The Birth of a Movement
On December 16, 1997 some fifty representatives of a variety of local conservation and environmental organizations met for an open-ended discussion about the future of the 7,300-acre Badger Army Ammunition Plant, as word had spread that the Plant was to be permanently decommissioned. The group met at the Ronald T. Sauey Memorial Library at the International Crane Foundation, north of Baraboo in Sauk County, Wisconsin.
At this first meeting of what soon became the Community Conservation Coalition for the Sauk Prairie, the main outcome was agreement to coordinate efforts to promote a community-based and conservation-oriented vision for Badger’s future. This implied the need not only for involvement in the political arena, but for improved scientific information, useful educational materials, community outreach activities, and partnerships with other community organizations. The group anticipated that it would take years of effort to ensure a conservation future for the Badger lands… a prognosis that proved to be true!
In the following months and years, the Coalition, comprised of like-minded organizations and area residents, coordinated a series of diverse public presentations, discussions and meetings to foster awareness and consider options for the decommissioned Army facility. These conversations and programs engaged a wide spectrum of the community and brought considerable public and media attention to the exciting potential of the soon-to-be vacant lands at Badger. But there was also a great deal of contention, as various interests offered competing proposals for future uses of the Badger lands. In an effort to forge agreement, a formal decision-making body was brought together–the Badger Reuse Committee, comprising 21 diverse stakeholder groups, including representatives from federal, tribal, state, county, and municipal governments and agencies, non-profit organizations, local schools, agricultural interests and private landowners.
The Badger Reuse Committee convened for the first time in July 2000 with the aim of developing a community consensus built on commonly held values and a set of related criteria for evaluating future land stewardship activities for the Badger property. The committee entertained 25 diverse proposals from various parties interested in the future of the Badger property. Its final report, now called the Badger Reuse Plan, was completed in March 2001. Overcoming the long and contentious history of the property, the committee defined an exciting community vision for a revitalized Badger landscape. The report continues to provide the foundation for collaboration in the transformation of the Badger lands.
Evolution of the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance
In 2002 the Coalition formally changed its name to The Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance to better reflect its evolving role at the Badger lands, and the Alliance was formally incorporated as a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In the years since, the Alliance has worked tirelessly to ensure that the Badger Reuse Plan is implemented to its fullest degree while continuing to bring public attention to the conservation value and potential of the property. The organization has provided analysis and oversight on every major decision pertaining to the former Badger Plant where public input was possible and essential. We have continued to communicate with the broader conservation community and with the general public, at home in Sauk County and beyond, about what has transpired at Badger. The Alliance has monitored the long, painstaking process of land transfer from the Army to the major landowners and has celebrated those transfers as parcels have been cleaned up and turned over.
Most recently, the Alliance has been monitoring the planning effort for the Wisconsin DNR’s 3,400-acre portion of the Badger lands, now designated as the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area. When the potential for high-impact recreational activities was included in DNR’s conceptual plans for the site, the Alliance worked with colleagues throughout the region to draw public attention to these proposed—but inappropriate under the Badger Reuse Plan—uses.
Those who have worked together under the auspices of the original Coalition, and now the Alliance, come from varied backgrounds, and have different areas of interest and expertise related to the Badger lands. What we share is a commitment to open discussion, informed community participation, and responsible decision-making. This commitment has helped make The Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance an effective advocate for a positive future at Badger.
With the transfer of Badger lands to four principal landowners (the Wisconsin DNR, the Ho-Chunk Nation, the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center, and the Bluffview Sanitary District) now all-but-complete, the role of the Alliance is changing, from one largely of advocacy to more actively promoting land restoration, research, and public education in collaboration with the Badger landowners. Continually guided by the values agreed to in the Badger Reuse Plan, the Alliance will work with all the landowners at Badger to ensure that the lands are managed as a whole, where priority conservation areas are protected and carefully managed, native habitats are carefully and methodically restored, innovative conservation agriculture methods are developed, and educational and low-impact recreational opportunities abound for all citizens.