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Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

Bud Jordahl: A Man of Reason

May 17, 2010 9:43 AM

Anyone who regularly reads this blog (and why on earth would you?) would notice my admiration for the late Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was a state senator, governor and finally, U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. Nelson is the father of Earth Day, which is a great legacy, but he has many substantive environmental and other policies to his credit as well.

None of those might be more significant than the Stewardship Fund. It had a different name when he created it in the early 1960s but the Stewardship Fund has protected hundreds of thousands of acres of Wisconsin landscape over five decades. Madison is using it right now to protect important lands adjacent to the Cherokee Marsh.

Those of us in public office get our names attached to certain things, but the policy heavy lifting gets done by people behind the scenes who often don't get the credit they deserve. The man behind much of Gaylord Nelson's great legacy is Bud Jordahl. Bud was 83 when he passed away last week (his memorial service is today). He worked with Nelson to write the original Stewardship Fund legislation and on other conservation policies. And then he went on to have a distinguished career in his own right, serving as chair of the state Natural Resources Board and as a professor at the UW Department of Urban and Regional Planning. He was a founding board member of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and of the Gathering Waters Land Trust, among many other volunteer activities.

I got to know Bud through his son, my close friend Jordy Jordahl. Jordy and I worked together in Rep. Spencer Black's office and in various other endeavors over the years. The best of those endeavors for me was being a guest since 1992 at Bud's deer camp at his farm in Richland County. Bud, Jordy and about a dozen other hunters over the years I've been there have done our best at controlling the deer population in those rolling hills. I have not made much of a dent myself, contributing more in the way of morel sauce at dinner than hunting productivity during the day. Even at 80, Bud was a much better shot than I was. When we sighted in rifles together, he'd put four in the bull's-eye while I'd hope to hit the target anywhere at all.

Aside from his shooting prowess, the main thing that always struck me about Bud was that, whether you were discussing public policy or where best to hunt deer on his farm, he was only persuaded by facts. You could convince him if you had your data together. Otherwise, it was all just speculation. That reverence for facts and reason above baseless passion is something we need more of in politics. But with Bud's passing and the passing of his generation, we've got fewer practitioners of calm reason just when we need them most.

For all his success in public policy and in academia, I'm pretty sure that Bud's proudest work next to his family is the restoration of that old farm. It was an eroded bunch of over worked fields when he bought it forty years ago. Today, it's a beautiful, partially reforested and prairie-restored sanctuary. So, the things Bud Jordahl valued the conservation and stewardship of land and water and the faith that reasonable people could find solutions if they respected facts live on in programs like the Stewardship Fund and in places like his farm.

When we add up the debits and credits, only a few of us end up giving back more than we took from the planet. Bud Jordahl left the land with a positive balance.

In the pre-dawn darkness of deer camp, hunters at the Jordahl place traditionally say one thing to each other as they head off to their stands. It's a salutation of best wishes for a good day ahead. "Shoot straight, Bud."


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