Monday, May 25, 2015

Why would Northwoods legislators hurt Northwoods tourism?

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to Wisconsin's major tourist season, and I wanted to go into some of the numbers generated from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism on jobs and money that comes from tourist-related industries. From these figures, I created a per-capita figure, which gives a rough estimate of which counties get a disproportionate share of their income from tourism. A lot of the counties at the top of this list shouldn't surprise you, but it is worth noting which areas get and need high tourism dollars, and who could feel the hit if a number of people decided not to go there in a given year.

Sauk County being Number 1 is hardly surprising- it's the home of the Lake Delton side of the Wisconsin Dells area (where most of the water parks are) as well as Devil's Lake and many other naturally beautiful areas. In fact, Sauk County grabs the 3rd most tourism dollars out of any county in the state, with $928.8 million in direct spending last year. Other top counties include Door County, the Dells-area Adams County, along with several counties in the Northwoods and the Lake Geneva-based Walworth County. On a political side, it's interesting to note that Sauk, Door and Adams Counties are areas that have swung towards Democrats in recent years (albeit not fast enough in Adams and Door Counties for midterms), while the Northwoods and Walworth County have generally turned towards Republicans, especially in midterm years.

With that in mind, and with the clear boost to the state's economy that the state's natural beauty gives, why are the Republicans elected from the Northwoods in the State Legislature pursuing policies like this?
The measure would require the Department of Natural Resources to use more land in six state forests. The proposal by Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma) would boost the amount for such cutting from 67% to 75%.

Currently, there are 296,775 acres designated for intensive timber harvesting in the Brule River, Black River, Coulee, Peshtigo River, Northern Highland American Legion and Flambeau River state forests.

State forests have other categories not earmarked for the most aggressive type of logging, but the changes sought by lawmakers would lump in other land for heavier cutting.

The changes could mean adding more logging on nearly 37,500 acres.
The article notes that logging and other "forest products" industry still has a strong presence in Wisconsin, quoting a Forward Wisconsin publication that says 52,000 people are employed in those fields (mostly in printing, paper-making, and similar types of jobs). But given that Czaja and Tiffany represent Northwoods areas that are homes to the forests, but not many of the factories processing these products, why are they siding with the downstate manufacturers instead of protecting and promoting scenes like this?

(Picture is courtesy of the Town of Lake Tomahawk website, which is filled with similar pictures).

Maybe it's because these GOP legislators are ignorant. Look at this article from earlier this month on Sen. Tiffany's attempts to gut the DNR's science staff, especially on topics that could have major effects on outdoors activities that draw many visitors to the state.
Proposed cuts at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' science bureau could potentially block the agency’s continued work on climate change and chronic wasting disease management.

Why those areas in particular?

Many observers believe it's because they're the pet peeves of Sen. Tom Tiffany. Although the Hazelhurst Republican hasn’t announced he is behind the proposed cuts, he has been critical of DNR research since the cuts in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget were announced, called climate change "theoretical." He has also penned scathing columns about the department’s efforts on CWD management and the state’s bobcat harvest quotas, which he thinks are too low.
Or maybe he's just bought. Remember that Tiffany and State Senator Rick Gudex were elected in 2012 to the State Senate with strong backing from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Wisconsin Club for Growth, who got a lot of money laundered to them from GTac Taconite, with the intent of relaxing mining rules for a large, open-pit mine they planned in Iron County. Can't have those pesky regulations protecting the environment and scientists warning about the effects of bad air quality getting in the way of wringing a few more dollars and political influence out of an area, can we?

Take another look at that chart at the top of the page, which shows how tourism is an outsized part of the economy of the Northern Wisconsin. Wouldn't a sensible business development strategy might be to keep a high quality of life for current and future generations to enjoy over selling out the landscape for a few short-term businesses (or even for businesses that never happen, as we found out with Gogebic Taconite earlier this year)? Then again, when have corporations ever cared about the attributes of something that looks like this, when there's a buck to be made off of the trees in this picture?

A summer without tourists visiting these areas would devastate the local businesses that rely on thousands of people to come from other places as the weather warms. So maybe the message should be sent to those in the 715- if you want us city slickers to keep on coming up to your area and keeping it economically afloat, maybe you shouldn't be voting for anti-environment sellouts like Tom Tiffany and Mary Czaja. Can the voters of these areas have enough to self-respect to appreciate and protect what they have, and stop voting in regressive slugs to "represent" them in Madison, before the GOP legislators take it all away? Because if they don't act in the 2016 elections (when Tiffany and GOP Reps face re-election up North), it'll be done a whole lot faster than they think, and the great Northwoods will quickly descend into abandoned Appalachia.


  1. Crazy how republican voters support politicians that pass legislation that results in damage to their own interests.

  2. Jake, I don't know if you've spent much time there. I've been visiting that area off and on for over 4 decades. Many of the voters in that area resent the tourists and part-year residents (hint - "FIB"). The yearlong residents are mainly older. They feel that it's "their" land (even the state land) and that they should be left alone to do with it what they want.

    And in all fairness, the tourism jobs don't pay that well. Blue-collar jobs (such as logging) do, and they're about the only good jobs in the area. The republicans have effectively played this as a Madison/Illinois interests = Democrats vs. local-interests-we-know-best, even as they strip local control.

    The Democratic Party needs to find a way to make inroads against these arguments. I'm sure that more emphasis on social media will do the job. /snark

    1. Bob- Those are very good points. I've gone up to my Uncle's cabin in Vilas County for 25 years and have had jobs where I've traveled the state, but I haven't lived there, so I don't have that perspective.

      I agree that it can be spun as "economic development vs outsiders", which plays into the "divide and conquer" plan. But that's a short-term strategy with jobs that come and go, and with work-for-less on the books, they likely won't pay all that much these days.

      And real sportsmen and women value the beauty and availability of their spaces , and don't want outside businesspeople making the rules for their community, and screwing up their schools. This is where the Dems should hammer hard on people like Taconite Tom Tiffany.