Nelson Issue Brief

The Nelson Institute Issue Brief summarizes the latest scholarship from the University of Wisconsin–Madison on key environmental issues. For more information, contact Morgan Robertson at

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PFAS in Surface and Drinking Water

This edition presents research from UW–Madison scholars on PFAS as an emerging contaminant of concern in Wisconsin’s drinking water, lakes, and rivers. The contributions highlight new methods for identifying PFAS sources and monitoring the extent of contamination in surface and groundwater to help resource managers protect the state’s valuable freshwater resources.

Red Angus cow-calf pairs grazing at Buena Vista Wildlife Area

Public Lands Managed for Conservation

Contributions include research on the importance of local leadership and participation in conservation, navigating the transfer of conservation easements between landowners, economic benefits of recreation on public lands, and the benefits of managed grazing.

A field of kidney bean plants shows yellowing due to drought conditions

Extreme Heat and Drought

This edition includes research into the impact of urban heat islands, how to better address extreme heat events to avoid preventable death, and how drought impacts Wisconsin agriculture.

Blue-green algae floats on the water's surface and extends outward several feet along a lakeshore

Nutrient Pollution in Surface Waters

This issue features research that addresses excess nutrient concentrations, mostly nitrogen and phosphorus, in surface water. Nutrient pollution degrades recreational and commercial use of surface waters from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico, largely through blue-green algae blooms. In Wisconsin, phosphorus is the most-regulated nutrient, as nitrogen is often considered more of a threat to human health through polluted drinking water, though it also impacts surface waters.

A person using binoculars to look up at wildlife in a park in New York City

Global Pandemics and the Environment

This edition includes articles detailing the impact that reduced human activity during periods of quarantine had on wildlife and air pollution. The final entry details how diseases like COVID-19 have been transmitted from wildlife to humans, and how increased human activity amplifies the chances of transmission in the future.

Group photo of researchers with their Indigenous partners

Environmental Justice and Environmental Racism

This issue features research on the differential impacts of air pollution, the justice impacts that stem from addressing climate change, and the impacts of mercury across the landscape. We also highlight attempts to center environmental justice within environmental education. We close with a story from a manoomin (wild rice) researcher who shares her connection with an indigenous community and how that connection shaped her research.

Aerial view of flooding, with only treetops visible

What are the Impacts of Extreme Precipitation Events?

As the people of Wisconsin adapt to more frequent, heavier precipitation events, we present research detailing likely future precipitation changes, adaptation efforts, and ecological, social and economic consequences of the increasing frequency, and intensity of these events.

Image of a whitetail deer in the woods, turning away from the camera, caught on a trail cam

Deer: Hunting, Ecology, and Chronic Wasting Disease

As the Evers administration attempts to balance the ecological impact of deer, the social and economic impact of deer hunting, and the potential dangers of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the second edition of the Nelson Issue Brief provides summaries of important deer-related research taking place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A group of scientists conducting water testing in a suburban field

Nitrate Contamination in Drinking Water and Groundwater

Safe drinking water has become a major bipartisan priority in Wisconsin. Governor Tony Evers has declared 2019 the year of Safe Drinking Water and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has commissioned a taskforce on water quality. This inaugural edition of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies Issue Brief focuses on the most widespread groundwater contaminant: Nitrates. This is an environmental and public health hazard faced by Wisconsinites statewide.