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Scenic Wisconsin

An Affiliate of Scenic America

Current Issues

Charlie Mitchell, Editor

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.