Excerpts from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article of 3 Oct 2021

Hazy light peeks through fall colors along Wisconsin Rustic Rod R77 in Sturgeon Bay
Photo by Cassandra Raymond / Courtesy Wisconsin Dept. Transportation

Off County Highway C in Taylor County, south of Timm’s Hill – the highest point in Wisconsin – is a little brown and yellow sign indicating a special road, one of 123 in the state. R1 the sign reads, the state’s very first rustic road.

Rustic Road 1 stretches for five miles between Hwy. 102 and County D north of Rib Lake, through beautiful, forested land and two pretty lakes.

Designated in 1975, the gravel road exemplifies the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation program whose goal is to preserve lightly traveled roads that have outstanding natural or historical features for the enjoyment of not only motorists but also cyclists and hikers.

The rural roads provide a chance to slow down and truly see the Wisconsin countryside which is not possible from fast-paced state and interstate highways. Ranging in length from 2 to 30 miles, most of the roads connect with major highways on both ends, making them short scenic detours throughout the state. According to Liat Bonneville, WisDot Rustic Road coordinator, other states have similar programs, but none on the scale of Wisconsin’s.

The program was the brainchild of former Racine County Highway Commissioner Earl Skagen who would pass quiet, scenic roads on his way to work. In 1970 he decided that they were worth saving, “for future generations to travel in a peaceful, unhurried setting”. He created the term “rustic road” and said they should have maintenance guidelines to preserve the natural and rustic characteristics.

The program was born as Assembly Bill 658 in December 1973 which defined the process for designating a road and established a state-level Rustic Roads board. It described a set of qualifications for the road, the most important being having outstanding natural features and agricultural vistas. A local municipality must pass a resolution and apply to the Board for designation of a road. The board sends two members to review the proposed road and reports to the Board before it votes on the road.

Supreme court to determine authority of federal and state governments to regulate outdoor advertising

A decision in favor of outdoor advertising companies would result in unlimited clutter of unsightly billboards along Wisconsin’s highways.

By Charlie Mitchell
Scenic News, October 10, 2021

The case known as Reagan v. Austin which pits two major outdoor advertising companies, Reagan and Lamar, against the City of Austin, Texas, will be heard by the supreme court on November 10. At issue is whether the federal and state governments will continue to be allowed to regulate off-premises outdoor advertising signs, commonly known as billboards, in this country. If the outdoor advertising companies win, the result will be a proliferation of big signs along our state and federal highways and a serious degradation of the scenery as viewed from the highways.

The outdoor advertising companies are arguing that regulating signs based on whether they are off-premises of the activity advertised on them violates the right to free speech.

In the words of attorney Cooke Kelsey, who works with scenic advocate Scenic America and who has appeared as ”amicus curiae” (friend of the court) in this case: “It is the most important scenic case to reach the court, ever.” If the billboard companies prevail, the damage to scenic assets would be a disaster for tourism and our quality of life.

Billboards don’t exist in harmony with natural scenery like farms, forests, or lakes. They are erected for the sole purpose of increasing revenue to the advertiser and to the billboard company. With the advent of smart phones and dashboard GPS providing information such as names and locations of hotels and all roadside services that an automobile traveler could need, there is no longer a need for billboards.

For a more complete understanding of how unnecessary and detrimental billboards are, read our position statement on our resource page. For the reasons cited, there are eight states in the US that limit or completely prohibit the use of billboards.

Kelsey has assembled a formidable coalition of major organizations and associations which have done pro-scenic “briefs” in support of the City of Austin. The coalition includes several of the very biggest real estate developers in the country, such as Trammel Crow; 22 state governments; many state scenic organizations, including Scenic Wisconsin; the National League of Cities; the US Conference of Mayors; the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Houston; the Municipal Lawyers Association; and the American planning Association, to name a few.

Subduing the outdoor advertisers will be a benefit to everybody. Please do what you can to lend your support to the City of Austin.

Governor’s task force issues Climate Change report

Forestry identified as one of nine “policy sectors”

By Charlie Mitchell
March 15, 2021

Since taking office in 2019, Governor Evers has committed to taking action on the effects of climate change in Wisconsin. The Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, created in October 2019 with Lieutenant Mandela Barnes as chairman, has recently distributed their Climate Change Report dated December, 2020, with recommendations of actions to “meaningfully mitigate” the negative effects of climate change “for the benefit of Wisconsin communities”.

