Charlie Mitchell, Editor

Monarch butterfly bill dies in senate committee

Bill would have designated the monarch as state butterfly

By Charlie Mitchell   3 April 2024

The bill that would have designated the monarch butterfly as the official Wisconsin state butterfly died in the Senate Committee on Government Operations, left off the agenda by the committee chairman last month, just days before the 2023-24 legislative session ended. The bill, which would have made the monarch the state butterfly in the same way that the badger is designated as state animal and the sugar maple is designated as state tree, was intended to bring needed attention to the monarch, which is an endangered species.

The bill, promulgated by Butterfly Gardens in Appleton, was actively supported by Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin. Jack Voight, owner of Butterfly Gardens, was the main speaker at CSW’s Legislative Day which was held September 27th in a conference room in the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison. Voight announced the creation of the bill at a press conference that day.

While the bill was killed in committee, it did have 30 cosponsors, which indicates that the bill was respected and popular in the legislature. The bill had the endorsement of the influential Wisconsin Conservation Congress, as well as endorsements of many other respected environmentalists and butterfly oriented organizations.     

The monarch butterfly is a charming and beloved creature that people like to see flying around their backyards. The butterfly bill would have increased tourism by stimulating people’s interest in observing the monarch at nature centers and business developments.

Also, butterflies benefit people by helping pollinate fruits and vegetables that are part of our food supply. It is in the interest of the human population to keep butterflies healthy and prospering. The monarch butterfly is not prospering, it is an endangered species, having lost 90% of its population since 1990. The bill would have increased awareness of the plight of the monarch and encouraged people to stop the loss of butterfly habitat.

The mission of Butterfly Gardens, in addition to entertaining visitors, is to provide habitat for butterflies on their long annual journey from the northern US to central Mexico. Increased use of herbicides have greatly reduced the amount of milkweed, the monarch’s primary habitat.

The bill had been approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee by a vote of 8 – 0 in February and seemed well on its way to passage at that time. A public hearing had been held in November. Among the speakers in favor were Rep. Paul Tittl, author of the bill, Voight, and Steve Arnold, former mayor of Fitchburg.

Voight recently said that he is determined to try for passage again next year.



Billboard bills die in committees at end of legislative session

Bills would have forced municipalities to relocate outdoor advertising signs that need to be removed to make way for highway widening projects

By Charlie Mitchell     April 2, 2024

Bills intended to require that outdoor advertising signs which need to be removed to make way for highway reconstruction be transferred to a place elsewhere in the municipality died in committees as the 2023-24 legislative session came to a close last month. The bills would have required relocation even if the sign did not conform to local ordinances. The bills also specified that the Department of Transportation must pay the owner of the sign the costs of relocation.

Having opposed these bills during the course of the legislative session, Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin can consider this a victory.

The companion bills, Senate Bill 467 and Assembly Bill 486, were the subject of public hearings in the Senate Transportation Committee in December and the Assembly Transportation Committee in January. The bills were promulgated by the Outdoor Advertising Association of Wisconsin. A representative of the OAA said that the measures called for in the bills are intended to help them serve the advertising needs of their customers.

However, it is the purpose of a local sign ordinance to manage the placement and size of outdoor advertising signs for the benefit of the citizens of their community. Outdoor advertising signs along streets or highways, commonly known as billboards, are considered intrusive in many municipalities. Residents often feel that billboards do not complement the way they want their community to look, so they enact ordinances that limit their size, height, location, spacing, and lighting. They might even prohibit them altogether.

Other organizations registered their support of the bills with the committees. These included trade associations for auto dealerships, restaurants, and hotels.

Opponents of the bills included Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin, the Department of Transportation, the League of Municipalities, the City of Milwaukee, the City of Madison, and Wisconsin Conservation Voters.

Steve Arnold, former mayor of Fitchburg, speaking for CSW at the hearing in December,      made an effective case against AB468 by citing his experience controlling billboards when he was mayor. Steve said that the City of Fitchburg wants to get rid of billboards in their city, and he made that point at the hearing. He said when a billboard needs to come down for a good reason like a highway improvement project, he expects the billboard to be removed and not placed elsewhere. The DoT should buy out the billboard in the same way that it buys out land and buildings that are in the way of a highway improvement project.

