Ron Grasshoff Re-Appointed to Land and Water Conservation Board

WI Green Fire, January 25, 2024

Ron Grasshoff, co-chair of WGF’s Public Trust and Wetlands Work Group, has been re-appointed to Wisconsin’s Land and Water Conservation Board (LWCB). Wisconsin’s Green Fire congratulates Ron on this important role!

On January 24th, Ron Grasshoff provided this summary and comments on his re-appointment to the LWCB.

Summary of LWCB From Section 92.04 of WI Stats.

The primary duties of the Board:

  • Advise and recommend matters related to land and water conservation,
  • Review and recommend action i.e. approval of County Land and Water Conservation Plans,
  • Review and recommend action (approval) of the Joint Allocation Grants from DATCP and DNR that provides funding for the 72 County Land and Water Conservation Departments.

The Board developed a new initiative in 2023. Section 92.02(2)(g) of Wisconsin Statutes, states a duty of the Board is to”…advise the University of Wisconsin System annually on needed research and educational programs related to Soil and Water Conservation.” Until recently, the Board did not have a process/procedure for carrying out this duty.

The Board has established a permanent standing committee tasked with undertaking this project. Currently I am a member of the committee. With Department staff (Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection: DATCP) and advisors, a survey was developed to identify and prioritize critical topics related to Land and Water Conservation. A questionnaire was sent to 1,110 stakeholders related to soil and water conservation from seven sectors. We received a total of 143 responses with a 13% response rate (considered a good return). We are currently analyzing the data from the survey with plans to prepare a report to the UW System and eventually circulate a list of recommendations on Land and Water Conservation research.

Advisors to the LWCB

The LWCB includes several advisors that support the Board’s mission and play an important role in decision making through advice and recommendations. The List of the advisors is as follows:

  • WI NRCS and Farm Service Agency FWS,
  • Department of Administration (DOA),
  • Cooperation Extension,
  • UW Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS),
  • DNR and DATCP Staff and Support,
  • Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association aka WI Land+Water (a critical partner)

Personal Views on how to Improve Soil and Water Resource Management

Three programs, trends, and possibilities.

1. Considering the impacts from agricultural land use (air, water, soils, habitat, etc.), it’s important to note that in Wisconsin, land in row crops (cash grains) results in bare soils approximately six months out of the year. A change in current practices (Transformative Agricultural-new term), emphasizes keeping land covered beyond the growing season with cereal grains, grasses, etc. via cover crops, managed grazing, and other methods. The benefits are numerous with cover crops:

  • Improved soil health by increasing organic matter,
  • Improved rainfall infiltration and reduction in runoff,
  • Storing nitrogen to prevent leaching to groundwater,
  • Improving groundwater recharge,
  • Sequestering carbon.

Fortunately, cover cropping is expanding statewide and nationwide because of the work and collaboration between Land Conservation Departments, and our Federal Partners at NRCS. For example, soil health is now one of the most critical priorities for volunteer driven Producer Led Watershed Protection Groups funded by grants from DATCP.

2. The Farmland Preservation Tax Credit Incentive program is a tool that many Land Conservation Departments rely on to meet Agricultural Performance Standards for maintaining and improving surface and groundwater and aquatic habitat. There is a strong argument for increasing the tax credit per acres enrolled to encourage more participation.

3. Finally, there is ongoing debate about relying on existing incentive programs that are available to agricultural producers to improve land and water conservation. The question, should the traditional cost share model continue where farmers and state and federal agencies share the cost for structural improvements and practices? An alternative is monetary compensation i.e. cash or tax credits for meeting performance standards “pay to play.”

Even with a strong conservation ethic, market realities often fail to protect habitat and water quality on agricultural lands. An effort to take a “hard look” at existing incentive programs could result in a new model that benefits the environment and is a better investment. Personally, I feel it’s time to re-evaluate these long-standing programs. Perhaps the time has arrived for new approaches.

As Aldo Leopold states in his Land Ethic Essay, “ A land ethic expands, the definition of community to include not only humans, but all of the other parts of the earth, as well; soils, waters, plants, and animals – “the land.” In a land ethic, the relationships between people and land are intertwined; care for people cannot be separated from care for the land.”

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