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Kickapoo Reserve Oversight Change Stirs Opposition

Walker Budget Would Give Control Of Reserve To DNR

Maureen McCollum/WPR 

State and local officials are confused as to why Gov. Scott Walker has proposed transferring southwest Wisconsin’s Kickapoo Valley Reserve from the Department of Tourism to the Department of Natural Resources.

KVR executive director Marcy West addresses the dozens of people who came to learn more about proposed changes the land management. Maureen McCollum/WPR News.

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve has a troubled history, stemming from federal government land grabs and displaced residents. It’s now owned by the state and the Ho-Chunk Nation and managed by a citizen board.

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Many people voiced their opposition to the proposed transfer of the reserve to the DNR during a community meeting Thursday night. Kickapoo Reserve Management Board members and lawmakers said they were blindsided by the budget provision.

Given that the budget recommends DNR staff cuts and changes to the agency’s management board, people questioned what that could mean for the Kickapoo Valley Reserve if it became part of the DNR.

David Nordstrom works at the Reserve and owns a nearby business, Kickapoo Valley Ranch. Like many people at the meeting, he was skeptical of the change since he likes the current setup.

“What the management board has done, what our director has done, is to turn a really difficult situation into something that the community is so proud of and so happy with,” Nordstrom said.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, and Rep. Lee Nerison, R-Westby, also attended the meeting and expressed their concern over the transfer. They said they’ll be educating fellow lawmakers about the land’s unique history and try to keep it out of DNR control.

Walker’s spokeswoman said the move is part of a bigger goal to make state government more “efficient, effective, and accountable.”