The 115-page Report cites how the 1degree Centigrade (2degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperature above the average temperature of the twentieth century is impacting Wisconsin: damage to property by severe storms, damage from flooding, crop failures due to drought and other adverse growing conditions, and elevated incidents of heat strokes and exhaustion.
The Report states that 19 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, and that even if the world meets its current greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement, the globe is expected to warm 3degrees C by 2100. The increased heat is expected to threaten Wisconsin’s cold-water fisheries, affect the health of native trees and plants, cause the proliferation of pests and infectious diseases, and cause the destruction of beaches and marinas by storm surges.   
The Report presents statistics recently published by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, the electric power sector produced 33% of the emissions, transportation 24%, agriculture 15%, and industrial 11%. Carbon dioxide accounted for 81% of greenhouse gas emissions and methane 10%. Emissions have declined in Wisconsin by 9% between 2005 and 2017, mostly due to reductions in the electric sector.

Sanctuary Woods in County Grounds Park, Wauwatosa
Photo by Charlie Mitchell

Nine policy sectors are identified and the Report describes recommended “climate solutions” for each of the sectors. The sectors are Climate Justice, Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, Resilient Systems, Economy, Education, Food, and Forestry. Most of these sectors produce greenhouse emissions. Forestry is the only sector that absorbs emissions. Tree leaves take on CO2 in the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. However, Wisconsin forests and natural lands lost over 25% of their carbon sequestering ability between 2005 and 2017 due to the encroachment of agriculture and the conversion of cropland to urban development.

In the Forestry Sector, there are five priorities listed for attention: forest conservation, reforestation in rural areas, tree planting in urban areas, climate-focused forest management, and support of wood-product utilization.

To accomplish conservation, also described as “keeping forests as forests”, some of the strategies recommended are: tax forested land on its value in its current use rather than its highest/best use, provide tax and other incentives to landowners who donate forested land to conservation easements, and explore the possibility of a family forest carbon credit program for small woodland owners.

All of these recommendations require some new state legislation and funding. There are no cost estimates because the Report did not go into that depth.

In the realm of reforestation, the main ideas are to implement a rural tree-planting campaign, fund private owner assistance for tree-planting, and purchase and reforest open lands that were formerly forested. Reforestation could “offset” an estimated 5 million tons of CO2 per year.

Regarding tree-planting in urban areas, develop and implement a campaign to plant more shade trees, and provide assistance to communities that are interested in participating in carbon credit programs. Increased forest canopy in cities has the potential to sequester and store an additional 0.3 tons of carbon a year, plus provide additional benefits such as reducing temperatures in the city, reducing storm-water run-off, and increasing air quality. The presence of trees in a city also reduces crime rates and increases property values, too. Trees reduce energy demands because they provide cooling by the shade that they give and by transpiration of water vapor.

To implement climate-focused forest management, define carbon as a forest product through state policy, provide funding sources for planting understories in forest stands that are not fully filled in, and establish funding to purchase land and maintain it as a working forest.

To support wood products utilization, develop a campaign on the benefits of using Wisconsin wood products, invest in research and commercialization of “mass-timber” and cross-laminated lumber, and incentivize the use of renewable fuels (woody biomass) for space heating, and industrial process heat. Wood is extremely effective for long-term carbon storage. Buildings made from wood can store carbon that otherwise would return to the atmosphere when trees die and decompose on the forest floor.

Of course, expanding and nurturing our forests has the well-known additional benefits of an increase in beautiful scenery and fresh air, and the enjoyment of it.

For more information and to see the complete report, go to www.climatechange.wi.gov.

Three of Wisconsin’s most scenic drives earn national recognition

Reprinted from an article that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on February 28, 2021
By Chelsea Lewis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Three Wisconsin roads have received new National Scenic Byway designations from the Federal Highway Administration, confirming them as some of the state’s best places for scenic drives.

The Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway and Door County Coastal Byway have both been declared National Scenic Byways, while Wisconsin’s Great River Road – already a National Scenic Byway – has been declared an All American Road.

Wisconsin’s 250-mile segment of Great River Road follows Highway 35 from Prescott to Kieler along the Mississippi River through the western part of the state. The road follows the river for its entire 3,000 mile course from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2012, readers of Huffington Post voted it “America’s prettiest drive.”

A boost for tourism

“More attention means more visitors to the states that border the mighty Mississippi,” Anne Lewis, chair of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, said in a press release. “More travelers bring more money spent in stores, restaurants, hotels and attractions, an economic boost that is vital to the communities along the Great River Road.”

Mississippi River The Great River Road winds around Maiden Rock Bluff along Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River
Photo by Chelsey Lewis / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

To be designated an All American Road, a route must be “considered a destination unto itself” and “provide such an exceptional driving experience for travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip,” according to the National Scenic Byways Program. In addition, the road must have two of six “intrinsic qualities” – scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archeological, and recreational – with features that “best represent the nation.”