Letters of opposition from CSW board of directors members Vernie Smith and Rich Eggleston were recognized by the committee. These letters made the case that to make municipalities which have ordinances to limit or prohibit billboards accept undesired relocation and placement of billboards by force of law runs counter to a municipality’s authority to govern itself.

In their statement to the committee, the DoT representatives presented their fiscal estimate that showed that the bill would be expensive to taxpayers in the range of $10s of millions. The DoT also stated their concern that to relocate a non-conforming billboard would be counter to the spirit of the federal Highway Beautification Act and could jeopardize highway funding from the federal government.

The hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee that took place in January was essentially a replay of the assembly hearing. Letters to the Committee were sent by CSW board members Vernie Smith and Charlie Mitchell.

Gary Goyke, president of CSW and legislative council to CSW, speaking on March 20, said that he thinks that the committee members were stymied by the opposition, especially from the DoT.

The bills would have undermined local community efforts at highway beautification. The scenic beauty of a community has a direct impact on its housing values, its ability to attract new residents and businesses, and it affects the quality of life of its residents.



Year End Report, December 2023

Advancing and defending the principles of Scenic Wisconsin made 2023 a busy year. Advocating to make the monarch butterfly the state butterfly, efforts to end billboard blight. Preserving scenic byways, increasing agricultural tourism and barn preservation, Scenic Wisconsin actively engaged with state and local decision makers and the public.


Click here to view the 2023 Year End Report

Position Statement – Opposition to 2023 Senate Bill 467 and Assembly Bill 486

Relating to outdoor advertising signs that do not conform to local ordinances and that are affected by certain transportation-related projects.

2023 Bills SB467 and AB486 would allow non-conforming billboards that need to be moved to make way for highway reconstruction to not only be repositioned on the site, but, if there is no room for repositioning, to be transferred to a place elsewhere in the municipality. The bills specify that the DoT must pay the owner of the sign the costs of adjusting, repositioning or transferring the sign.

1. It is a long-standing basic principle of the federal Highway Beautification Act that when a nonconforming billboard reaches the end of its useful life it is to be taken down by the owner, with appropriate compensation to the owner. It is not to be moved/transferred elsewhere.

2. It is the purpose of a local sign ordinance to manage the placement and size of outdoor advertising signs for the benefit of the citizens of the municipality. Off-premise outdoor advertising signs, commonly known as billboards, are considered unsightly in many municipalities, so they have ordinances that disallow them. To make municipalities that disallow billboards accept undesired placement of billboards by force of law is an unprecedented violation of the municipality’s authority to govern itself.

3. The DoT should not pay the costs of adjusting, repositioning or transferring a non-conforming billboard in a community that does not allow billboards.

Position Statement – Support for 2023 Senate Bill 443 and Assembly Bill 446

Relating to designating the monarch butterfly as state butterfly

2023 Senate Bill 443 and Assembly Bill 446 would designate the monarch butterfly as the state butterfly in the same way that the badger is designated as state animal and the sugar maple is designated as state tree.

1 The monarch butterfly is an endangered species, having lost 90% of its population since 1990. This bill will increase awareness of the plight of the monarch and encourage people to stop the loss of butterfly habitat.

2 The monarch butterfly is a charming and beloved creature that people like to see. This bill will increase tourism by stimulating people’s interest in observing the monarch at nature centers and business developments.

3 Butterflies help pollinate fruits that are part of our food supply. It is in the interest of the human population to keep butterflies healthy and prospering.

“Federal appeals court upholds Madison’s billboard rules”

“A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit by Adams Outdoor Advertising that claimed the city of Madison’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional.

The city and Adams have been battling in court over the city’s sign ordinances for decades, with the newly decided federal lawsuit filed in 2017. Adams owns and operates many billboards in Wisconsin, including about 90 in Madison.

Adams’federal lawsuit began as a sweeping First Amendment challenge to the city’s sign ordinance under a legal standard set in a previous U.S. Supreme Court case involving another municipality. It also challenged the city’s distinction between on- and off-premises signs as well as regulation of digital signs.

