Tag Archives: conservation

Mark Miller, Cory Mason introduce Water Sustainability Act for Wisconsin

State Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, and state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, recently  introduced the Water Sustainability Act.

“We have a responsibility to develop sustainable environmental policies that ensure our precious natural resources will be around for future generations. Businesses, homeowners, and municipalities all rely on groundwater resources to thrive in daily life,” Mason said in a press statement.

Current laws and regulations are inadequate to protect the public resource and to reduce conflict, according to the legislators.

Court decisions that direct the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to protect the waters of the state have been ignored by Scott Walker‘s administration, they added.

“The Legislature needs to act now. The science exists for Wisconsin manage our water resources so the reasonable use doctrine is fully realized; that every person has a right to use water but not to the point where it denies others,” Miller stated.

Supporters include the Friends of the Central Sands, River Alliance of Wisconsin, The Nature Conservancy, Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter and Wisconsin Lakes.

“In the Central Sands, we are facing a water crisis,” said Bob Clarke, president of Friends of the Central Sands. “The Water Sustainability Act offers a scientific approach to managing our resources.”

Legislative authors include:

• Sens. Mark Miller, Chris Larson, Dave Hansen, Kathleen Vinehout, Janis Ringhand, Bob Wirch.

• Reps. Cory Mason, Gary Hebl, Nick Milroy, Sondy Pope, Jill Billings, Amanda Stuck, Josh Zepnick, Lisa Subeck, Evan Goyke, Chris Taylor, Tod Ohnstad, David Crowley, Dana Wachs, Dave Considine, Debra Kolste, Eric Genrich, Jonathan Brostoff, Terese Berceau, Melissa Sargent, Gordon Hintz, Christine Sinicki, Jimmy Anderson, Mark Spreitzer and David Bowen.

Keeping track

LRB 1902/1 & 1170/1, the Water Sustainability Act, is circulating in the Legislature for co-sponsorship until Jan. 20.

Earth to Trump: Environmentalists begin cross-country roadshow tour

Hundreds of people in Oakland and Seattle this week kicked off the cross-country Earth2Trump roadshow.

The two-route, 16-stop tour will build a network of resistance against President-elect Donald Trump’s attacks on the environment and civil rights.

The shows include live music, national and local speakers and a chance for participants to write personalized Earth2Trump messages that will be delivered to Washington, D.C., on inauguration day Jan. 20.

The Center for Biological Diversity is organizing the shows in coordination with groups around the country.

“This wave of resistance against Trump is only starting to build. What we saw in Oakland and Seattle will continue to grow bigger and stronger in the coming weeks,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the center.

He added, “And after Trump is in office, we’ll be there every day to oppose every policy that hurts wildlife, poisons our air and water, destroys our climate, promotes racism, misogyny or homophobia, or marginalizes entire segments of our society.”

The shows in Seattle and Oakland featured Hawaiian singer Makana, Brazilian funk band Namorados da Lua and singer/songwriters Dana Lyons and Casey Neill.

Attendees also signed a pledge of resistance and added their personal messages into large globes bound for D.C.

“I’m so inspired by the outpouring of empowerment and resistance we’re already seeing,” said Valerie Love, one of the Earth2Trump organizers who spoke at Oakland’s event. “When we come together and speak with a single voice, we become a force that can stand up and defend our environment, civil rights and democracy.”

Next stops
The central tour travels by train. One stop, in Portland, Oregon, featured Portland singer Mic Crenshaw and American Indian storyteller Si Matta, who was part of the water-protector occupation at Standing Rock.

The southern tour that began in Oakland will be in Los Angeles on Thursday from 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. at Global Beat Multicultural Center. The show features Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez and musicians Casey Neill and Allyah.

See a map of the tour and more details at www.Earth2Trump.org.

Follow the tour on social media with #Earth2Trump and on the Center’s Medium page.

DNR deletes from website references to human role in climate change

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has quietly removed language from its website that said humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the website now says the cause of climate change is debatable.

Gone are sentences attributing global warming to human activities and rising carbon dioxide levels.

DNR spokesman James Dick says the new wording reflects the agency’s position on the topic and that climate change causes are still being debated and researched.

The vast majority of scientists agree burning fossil fuels has increased greenhouse gases and caused warming. A 2014 United Nations report found human influence on climate is clear.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker controls the DNR. He has been critical of President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives.


Cheetah in danger of extinction due to habitat loss

The world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah, is in danger of extinction because it is running out of space, research led by the Zoological Society of London has found.

After a sharp decline in numbers there are now just 7,100 cheetahs in the world, or 9 percent of the historic range, the ZSL, Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera study found.

In Zimbabwe, the study found, these pressures have seen the cheetah population plummet 85 percent from 1,200 to at most 170 animals in just 16 years.

Wildlife experts are calling for the big cat to be rated “endangered,” up from “vulnerable” among threatened species, to give it greater environmental protection.

Capable of sprinting up to 75 miles per hour in short bursts, the cheetah is notoriously secretive and information on its status had been difficult to gather, meaning its predicament had been overlooked, the study said.

“Our findings show that the large space requirements for cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought,” said Dr Sarah Durant, who is leading the cheetah conservation programme.

The study said that cheetahs were vulnerable to several dangers such as prey loss due to overhunting, habitat loss and illegal trafficking. Added to that, more than three-quarters of cheetahs live outside protected wildlife areas and, because they roam wide, are more vulnerable.

