Madison was center stage in the national conservation movement this week with a conference that focused on the past, present and future of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Greg Siekaniec, the refuge system’s chief, referenced the environmental decimation that accompanied industrial expansion in the latter half of the 1800s. The unsound practices led in part the Dust Bowl which paved the way for the establishment of 100 wildlife refuges.

State DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp took the stage with a personal thank you to those who work in land preservation. “It is a gift that you are carrying on to my children, and certainly down to my children’s children and beyond.”

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar emphasized conservation’s role in providing jobs and spurring the economy. He said in Wisconsin alone, national parks, refuges and federal lands bring in $100 million to the state.

However, the Obama cabinet member warned of an effort by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee.

“The concept that is on the table is to figure out this deficit and debt reductions set of issue for a ten year time frame. It’s an issue that will afflict us in the conservation community for a generation to come.”

Salazar says the committee approved budget plan reduces state and tribal wildlife grants by 78 percent, reduces the North American Wetland Conservation Fund by 60 percent as well as eliminating all funding to manage the Endangered Species Act.

Conversely, he says the President’s budget proposes full funding for the Land and Water Conservation fund.

The three day Conserving the Future conference was sponsored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge Association.

AUDIO: Sec. Salazar on proposed conservation cuts (20:22)

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