In April 2017, Adams submitted 26 applications to the city seeking to modify or replace existing billboards, including raising the height of structures and installing digital sign faces. In June 2017, then-city zoning administrator Matthew Tucker denied 25 of the 26 permits, citing ordinance provisions the proposed modifications would violate. The next month, Adams filed the lawsuit in federal court.

In April 2020, a federal judge dismissed the challenge, saying there’s no constitutional problem with Madison’s sign ordinance. ‘Whether the Capitol Square should look like Times Square is a decision that Madison city government is entitled to make,’ U.S. District Judge James Peterson said at the time.

Adams appealed that decision.

Now, on Jan. 4, in a 16-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit, upheld the federal district court’s dismissal of Adams’ claims.

‘The city is pleased with this outcome,” Assistant City Attorney Lara Mainella said. “It supports and reinforces our understanding of the law. The city has always been careful to enact and enforce its sign regulations in a way that honors the First Amendment speech rights of those who wish to display signs in our city…'”

— Dean Mosiman, Wisconsin State Journal, Photo: John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal

SW Editor’s Note: Chief Judge Diana Sykes applied the US Supreme Court’s decision in City of Austin v. Reagan Advertising to reject Adams Outdoor Advertising’s lawsuit. In her opinion, justice Sykes stated, “City of Austin resolves this case. Billboards by their very nature can be perceived as an aesthetic harm. Likewise, the connection between billboards and traffic safety is too obvious to require empirical proof.”       CM

Read entire article

2022 Year End Report


Dear Friends,

Advancing and defending the principles of Scenic Wisconsin made 2022 a busy year. From efforts to end billboard blight to preserving scenic byways, increasing agricultural tourism and barn preservation, Scenic Wisconsin actively engaged with state and local decisionmakers and the public.

Supreme Court decision on Reagan v. Austin: A major victory for scenery!

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Reagan Advertising v. City of Austin on November 10, 2021, 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.

In August, Scenic Wisconsin joined other scenic-oriented state organizations in signing an amicus curiae 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.

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. The Supreme Court’s decision prevented an effort to convert static advertising signs to digital billboards, which had the potential to undo significant portions of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act.

“This is a big victory for Scenic Wisconsin, Scenic America, and all our allies,” said Scenic Wisconsin President Gary Goyke. “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.”

We participated in drafting new Billboard Reform Bill in state legislature.

We engaged a popular and effective State Representative to draft a revised bill that would prohibit new billboards from being installed along the major highways of the State of Wisconsin. This new bill will be narrower in scope than the bill that was introduced two years ago. There were several State Senators and Assembly Representatives that indicated support for it and encouraged us to pursue further efforts. The stated opposition of majority party leadership has weakened and some uncertainty eliminated with the latest Supreme Court decision gives us additional hope in fighting these significant legislative battles.

Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation.

We remain active in support for Rustic Roads and Urban Forestry

During 2022 Scenic Wisconsin prepared for future efforts to establish a Northern Wisconsin River Scenic Byway and to support urban forestry by engaging experts and educating ourselves. We have discussed needed statutory changes for the scenic byway with a prominent State Senator and will continue those discussions in 2023. In addition, we will be working with our friends in Milwaukee on the important matter of preserving the Urban Forestry programs which help our largest city a great deal.

Scenic Wisconsin website updated… it is beautiful and relevant

The Scenic Wisconsin website continues to present interesting and influential information that is important in sustaining our scenic objectives. A prime example of this are the recent articles about digital billboards and about tree extinction. We spent much effort in 2022 keeping this site up to date and interesting.

Meet the Board of Directors.

Front row, from left: Charlie Mitchell, Vernie Smith, Shirley Brabender Mattox, Charles Clemence
Back row, from left: Gary Goyke, Emily Voigt, Ed Kleckner, Scott Becher

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.

Your past support has gotten us this far. The promise of an even more Scenic Wisconsin is just around the corner and is linked irrevocably to our advocacy efforts. Can you please help us keep fighting to make our Mission Statement a bigger part of Wisconsin future?

Wishing all our friends and supporters a very Happy and Successful New Year!

