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Governor issues proclamation in honor of the Nelson Institute’s 50th anniversary

February 7, 2020

50th Birthday of Nelson Institute, Governors Proclamation Nelson leaders recieve the Governor's Proclamation from Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and Secretary of the DNR Preston Cole.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Nelson Institute, Governor Tony Evers has issued a proclamation recognizing February 6, 2020 as the birthday, and official 50th anniversary of the Nelson Institute.

To commemorate this occasion, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Preston Cole visited the Nelson Institute to present the proclamation and participate in a question and answer session with Nelson Institute students.

During this session, Lieutenant Governor Barnes expressed his gratitude to the Nelson Institute faculty, staff, and students, highlighting the ways in which the Nelson Institute has worked to provide scientifically sound research on environmental challenges for more than five decades. In particular, Lieutenant Governor Barnes expressed his appreciation for the students in the room and the work they are doing to address climate change and environmental issues, stating that “the power is in the youth.”

Lieutenant Governor Barnes also shared his appreciation for former Wisconsin Governor, Earth Day founder, and Nelson Institute namesake, Gaylord Nelson’s vision and leadership. In reviewing Nelson’s contributions, Lieutenant Governor Barnes shared the ways in which his administration is working to create similar leadership that is focused on addressing environmental concerns in an equitable and sustainable way.

In particular, Lieutenant Governor Barnes mentioned the administration’s goal to make Wisconsin a 100 percent clean energy state by 2050. He also mentioned Governor Evers’ establishment of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, which seeks to better understand the impacts of climate change on Wisconsin. This task force is chaired by Lieutenant Governor Barnes and brings together state agencies and legislators, tribes, business leaders, and economic and conservation organizations from across the state — including WICCI, which is led by the UW–Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Climate change is real and we are bringing science back to Wisconsin,” said Lieutenant Governor Barnes.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Preston Cole echoed Lieutenant Governor Barnes’ sentiment stating, “Climate change is real and we will not stick our head in the sand. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Secretary Cole empowered the students in the room to contribute to that work by sharing the climate change message and working to address some of the planet’s greatest environmental challenges through their research and school work.

“The Nelson Institute has worked as hard as anyone to meet the needs of humanity while protecting the environment,” said Secretary Cole of the work the students, staff, and faculty are doing to address these challenges.

Like Lieutenant Governor Barnes, Secretary Cole also spoke about the need for equity and environmental justice, sharing some statistics as well as stories about the impacts of climate change and other environmental issues on marginalized communities. He also encourages students in the room to link their passion for environment with their commitment to the community.

Secretary Cole even shared a personal story about his parents who were sharecroppers and participants in the Great Migration. He spoke about the land ethic he learned from them which stated the need to leave the planet better for the next generation. He also shared the ways in which agriculture and forestry led him to care about the environment.

Secretary Cole ended by saying “Hope is in the faces of this room,” before leading the room in a rendition of happy birthday to celebrate the Nelson Institute 50th birthday.

In addition to the 50th anniversary of the Nelson Institute, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In celebration of this milestone, the Nelson Institute will be hosting a conference on April 20, 2020 at the Monona Terrace entitled, Earth Day@50: Aspiring for Sustainability, Striving for Justice, Crafting the Planet. This conference will set the stage for a convergence between the past and the present. It will highlight the confluence between the traditional conservation and restoration of the planet and new, ecological innovations taking place in areas such as genetics and engineering. Participants will also have the opportunity to discuss ways to leverage the best aspects of the past environmental movements while incorporating an increased sense of social justice. And, perhaps most importantly, the conference will honor those with wisdom of the natural world, while exploring new lessons that can help us all to be better environmental citizens. Registration is now open at The Nelson Institute will also be hosting a number of other celebratory events throughout the year. More information about these events are available at

Photo Credit: Ingrid Laas