Manure runoff from Kewaunee County feedlot
- - and soon for newly-permissible sulfide metal mines - - I've asked a large group of veteran Wisconsin environmental and water experts, conservation advocates, citizen activists, science and environmental writers, and others, to again comment on these important Wisconsin public health, safety, legal and policy issues.
Here is Part One; more tomorrow:
Governor Scott Walker’s administration and the current legislature continue to threaten Wisconsin’s natural resources through bad legislation, an anti-environment state budget, a toothless DNR, and reckless policies designed to dismantle Wisconsin’s renowned reputation for conservation – and let corporate interests run roughshod over the state.
- Sen. Tom Tiffany’s Industrial Acid Mining Bill, SB 395, which will open Wisconsin to America’s most toxic industry, sulfide mining. The bill is waiting to be signed by Walker, and will repeal the Prove It First mining law, paving the way for foreign mining interests to poison our waters, render local ecosystems lifeless, and damage our wildlife populations.
- Foxconn, a $3 billion tax giveaway to a Taiwanese corporation that won’t have a positive effect for at least 20 years – if ever. Foxconn poses a direct threat to the Great Lakes, our state’s wetlands and rivers, and the quality and abundance of our drinking water.
It’s painful to watch Scott Walker in campaign mode, especially if you are old enough to remember that Wisconsin once led the nation in progressive environmental protection, following the lead of Increase Lapham, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Gaylord Nelson, Lorrie Otto and dozens of others who loved our diverse, beautifully mysterious gift of nature.
In speaking and writing, they proved they were real humans of titanic character, clear of thought, who expressed their passions for this place, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, leaving an imprint of their values permanently in place for their fellow citizens to emulate.
By contrast, the campaigning Walker is his own invention of a person he is not. The rehearsed smile, the little nod, more like a plastic bobble-head doll than a natural orator, the carefully composed empty sentences that ring with phrases like “keeping your hard-earned money” even when he is scheming to pass another tax cut for his billionaire backers.
Or to ban any public discussion of global warming. Or to further shrink the scientific staff of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Or to invite gold and copper sulfide mining, which always renders large tracts of land and waterway unusably toxic. Or to try to undermine the gloriously useful Wisconsin Idea. Or to destroy primitive wetlands, prime habitat for wildlife and rare plants.
When the campaigner Walker speaks, your eyes look through the pathetic plastic invention standing before you on the stage to that group of shadowy figures behind him pulling the strings, the few billionaires from Wisconsin and the Koch brothers, the winking oligarchs who back this drama, his true masters for whom he has staged this sad, little one-act Punch and Judy show. - - Paul G. Hayes, former Science Reporter, The Milwaukee Journal.
1. Legislators keep sticking provisions in legislation for sand fracking which overturn local controls - - stories here and here.
2. The Foxconn law which gives away public resources by exempting wetlands from regulation, circumvents the law and citizens' rights in [judicial] venue, and requires no Environmental Impact Statement. This is connected to the wetlands' deregulation bill, too; remember State Rep. Adam Jarchow said we should deregulate all wetlands to create an equal playing field with Foxconn.
Starting in the early 1900s, Wisconsin courts developed the common law (that is judge made law) to reflect the importance of water in people’s lives, and recognized the public trust doctrine protected more non-consumptive uses of water, such as many forms of recreation.
Today that recreation, of course, is big business in Wisconsin and built on clean and abundant water. The only Great Lakes state supreme court to address the issue, Michigan, recently held the protected public uses include walking on the beaches of the Great Lakes.
After this, the court ruled in Rock-Koshkonong Lake District v. Department of Natural Resources, and some commentators have misinterpreted that decision as the state’s highest court reversing their long embrace of the public trust doctrine.
In fact, the court ruled on other grounds and their opining on the public trust doctrine was dicta (unnecessary for the decision and carrying no precedential weight).
During the course of this litigation, the DNR indicated that the Wisconsin Supreme Court “got [it] wrong,” which the Circuit Court noted disapprovingly, since it is a serious misreading of the power of the agency to think its role is to say what the law is and ignore the Supreme Court’s binding decisions: that power resides in the courts alone.
