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Natural Resources Board to Consider Original Master Plan for Badger

Published on October 12, 2019 under Alliance
Natural Resources Board to Consider Original Master Plan for Badger

URGENT: YOUR RESPONSE MATTERS!

On Tuesday, October 22, the Natural Resources Board (NR Board) will consider re-approving the original Master Plan for the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area at Badger, the same identical plan that was approved in December 2016.  It is imperative that citizens that have any concerns about the contents of the Plan offer a response in writing or in person.  We hope that a large contingent of citizens will “weigh in” on this Plan.  See below for details of how to respond.

Background.  The Master Plan for the 3,350-acre Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area at Badger, developed and put forth by DNR staff and approved by the NR Board in 2016, highlighted widescale ecological restoration on the state portion of Badger and identified a variety of planned recreational activities on the property.  Among the allowable activities are dual-sport (off road) motorcycles and (unspecified) special events on a 660-acre portion of the property that would include dog trialing events.  Also allowed in the Plan is military helicopter training for an average of 8 to 10 hours/week.

The 7,400 Badger Lands (comprised of land owned by the Ho-Chunk Nation, USDA Dairy Forage Research Center and the State of Wisconsin) have been identified as an “Important Bird Area” for its wealth of rare and dwindling grassland bird species.  Arguably, Badger contains the largest population of important grassland bird species compared to any site in the state.

Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance and countless citizens commended DNR on the majority of the original Master Plan, as it contained laudable goals and plans for the state land. However, the Alliance objected to the inclusion of high-impact recreational activities, as DNR had signed documents assuring citizens in Wisconsin and the federal government that the agency would allow low-impact recreation only on the site.  DNR defied the Badger Reuse Plan that established criteria for future uses of the property, and it did not honor the promises that the agency had previously made.  Large numbers of citizens argued against the high impact uses during the December 2016 NR Board meeting, but to no avail. The Board unanimously approved the flawed (and we argue, illegal) Plan.  Within days the Alliance filed a lawsuit that has yet to be resolved.  We still await a decision on our appeal in the 7th Circuit Court.

In January 2019, the Alliance was granted what is called a “contested case hearing” that gave us and DNR equal opportunity to argue our cases in front of a state judge.  A massive brief and summaries resulted from that week-long hearing, and the NR Board has been presented with the brief and summaries.  DNR attorneys argue that they have effectively refuted all of our legal arguments, and they will undoubtedly propose that the NR Board now re-approve the original Plan, unchanged.

The Alliance is deeply concerned that high impact activities (dual-sport motorcycles, helicopters, dog training and trialing) will have adverse impacts on the nesting success of grassland birds, not to mention impacting the quality of user experience on the property.  We contend that those high impact activities should not be allowed, especially during the bird breeding season.

  Military helicopters over Badger ( 7/08/2019 10:00am)

TAKE ACTION!  Now is the time for citizens—once again—to speak out against the high impact activities on the state portion of Badger.  All written comments and requests to speak (3-minute limit) at the Natural Resources Board Meeting on October 22 must be submitted by 11:00am on Friday, October 18.

Please visit this website for details and instructions:  https://dnr.wi.gov/about/nrb/public.html

The date, time, location and Agenda are found at this link: https://dnr.wi.gov/About/NRB/2019/October/.  The Badger Agenda Item is #2B2.

Key Points

1) DNR and the State of Wisconsin, along with 20 other stakeholders (Federal, Tribal, County and municipal governments, etc.), signed the “Badger Reuse Plan” in 2001 that set the base criteria for future uses at Badger.  Criterion 5.3 explicitly states, “Recreational activities should focus on Badger’s natural and cultural features and values.  Activities should be low-impact in nature and should be compatible with other uses and overall management goals.

Alliance response: DNR has broached its original promise to the citizens of Wisconsin by allowing high-impact recreation at Badger, out of compliance with the Badger Reuse Plan.

2) In 2004, when DNR applied for land at Badger through the Federal Lands to Parks program (FLP), their application indicated that they would adhere to the tenets of the Badger Reuse Committee and support low impact activities.  Examples from their application included “hiking, picnicking, Lake Wisconsin access and viewing, savanna and prairie restoration, environmental education and cultural/natural history interpretation.”  Nowhere is there an indication of any high impact recreation proposed.

Alliance response: DNR has broached its original promise to the federal government and the citizens of Wisconsin by allowing high-impact activities at Badger.

3)  DNR included dual-sport (off road) motorcycle use on re-purposed biking and horse trails for up to 100 motorcycles on 6 days/year, 7 hours/day (total = 4,200 potential motorcycle hours on the property/year), and up to 2 days are allowed during grassland bird nesting season.

Alliance response:  In no way can dual-sport motorcycles be considered “low impact” recreation. They are loud, create dust and disturbance and impact other visitors to the site.  Furthermore, any trail use by motorcycles during the grassland bird nesting season will undoubtedly have adverse impacts to the birds’ breeding success. Dual-sport motorcycle use should be removed entirely from the Master Plan.

4)  DNR is allowing year-round Wisconsin Army National Guard military helicopter training at Badger for an average of 8-10 hours/week.  These helicopters are very noisy and often fly very low over the Badger Lands.

Alliance response:  Military training of any type is incompatible with a public recreation area, and helicopter training is entirely inappropriate at Badger.  There are inherent risks with military flights over a public land, and they are loud and will have negative impacts on visitor experiences at Badger. Military helicopters should be phased out at Badger over a short time frame (2-3 years).

5)  “Special uses” like dog trialing, paintball events, boy scout jamborees, rendezvous, weddings and other unspecified activities can be permitted on over 600 acres of the property—and arguable on the entire property.  There are no excluded dates for such activities, and they could be held during the sensitive grassland bird breeding season.

Alliance response: The undefined nature of the possible variety of special uses makes them very dubious.  Holding special events on large parcels of land on the site will exclude other users and will impact grassland birds, and therefore most if not all special events are undesirable. All references to special uses and events should be removed from the Master Plan.  If not, well-defined criteria for special events should be spelled out, and all events should be held outside of the grassland bird breeding season (April 1 to July 31).

Thank you for your interest in the future of the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area—YOUR public land! You can make a difference. Please offer your personal response to the Natural Resources Board about the Master Plan.

Questions?  Contact Charlie Luthin, Director, Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance at: info@SaukPrairieVision.org.

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