On the eve of the 51st annual Earth Day, scheduled this year for Thursday, April 22, this year’s “Restore Our Earth” theme hits home when it comes to the protection of surface water quality in the North Woods.

As all of our readers know, the unique lake and river resources of Vilas, Oneida and Forest counties are the golden goose for everything that involves fishing, boating, swimming, skiing and all water recreation that is key to the tourism industry here.

Any significant declines in water quality, fisheries production and navigable waterways will have an immediate and profound impact on not just tourism, but property values and the entire real estate industry.

So we’d like to join the Wisconsin Conservation Congress in its quest to get Gov. Tony Evers and the state Legislature to reverse its current course on shoreland zoning. That proposal surfaced last week during the annual spring fish and game hearings as part of an advisory question.

It was nearly a decade ago that legislators rammed through, in a budget bill with little or no debate, an amendment that turned the proposed “minimum standards” of the state’s NR115 rules into maximum rules — prohibiting individual counties from enacting any lakefront zoning regulations that were more restrictive.

Making that major policy decision as part of an appropriations bill was political abuse at its worst during a time when Republicans controlled the State Capitol, the Assembly and the Senate.

By changing those minimum standards into maximum regulations, the Legislature erased local control. At the worst, it eliminated an innovative and protective lake classification system that Vilas enacted around the turn of the 21st century to reduce overdevelopment of lakeshores on the most sensitive lakes.

It is in the spirit of Earth Day that we ask the Legislature to reconsider the heavy-handed political abuse of years past, returning local control to counties that have such abundant and tremendous water resources to protect for future generations.

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, when San Francisco activist John McConnell and one of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators, Gaylord Nelson, separately asked Americans to join in a grassroots demonstration.

At the time, the country was dealing with toxic drinking water, air pollution and the effects of pesticides — not a lot different than lakefront overdevelopment, shoreline erosion, lake sedimentation, phosphorus-laden runoff from fertilizers, lost fish reproduction, aquatic invasive species and the cumulative impacts of it all.

Shoreland zoning often gets blamed for inhibiting development and forcing higher costs upon individual owners. What people seem to overlook is that the same rules protect the integrity of shorelines, water quality, fisheries and everything that depends on them, including long-term property values.

Behind the editorial ‘we’

   Members of the Vilas County News-Review editorial board include Publisher Kurt Krueger, Editor Gary Ridderbusch, and reporters Michelle Drew and Doug Etten.