The DNR presented only Kohler’s preferred option to the Board. The DNR is presenting an application for Kohler to the National Park Service asking for land purchased with federal funds to be converted to private land for Kohler’s use.
The Dane County judge asked (rather incredulously) whether she was then supposed to ignore the Supreme Court? DNR's attorney said yes, and went on to state that DNR has no authority to regulate the waters of the state, only "access" to those waters. (He didn't say how DNR would manage "access" to rivers and lakes that had dried up due to over pumping of groundwater.)
Like water, Wisconsin wildlife - - another public trust - - in "ongoing decline."
While the elimination of Wisconsin DNR’s Science Services Bureau speaks volumes in and of itself, the state’s de-prioritization of science bodes particularly poorly for wildlife management and complies with a harmful trend toward increased deregulation as highlighted below.
Owing to reduced DNR oversight and regulation of bear hunting--particularly bear hound training--the state’s northern landscape of national and state forests and public lands is overrun from July through October with untold numbers of hound hunters, many of whom are out-of-staters who migrate here for the summer from the South to train large packs of GPS-collared free roaming hounds to pursue bears and their cubs (for hours on end in the heat of summer).
Worse, with the elimination of the Class B training license requirement in 2015, the DNR has no way to know how many such hound-hunters or bear hounds are present on Wisconsin’s public lands or how they are conducting themselves. Similarly, the DNR concedes that it has no idea how many millions of gallons of bear bait—comprised of any number of foods, including fryer fat, marshmallows, donuts, even chocolate—are placed on public lands and near trails and campsites by bear hunters in advance of the hunting season.
What people do know, when they attempt to access trail heads on public lands and parks, is that baiting stations, like mini-garbage piles, pose obvious safety concerns given their attraction to predators.
Resources here and here.
Notwithstanding Wisconsin DNR’s promotion of state lands as “family & pet friendly,” the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. There’s no denying that over the past several years, there has been a dramatic shift to expanding hunting on state lands. Currently 97-98% of DNR properties are open to hunting and trapping, added to the 5 million acres of huntable federal and county property. The controversial state law enacted in 2012, known as the Hunting Heritage Bill (Act 168), which opened State Parks to hunting and trapping, together with DNR’s authorization of year-round 24/7 (day and night) coyote hunting have created a state landscape in which very few places remain where Wisconsin families can enjoy nature on public lands without risk that they or their pets will be shot or injured in a trap.
Wisconsin Wolf Management:
To close with a worrisome look ahead, this past week a bill was circulated by Wisconsin legislators Senator Tiffany and Representative Jarchow, LRB 3737/1, which would make it illegal for Wisconsin law enforcement officials to enforce state or federal law relating to management of wolves in Wisconsin. Yes, this is an outright promotion of illegal poaching and sedition, so stay tuned on this one. - - An advocate
After the GOP takeover of Wisconsin nearly seven years ago, our once-proudly progressive state has sacrificed its public trust obligations to ensure environmental protection, public education, transparent government, corruption-free elections and resource management for the common good.
We were used to a Wisconsin Department of Transportation process that ignored public comments and dismissed legitimate concerns, but we expected better treatment and fair hearings at the Wisconsin DNR, where public input was sometimes actually heard and acted on. We expected to have continued citizen input on significant legislation.
Citizen comments reduced from five minutes to three, decisions made before public input was considered, rules changed at the last minute, legislation drafted by lobbyists and special interests that would directly benefit from it, controversial legislation passed in the middle of the night, cameras and recording devices disallowed in legislative chambers (even as legislators were permitted to bring guns into the Capitol), rumors were passed about projects being “a done deal” or “this is going to happen” to discourage opposition, hearings where citizens were mocked or discredited by the legislators holding the hearing, protesters arrested.
What happened to Wisconsin’s Public Trust doctrine and the ideal of the commons? - - Laurie Longtine, citizen advocate for the commons
Tomorrow, Part two.