Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) (Photo by Christina Lieffring)
Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

Appleton freshman Snodgrass shows how humans helping pollinators is vital for our food supply.

Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) said she’s always been an active, outdoorsy person, so naturally she asked to be on committees related to tourism, outdoor recreation, and transportation, where she’s been particularly focused on building out trail systems. Snodgrass’s latest piece of legislation, which she co-wrote with Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison), was a package of bills to protect pollinators—the birds, bees, and other animals whose activity helps plants reproduce—and help them thrive.

Last November, Snodgrass was elected to represent the 57th Assembly District, which straddles Outagamie and Calumet counties and includes Appleton, Menasha, and Neenah. The seat was formerly held by former Rep. Amanda Stuck, who ran unsuccessfully against 8th Congressional District Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay).

The freshman lawmaker has used her platform to boost the Girl Scouts (especially the cookies) as well as the Fox River region’s great parks and trails. Not that those activities need a lot of boosting; according to tourism data, during the pandemic there was a surge in outdoor recreation

“We really had very few options that we could safely get out of our house, in our neighborhoods and do something. And one of those options was our natural spaces, whether it be a county park or a state park,” Snodgrass said.

So what better place to meet up and talk about the environment than the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve outside of Appleton, which is also home of the Girl Scouts of Northwestern Great Lakes’ headquarters, where Snodgrass worked as communications director. Beyond the picnic tables where she used to eat lunch is a lush patch of native grasses chock full of food for pollinators.

When Snodgrass worked here, she would take walks during her lunch break with a book on Wisconsin’s wildflowers. She can still identify about a half-dozen native flowers and grasses growing at Bubolz off the top of her head. 

She continues to help her mother in her garden, as she did while growing up. She said her mother had just messaged her that she needed to divide up some plants, so “I better get over there at some point soon this week and help her.”

RELATED: Agriculture is a Big Climate Change Contributor and Polluter. Wisconsin Farmers Want to Change That.

“I downsized to an apartment when I got this job, because as a single person, I didn’t want to worry about yard care and snow care when I’m in Madison,” Snodgrass said. “But my mom, she instilled this in me and she has beautiful gardens and she’s getting older. So I’m her official gardener of her house right now.”

The package she and Agard recently introduced to protect pollinators would restrict certain pesticides, label plants that were treated with those pesticides, and require accurate labeling of pollinator-friendly seeds.

The decline of native pollinators, which has been happening for years, has become more noticeable at the same time the general public has grown to appreciate them. 

“Anecdotally, people have said to me, ‘There used to be bees everywhere, there used to be butterflies everywhere, and I don’t see them anymore,’” Snodgrass said. “I also think people are making that connection between the food they eat and the fact that pollinators are required in order for us to continue to be a country that is able to grow food. One out of every three bites that we eat, we can thank a pollinator for.”

The pollinator package, co-sponsored by several Democratic representatives and senators, has been referred by Republican leadership to the Assembly Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform. The bills have not been scheduled for a public hearing.

Snodgrass has also been following water issues in the area, such as working with stakeholders to find a safe way to reopen the Menasha locks, which have been closed since 2015 due to invasive species issues. Other issues plaguing the waterways include blue-green algae and pollutants such as PFAS, the many industrial chemicals that have become an increasing threat to clean water and human health. 

“When you don’t have clean navigable waterways in Wisconsin, you’re missing out on a lot,” she said. “You’re missing out on people wanting to move to that community. People are drawn to the water. People want to live on or near the water.”

While Snodgrass holds a safe Democratic seat, the Fox Valley region as a whole is more purple. She hopes that by working on shared values, such as Wisconsin’s outdoor recreation and natural resources, she can also make in-roads on more divisive issues, such as climate change.

“One of the things that we all admit that we live for is sort of that sweet spot between late April and late October in Wisconsin when the weather is truly perfect. We have other parts of the country that are really facing some of the accelerated devastating impacts of climate change with crazy hot temperatures, water shortages. This little gem here in the Midwest hasn’t been quite touched by that severity yet,” Snodgrass said. “So I’m hoping we can get to a point where there’s bipartisan agreement on how to protect that, how to maintain these wonderful outdoor spaces that we have.”

She wants to see the Fox Valley’s trail systems more interconnected so that people can not only use them for recreation on the weekends but also to replace driving to appointments during the week. 

“Sometimes if I have an appointment, I’ll think to myself, okay, I could bike to this appointment. And so I have to weigh, okay, now I have to allow for an extra 30 minutes or I have to make sure that I’m wearing something that I can kind of get sweaty in and hope that the person doesn’t care,” Snodgrass said. “But honestly, I’ve found that living your values in that way, of saying, ‘Hey, I biked here,’ or ‘I’m going to bike. It’s going to take me a little while,’ or ‘I’m going to take public transportation,’ people actually appreciate that. And it’s just getting in the habit.” 

And while individuals’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions is small compared to the fossil fuel industry, Snodgrass argued that individual consumption choices can redirect how companies operate and also change consumer behaviors of the next generation. For example, she “deprived” her children of grapes in the winter.

“They would want grapes and I would say, ‘No, they’re coming from Chile now. We’ll wait until they’re coming from California because of less fossil fuel usage.’ They didn’t understand that when they were 3, but they understand it now,” Snodgrass said. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to try and live our values as much as we can. Spend your money with corporations who are making good decisions”

And she wants to continue to encourage people to get involved in the decision-making process. 

“I also don’t want to diminish the small impact that each of us make, because if we all have the attitude of, ‘I’m just one person, this isn’t going to matter,’ nothing would ever get done,” she said. “Put pressure on your local municipalities to put together a sustainable plan for how they’re going to grow, how they’re going to continue to support local services in a greener way. And frankly put pressure on your state representatives.”