Monday, September 3, 2018

As one nature preserve sags under floods, another in Sheboygan faces bulldozing

This is a tale of two Wisconsin nature preserves battling for preservation. 

One was damaged from the skies, with little warning and no mechanism to stop it.

The other could soon take place, enabled by multiple public agency approvals and officials' signatures.

Two very similar outcomes with completely points of origin, as different as a demotion derby is from a car crash in a hurricane, or a wildfire caused by a lightning strike compared to one set off by a recklessly-tended campfire.

Begin with the massive damage in recent days to the 550-acre Pheasant Branch Creek nature preserve in western Dane County.

Massive rains have uprooted trees and smashed habitat on flood-scoured land preserved for people and wildlife alike to help the air, water and surroundings remain clean and appealing.

Now consider that much the same thing is planned in a 247-acre nature preserve in Sheboygan for a privately-owned, upscale golf complex - - a project which already has in hand a Wisconsin DNR-approved wetland-fill permit and a Wisconsin natural resources board-approved state park land award, all OK'ed by Walker appointees for one of his substantial donors.

 - - rare dunes are set to be upended and additional wildlife habitat will leveled there.

Along with publicly-owned acreage within the adjoining Kohler Andrae State Park that will be converted into a road, parking and a two-story building for vehicle storage and fertilizer mixing.

What happened in the Dane County preserve was an act of nature, probably enhanced by short-signed political decisions and development that treated wetlands as profit centers, and not as integral elements in a functioning, refreshing environment.

What is on the table for Sheboygan if the developer prevails in court will be brought on by corrosively-careless politicians and developers dismissive of the natural world and their obligations to be its stewards.

I have been reporting on the golf course plan and its opposition by the grassroots organization Friends of the Black River Forest since 2014.

Here is one post with a view of the state park land ticketed for private bulldozing and use,

and another post which included sections of the project's environmental impact statement, which I will also copy out, here.

*  Page 36: Much of the 247-acre Kohler parcel currently includes forested habitat. The golf course design would remove approximately 100 to 120 acres of forested land cover. Forested land and specimen trees will remain as part of the design located predominantly between golf course features. Opening up blocks of forested land will result in greater potential for windthrow and wind damage to the remaining trees.

*  Page 50: The Kohler Property is almost 100 percent contiguous forest. Up to 50 percent of the forest would be removed if the proposed project is constructed. The remaining fragmented forest would provide some habitat during songbird migration. Invasive species management and restoration of native trees and shrubs in invasive removal areas would help control exotic and invasive species in the retained forest. The forest edge along turfgrass and human use areas created from fragmentation of the forest would probably increase the challenge of exotic and invasive species management. 

The edge would likely provide some habitat for species that inhabit transitions between forest and openings. Habitat value would likely be diminished. 

Tree clearing would occur on the Property for each hole, the access road, the clubhouse/parking lot complex, the practice range, the maintenance facility, the restrooms, and the irrigation pond. Tree clearing may also occur in forested areas between tee and fairways to provide lines of sight. Interior forest bird nesting habitat is likely present within and adjacent to the Project boundary and would essentially be eliminated. Wildlife species inhabiting these areas would be permanently impacted by the loss of habitat. 

However, impact to these species is not expected to create a significant effect on regional populations.

*  Page 63: Kohler has stated that the lakeshore and associated dune habitats are essential to the natural and minimalistic golf course design.

Some trees bordering the beach would be removed, allowing longer sight lines between the Project and Lake Michigan. Trees present in dune habitat that is utilized by a rare species may not be able to be removed unless additional authorizations are obtained (i.e., an incidental take permit). Additionally, the number and area of trees removed would have to be reviewed to determine the potential impacts on the beach/dune community. 

*  Pages 69-70:

Summary of Adverse Impacts That Cannot Be Avoided
The site’s nearly 100% forested canopy would be reduced by nearly half. Habitat value will diminish along forest edges near turf grass and human use areas.

Approximately 3.7 acres of wetland would be lost due to filling including impacts to approximately 1.36 acres of Great Lakes ridge and swale wetlands, a wetland type that is considered “imperiled” in Wisconsin. Additional wetland impacts resulting from alterations to wetland hydrology and the influence of increased nutrients could change the wetland type and allow encroachment of invasive species.

Reduction of the forest to 50 percent cover would result in a substantial reduction of available migratory bird stopover habitat on the Kohler Property. Interior forest bird nesting habitat is likely present within and adjacent to the Project boundary and would essentially be eliminated...

Short term adverse impacts that cannot be avoided include approximately two years of construction traffic, noise, and dust. Hikers on the Black River Trail near the Black River would be the Kohler-Andrae patrons most likely to notice construction noise and changed aesthetics...

It is unknown to what extent storm water infiltration and nutrient and pesticide applications to fairways, tees and greens (for either establishment or maintenance) would impact groundwater quality in this permeable soil and shallow water table environment.
More than 100 acres of trees in the nature preserve will be felled - - aerial photos courtesy of Steve Back, here - - 

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