"Think globally, act locally" has long been a slogan of the environmental movement. That’s the idea that one of the best ways to better the environment is to start close to home – in the communities where we live and work.

Our locality, Dane County, is in need of all the conservation-minded thinking we can muster. The county is the fastest growing in the state with a population of almost a half million. Yet, we still boast of outstanding scenery, outdoor recreation and natural areas. Protecting those resources in the face of population growth and attendant development is an essential, but tough, assignment.

That’s why I’m glad that our county executive, Joe Parisi, has stepped up to the plate with a budget that emphasizes conservation. I’ve known Joe since our legislative days and he’s always been a guy with a strong commitment to environmental protection.

A key element of Parisi’s budget is protecting our water resources. Dane County is home to exceptional trout streams and numerous lakes. The budget increases funding for stream bank protection and public access.

Our beautiful lakes, our greatest natural asset, are plagued by excessive weed and algae growth, largely due to phosphorus pollution. The county executive’s budget funds a range of measures to limit phosphorus inflows to the lakes, including investments in storm sewer improvements, establishment of the Clean Lakes Task Force and collaboration with the sewer district. Perhaps the most intriguing investment is a new “cow power” manure digester in the town of Springfield that uses methane from dairy waste to produce electricity while removing virtually all the phosphorus from the manure.

That digester will produce enough electricity to power about 1,600 homes and is just one of the renewable energy initiatives in the budget. Parisi also plans to use clean energy at many county facilities by building a solar array at the new highway garage, opening a large solar installation at the airport, and investing in wind power. The county will use natural gas extracted from its landfill to power snowplows and heat buildings.

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Increased population brings increased traffic and threats to open space. Parisi’s budget addresses both those issues by devoting significant funding to land acquisition for county parks and grants to communities for parkland.

Dane County is a haven for bicyclists, both for commuting and recreation. Our beautiful rural roads attract bikers from around the country and make our county an attractive place for young high-tech professionals. Joe is aggressively seeking to keep Dane County a good place to cycle by proposing a network of trails and bike lanes to link our communities. His budget makes a down payment on that vision by leveraging county funds with state and federal dollars to build many miles of bike trails with connections to McFarland, southwest Madison and Brigham Park. In addition, county highway reconstruction will include shoulders suitable to safe cycling.

In office for less than two years, Joe Parisi is well on his way to making his mark with a strong environmental record, building on the accomplishments of his predecessor, Kathleen Falk. Considering that our county’s future — both our quality of life and our attractiveness to high-tech investment — is closely linked to our stewardship of our natural resources, Parisi is clearly on the right path. Way to go, Joe!

Spencer Black represented the 77th Assembly District for 26 years and was chair of the Natural Resources Committee. He currently serves on the Sierra Club’s national political committee.