Gary Goyke, President Charlie Mitchell, Founder
December 08, 2022

The mission of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin is to preserve and enhance the visual character of Wisconsin. We believe that America’s scenic heritage is fundamentally important to individual and collective well-being, to economic prosperity, to a healthy ecology, and to the quality of everyday life. Our objectives are to support and promote programs and policies that protect natural beauty in our environment, preserve landscapes and streetscapes, protect historic and cultural symbols such as barns, conserve trees, and improve the appearance of communities.

Highway study calls for underground power lines

Higher efficiency plus broadband without unsightly towers

Major highways connecting cities across the country could someday be used to deliver green energy and high-speed internet service.

Wisconsin already has the “playbook” to make it happen, says a new study by the Wisconsin Technology Center that calls for the use of underground high-voltage power lines and broad-band cable along highway rights of way.

Underground power systems, aimed at delivering wind-generated electricity from rural areas to cities, could address several problems, said WTC President, Tom Still.

First, the buried lines would draw fewer objections from property owners facing the prospect of above ground towers and wires running across their land.

Second, the lines would be less vulnerable to storms, and even terrorist attacks that could cause widespread power outages.

Third, fiber internet cable could be bundled in the same trenches as the power lines to deliver internet service to rural areas.

The US electric grid is a complex web of power lines reaching nearly everywhere. It has been largely based on alternating current (AC) technology that for decades has proven safe and reliable.

“However, the AC power lines that criss-cross the nation are tangled and ill-suited to quicky move large amounts of renewable power from energy-producing regions with low demand, such as the Midwest and Southwest, to large population centers”, says the Federation of American Scientists.

A better choice would be high-voltage direct current (HVDC) systems that lose less power over long distances. Those systems would also support along-the-road charging of electric vehicles and advanced communications needed for autonomous vehicles.

One of the first underground HVDC systems has been planned for railroad rights-of-way from Mason City, Iowa, to the Chicago area.

This article by Charlie Mitchell is excerpts from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by Rick Barrett, published July 26, 2022.

Tree Extinction and the Importance of Native Species

We often hear of extinction in the context of animals, but plants can—and have—become extinct, too. In fact, a 2020 paper cited 65 plant species that have recently become extinct in the continental U.S. and Canada. Recently extinct tree species include the Valley Head hawthorn, the Fecund hawthorn, and the Lateleaf oak. Threats to trees are becoming increasingly common and extinction is a major concern; up to 135 tree species face extinction in the US alone.

Photo: Vermont Trees – Scenic America

Tree Extinction

What factors are behind this loss? The most significant threats to tree populations include invasive pests, climate change, and loss of habitat due to pressures such as deforestation. While climate change causes instability in ecosystems around the world, overharvesting trees exacerbates the damage.

Major causes of deforestation include “agricultural expansion, wood extraction (e.g., logging or wood harvest for domestic fuel or charcoal), and infrastructure expansion such as road building and urbanization,” but are often driven by more complex systems.

Together, these threats pose high extinction risks for tree species around the world—a danger not only for the trees themselves but for the habitats and ecosystem services they support.

Tree cutting for billboard visibility is legal in 32 states.

Why Trees Are Important

The importance of trees is crucial on many levels. For one, tree biodiversity supports overall biodiversity. When a tree species dies out, it can take with it many other species that depended upon those trees for continued survival. Additionally, biodiversity loss is always a blow because of the possibly untapped potential of the species that disappear.

Tree extinction also creates a decline in the essential ecosystem services that trees provide. They produce oxygen, sequester carbon, strengthen soil against erosion, and perform a wide variety of other crucial functions. Trees are one of our best allies in tackling climate change, and their loss is heavily felt.

Native tree species are also particularly important because of the character they bring to their region. Try to imagine Savannah, Georgia without its moss-draped oak trees, or the Redwood Forest without its towering trees. Tree extinction causes us to lose not only a piece of nature but a piece of our identity along the way.

Courtesy of Scenic America, September 28, 2022 by Rebecca Aloisi

Archived News and Updates – For Reference

Looking for something published prior to the article here?

Please check out our archive page to look at previous news and updates.