National Scenic Byways must have one of those qualities and be regionally significant.

Wisconsin’s 70-mile Lake Superior Scenic Byway follows Highway 13 through the Bayfield peninsula from Barksdale to Cloverland, offering views of the greatest of the Great Lakes.

The 66-mile Door County Coastal Byway loops around the Door County peninsula along Highway 57 from Sturgeon Bay to Northport and back down Highway 42 to its starting point.

The three routes are Wisconsin’s only designated National Scenic Byways, but the Badger State is home to two other state scenic byways: the Lower Wisconsin River Road, a charming route along highway 60 from Lodi to Prairie du Chien; and the forested Nicolet- Wolf River Scenic Byway along Highways 55, 32, 70 and 52 in the northeast part of the state.

Editor’s Notes:
According to recent bulletins from Scenic America, these are some of the first new designations of National Scenic Byways since 2009, made possible by new funding in environmental legislation enacted by the federal government during 2020, following the passage of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act in September, 2019.

In August 2020, President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law. This was a victory for conservationists because it provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund which supports the creation and maintenance of national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, state parks, and more.

The National Scenic Byways Program was established in 1991, and besides bringing scenic conservation and environmental benefits, it has become a critical part of America’s travel and tourism industry.

Year End Report

December 7, 2020

The year 2020 has been another active year for Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, and we continue to defend and advance our scenic principles.

We have brought on two new highly motivated and qualified board members.

Jay Salinas of Reedsburg is experienced in promoting agricultural tourism, an activity that depends on attractive rural scenery and increases respect for that scenery. Jay is director of the Wormfarm Institute, an organization working to integrate art, agriculture and ecology for improved agricultural life-style. Jay organized this year’s Farm Art DTour, an event with exhibits of sculptures and sales of local delicacies along a 60-mile figure-eight of scenic country roads near Reedsburg that took place Sep 26-Oct 4 and attracted 22,000 people.

Frank Shansky of St.Francis has been deeply involved with the citizens’ drive in recent years to save Sanctuary Woods on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa, an old growth hardwood forest. He has spoken repeatedly before the common Council in Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee County Board to conserve the Woods by making it part of recently created County Grounds Park. Now that the Woods it is part of the park, he continues in an activist, leadership role to make sure that elected officials respect zoning that prevents commercial building adjacent to the Woods and to the nearby Monarch Trail butterfly habitat.
A cooperative relationship has been established with the Wormfarm Institute.

A new strategic relationship has been established between the Wormfarm Institute (described above) headquartered in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, whereby both organizations cooperate to support and advance initiatives, such as agricultural tourism, that encourage conservation of scenery.

Scenic Wisconsin leadership is engaged in re-building at Scenic America.

In discussions with Scenic America President Mark Falzone and new Progarm Director Nathan O’Neill at the September Affiliates meeting, President Gary Goyke and Secretary Charlie Mitchell reported on our activities and presented the History of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin and a report of States with Good Billboard Regulation. Scenic America will make the History available in their library, and the report will be the basis for a bulletin intended to support strengthening billboard laws.

We have become active in support for Rustic Roads in Wisconsin.

Scenic Wisconsin was invited by the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation to participate in the stewardship of the Rustic Roads program. Gary will be consulting with the Rustic Roads board about improved signage and other upgrades, and will advocate for funding in the WisDoT budget in the upcoming state legislative session. Rustic Roads are scenic rural back roads designated and managed by the WisDoT to keep them scenic.

We advocated for the Billboard Reform Bill in the state legislature.

Known as the Billboard Reform Act, the bill was intended to prohibit new off-premises advertising signs known as billboards along state and federal highways. Scenic Wisconsin officers and board members had been instrumental in drafting this bill sponsored by Representative Amanda Stuck of Appleton. While the bill stalled in the Assembly Transportation Committee, it had the effect of blunting advances by the aggressive Outdoor Advertising industry.

The board of directors have been very active personally informing legislators and candidates, making them aware of our scenic values, and will remain steadfast in pressing for billboard reform in the upcoming legislative session.    

It takes financial support to continue to defend scenery against self-serving actions of the well-funded outdoor advertising industry. Please contribute as much as you are willing and able to, however much fits into your budget. Return the slip provided here with your check or credit card number in the enclosed envelope.

