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Northwoods Political Digest

January 03, 2020

State plant inspectors caution about invasive pest in holiday greenery

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is advising consumers who purchased evergreens this holiday season to check for an invasive pest called elongate hemlock scale (EHS) and to properly dispose of any holiday greenery that may show signs of infestation. 

Plant health inspectors found EHS this year at multiple Wisconsin retailers who imported and sold the evergreens that came from other states.

“You can leave decorations up for the holidays, but we want to make sure consumers are disposing of infested evergreens properly to prevent this pest from establishing itself in Wisconsin,” said Brian Kuhn, director of DATCP’s Bureau of Plant Industry. “If you know your evergreen did not come from Wisconsin, or it is showing signs of EHS, make sure you dispose of it properly. Proper disposal protects our state’s forests and Christmas tree producers from EHS.”

Consumers can identify whether their evergreens have EHS by looking at the underside of the branches. Brown spots on the underside of the needles are a sign of the pest.

This season, infested stock was comprised of fir trees, wreaths, and décor from suppliers in North Carolina with some material labeled as “fresh from the Blue Ridge Mountains.” All Wisconsin retailers that sold these products cooperated with DATCP, removed the items from their shelves, and destroyed them. 

However, many items had already been sold, and it is possible other uninspected retailers also received and sold infested items.

DATCP is working with regulatory staff from other states to prevent infested fir from going to areas where this pest is not established, as pesticides are not effective at killing EHS. EHS attacks over 40 evergreen species, including hemlock, fir, and spruce.

The preferred method of disposal is to burn an EHS-infested evergreen to kill the pest. Prior to burning, check the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website at https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/restrictions.html for any burning restrictions in your area.

The other method is to bag your evergreen wreaths or décor separately and put them in the trash. If your municipality picks up Christmas trees, you may put an infested tree out for municipal pick-up. To prevent the pests from spreading, do not compost or place infested evergreens in a forest.

Wisconsin awarded nearly $10 million for early childhood efforts

Gov. Tony Evers announced this week that Wisconsin has been awarded $10 million through the Preschool Development Birth to Five Grant (PDG B-5) to strengthen the state’s early childhood system. 

The grant focuses on addressing pervasive challenges around equity, access, quality, and affordability in early care and education.

The grant will allow Wisconsin to collect better information about the needs of the early care and education system. That information will be used to create a state plan. 

The grant activities are led by Evers, First Lady Kathy Evers, state superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and a newly created Leadership Council on Early Years (LCEY) comprised of state agency leaders. 

The governor’s office says the LCEY will allow a more diverse group of stakeholders to be involved in providing feedback on early childhood policy — connecting the dots among sectors like business, health care, and higher education that bring valuable knowledge and experience to the conversation.

“The first years of a kid’s life set the tone for their future success,” Evers said. “Right now, many families struggle to find affordable and reliable care for their kids before they reach school age. This grant provides us with an opportunity to clear some of those hurdles, and to connect the dots for our kids and their families.”

As part of the grant activities, the state will be looking at ways to improve recruitment, retention, and support of the early care and education workforce. Finding qualified employees and keeping them is often cited as one of the biggest challenges childcare providers face. 

Wisconsin’s plan will also focus on bridging the gap between early childhood and school-aged programming and vulnerable and underserved children.

“This grant gives us an opportunity to rethink how Wisconsin values early childhood,” said secretary-designee Emilie Amundson. “What we hear from people across the state is that access to high-quality early care and education experiences drive a whole host of other positive outcomes for communities. This is our chance to build a bigger table and help everyone understand the value early care and education provides Wisconsin.”

State superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said that providing a strong educational foundation for youngest learners is critical to close opportunity and achievement gaps.

“The funding allows us to design a Wisconsin-specific approach that respects the diverse challenges our communities face in providing early care and education,” she said. “This exciting opportunity for our state has the potential to transform the way we serve families and prepare our children for their K-12 education.”

The PDG B-5 is designed to provide states with the funding necessary to plan changes to their early care and education systems. Awards help offset the cost of those activities and must be spent within one calendar year. 

During the initial round of funding, which covered planning activities from Dec. 31, 2018, through Dec. 30, 2019, 46 states and territories were provided awards. Wisconsin was one of six states and territories to receive an award during the second round of initial funding.

DNR taps new chief conservation warden

A 22-year veteran of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ conservation warden service has been named the next chief warden, succeeding chief Todd Schaller, who will retire from the top law enforcement position after more than 30 years of public service.

DNR secretary-designee Preston Cole has announced that captain Casey Krueger will be sworn in to succeed Schaller in January. Krueger currently leads the department’s law enforcement teams serving the south-central region out of the Fitchburg headquarters in Dane County.

“We thank chief Schaller for his outstanding public service and look forward to working with Capt. Krueger in his new position,” Cole said. “Wisconsin is fortunate to have these dedicated officers who protect our precious natural resources and the people who enjoy them.”

Hired in January 1998, Krueger served as a field warden in Oconto and Columbia counties. In 2008, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant/warden supervisor of the Park Falls warden team based in northern Lincoln County. 

In 2012, the Langlade County native then was promoted to captain of the south-central region and moved to Dane County. He earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“I’m extremely honored to step into the role of chief warden to continue working with our dedicated, passionate men and women who encompass the Department of Natural Resources,” Krueger said. “I also look forward to our continued partnerships with the public we serve which will no doubt lead us to success in protecting our natural resources through integration, education and community involvement.”

Wisconsin homeowners got a nice present from the lottery

This month Wisconsin homeowners received a larger lottery and gaming credit on their property tax bills than last year. 

The estimated $24 increase in the average credit is due, primarily, to lottery sales exceeding estimates, which resulted in a higher opening balance for 2019-20. In 2018-19, the corresponding lottery and gaming credit was $160.

“The lottery credit this year is 15% higher than last year,” said Peter Barca, Wisconsin Department of Revenue secretary. “This is due, primarily, to the Wisconsin Lottery having a banner year, and the credit returned to homeowners is based on lottery profits.”

Overall, the lottery credit distributed more than $271 million to Wisconsin homeowners for property taxes levied in 2019. Last year, that figure was $236 million. Since 1988, the Wisconsin lottery has provided over $4.6 billion in property tax relief to eligible Wisconsin homeowners.

The lottery credit is shown on tax bills as a reduction of property taxes due. If a taxpayer pays their taxes in two or more installments, the credit is applied to the first installment. 

The credit is paid by the state to counties or municipalities on the fourth Monday in March. The county or municipality receiving the payment settles with overlying taxing jurisdictions.

November unemployment ticks up in 12 metro areas

Department of Workforce Development (DWD) has released the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates of unemployment and employment statistics for Wisconsin metropolitan areas, major cities and counties in Wisconsin for November 2019, and the data shows that, in November 2019, unemployment rates stayed the same in three of Wisconsin’s 12 metro areas over the month and increased in the remaining nine.

Preliminary November 2019 unemployment rates declined or stayed the same over the month in 13 of Wisconsin’s largest cities.

As for counties, preliminary November 2019 unemployment rates stayed the same in eight of Wisconsin's 72 counties over the month.

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