Thank you and happy holidays.                   
                                                                                          Gary Goyke, President
                                                                                          Charlie Mitchell, Founder   

P.S: The History of Citizens for Scenic Wisconsin and the Report of States with Good Billboard Regulation are exceptional works authored by Charlie that will not only aid our efforts, but influence the national scenic movement.  The History is an example and the Report is a reference for other state scenic organizations. Nice job, Charlie!                                 Gary      

Art DTour in Sauk County reveals wonders of scenic farm country

October 15, 2020
By Charlie Mitchell

The 60-mile drive in Sauk County known as Farm Art DTour provided thousands of “Dtourists” with an opportunity to view and enjoy the charming, scenic farmland in pleasant early fall weather. Organized and presented by the Wormfarm Institute (headquartered in Reedsburg) the event encompassed the towns of Plain and Sauk Prairie on a figure-eight route of country roads through an artwork of fields and farms. Along the way were large-scale sculptures and local food markets, all of it punctuated by educational field notes and roadside poetry. 

  Scenic overlook along Farm Art Dtour. Photo: Wormfarm Institute    

The Wormfarm Institute is an organization dedicated to integrating art, agriculture and ecology for the betterment of the agricultural life-style. In the words of their website, their stated mission is “to integrate culture and agriculture”, to bring together farming, conservation, and the arts to kindle cultural expression and enhance the economy of the region.

Jay Salinas, artist and farmer, is Wormfarm co-founder, and with his partner Donna, they organize the DTour, with the help of a small dedicated staff and dozens of volunteers and collaborators. Jay says, “My reward is witnessing the range of relationships that develop between artists, farmers, landowners and business owners during the event.”

One tourist, Gary Goyke of Maple Grove, said that the tour was “excellent” and that he really enjoyed it.     

 Now a biennial in its eighth year, this year’s event took place Sep 26 to Oct 4 and drew over 20,000 people. Although scheduled well before the coronavirus pandemic began, the event was planned to include a comprehensive safety protocol of social distancing, using the motto Stay One Cow Apart.

It was a celebration of the agricultural lifestyle of Wisconsin, the best of “agritourism”: reaching out to urban residents, providing education to all and building respect for Wisconsin’s scenic heritage.

Habitat Highways

Roadsides can provide vital sanctuaries for pollinators and other wildlife
July 1 2020

State highway departments are beginning to plant native species for habitat, increasing the esthetic attractiveness in the process, thanks in large part to the Habitat Highways initiative by the World Wildlife Federation.

Excerpts below from WWF Magazine April/May 2016

An Interstate highway may seem to be an unlikely place to create a butterfly habitat, but across the country roadside rights-of-way are attracting the attention of biologists and conservationists for their potential to foster monarchs and other kinds of wildlife. Roadsides can support a surprising variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths and other insects. Long-distance migratory birds such as the ruby-throated hummingbird can use roadsides as pit stops for resting and feeding. Small mammals thrive on the edges of highways.

Flowers bloom in roadside habitat. Photo: World Wildlife Federation

Starting not far from the shore of Lake Superior, Interstate 35 heads south for more than 1500 miles through fields of corn and soybeans and the remnants of midwest prairie until it reaches the Texas chaparral country along the Rio Grande river. It’s an artery of speeding motor vehicle traffic, but to biologists like Michael Gale of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, this Interstate could one day become the “monarch highway”.

“It overlaps perfectly with the central flyway of migrating eastern monarch butterflies” says Gale, a participant in a multi-agency federal plan to increase the numbers of that beloved but beleaguered butterfly. During the past two decades, the population of monarchs in Mexico for the winter has plummeted 80 to 90%, primarily as a result of habitat loss in the United States.  

In the past, US roadways have been anything but wildlife friendly, planted with exotic grasses like fescue, excessively mown and heavily sprayed with herbicide. In recent years, however, several state transportation departments – including those in Iowa, Indiana, Florida and Nebraska – have begun changing their right-of-way management practices. In December 2015, President Obama signed the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” which, among many measures ,encourages states to plant milkweed and other native plants along highways for pollinators to feed on. And in 2016, the Federal Highway Administration released new “best management practices” that provide guidance to transportation authorities about how to develop wildlife habitat along rights-of-way.

For more information, Habitat Highways World Wildlife Federation.        

Commuter is thankful for billboard removal in Madison

January 3, 2019
One driver took the time to publicly thank the Dane County Board for taking action that resulted in the removal of three large outdoor advertising signs. Here is a copy of the letter that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on Nov 8, 2018.

Thanks for removing billboards

My daily commute to work has improved by 100%, and I have the Dane County Board to thank for that.

Three huge billboards were along Aberg Avenue in Madison between the East Washington Avenue exit and the airport. What was once an ugly sight is now beautiful and clear, full of fall foliage that we all love in Madison.
It was a long time coming, and I want to thank the county for having those monstrosities removed and making Dane County even more beautiful than it already is.
                    Name Withheld, Madison

A report on the court action that upheld the order to remove these billboards appeared on this web site on December 29, 2016.