Foundation gifts boost Wisconsin conservation efforts

Foundation grants of $1,000 to dozens of community efforts in Wisconsin will boost prairie restoration and shoreline revitalization, wildlife festivals and eco celebrations.

The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin in mid-November awarded $28,370 to 30 applicants through the C.D. Besadny Conservation Grant Program. Projects range from restoring rare and important landscapes to improving understanding of natural resources through mobile technology.

“Using $1,000 or less, each of these 30 grant recipients will help protect critical wildlife habitat, restore native landscapes, connect people to Wisconsin’s natural wonders, and implement many other projects that will have a lasting impact on our natural resources,” said Caitlin Williamson, the foundation’s program and development coordinator.

A sampling of the grant awards:

  • 1000 Islands Environmental Center for Eagle Days on the River in Kaukauna, Outagamie and Calumet counties.
  • City of Superior for International Migratory Bird Day Celebration in Superior and Douglas County.
  • Covenant Harbor for a nature center in Lake Geneva, Walworth County.
  • Driftless Area Land Conservancy for habitat improvement in Dodgeville, Iowa County.
  • Eagle School of Madison for biodiversity surveys in Fitchburg, Dane County.
  • Friends of High Cliff State Park for tree replacement in Sherwood, Calumet County.
  • Friends of Lapham Peak for invasive species removal in Delafield, Waukesha County.
  • Friends of the Bird Sanctuary for the Barrens Festival in Douglas County.
  • Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy for Kishwauketoe prairie and savanna restoration in Williams Bay, Walworth County.
  • Madison Audubon Society for connecting students with nature in Madison, Dane County.
  • Neighborhood House of Milwaukee for nature center stewardship in Milwaukee County.
  • Northland College for assessing the wildlife on Madeline Island in Ashland County.
  • Upham Woods for shoreline restoration in Wisconsin Dells, Adams, Columbia, Juneau and Sauk counties.
  • UW Arboretum for habitat restoration of Faville Prairie State Natural Area in Madison.
  • Wisconsin Land+Water for Wisconsin Envirothon in Rosholt, Portage County.
  • Allen Centennial Gardens for an Education a la Cart program in Madison, Dane County.

The grants help organizations create new ways to promote conservation in changing times, said Sara Vega, of Allen Centennial Gardens, whose program is intended to teach lessons about pollinators.

Grant recipients must match the award dollar-for-dollar — either with funds or in-kind services. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $475,890.00 to more than 593 projects in every county in Wisconsin since its inception in 1990.

On the Web

Learn about the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin online at wisconservation.org.

Study: Catastrophic declines in wilderness over past 20 years

Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology show catastrophic declines in wilderness areas around the world over the past 20 years.

They demonstrate alarming losses comprising a tenth of global wilderness since the 1990s – an area twice the size of Alaska and half the size of the Amazon. The Amazon and Central Africa have been hardest hit.

The findings underscore an immediate need for international policies to recognize the value of wilderness areas and to address the unprecedented threats they face, the researchers say.

“Globally important wilderness areas — despite being strongholds for endangered biodiversity, for buffering and regulating local climates, and for supporting many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalized communities — are completely ignored in environmental policy,” says Dr. James Watson of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. “Without any policies to protect these areas, they are falling victim to widespread development. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around. International policy mechanisms must recognize the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas before it is too late. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around.”

Watson says much policy attention has been paid to the loss of species, but comparatively little was known about larger-scale losses of entire ecosystems, especially wilderness areas which tend to be relatively understudied.

To fill that gap, the researchers mapped wilderness areas around the globe, with “wilderness” being defined as biologically and ecologically intact landscapes free of any significant human disturbance. The researchers then compared their current map of wilderness to one produced by the same methods in the early 1990s.

This comparison showed that a total of 30.1 million km — around 20 percent of the world’s land area — now remains as wilderness, with the majority being located in North America, North Asia, North Africa, and the Australian continent. However, comparisons between the two maps show that an estimated 3.3 million km — almost 10 percent — of wilderness area has been lost in the intervening years. Those losses have occurred primarily in South America, which has experienced a 30 percent decline in wilderness, and Africa, which has experienced a 14 percent loss.

“The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering,” according to Dr. Oscar Venter of the University of Northern British Colombia. “We need to recognize that wilderness areas, which we’ve foolishly considered to be de-facto protected due to their remoteness, is actually being dramatically lost around the world. Without proactive global interventions we could lose the last jewels in nature’s crown. You cannot restore wilderness, once it is gone, and the ecological process that underpin these ecosystems are gone, and it never comes back to the state it was. The only option is to proactively protect what is left.”

Watson says the United Nations and others have ignored globally significant wilderness areas in key multilateral environmental agreements and this must change.

“If we don’t act soon, there will only be tiny remnants of wilderness around the planet, and this is a disaster for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet,” Watson says. “We have a duty to act for our children and their children.”

Wisconsin DNR releases draft sand mining strategic analysis

Midwest Environmental Advocates began a review of a draft Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis released by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources this week.

The DNR’s draft Strategic Analysis is the first glimpse into a long-awaited, comprehensive look into the impacts of frac sand mining on the health, environment, economies and way of life of many Wisconsin communities.

Upon initial review, however, the draft Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis will need a deeper analysis, more data and more input from experts and the public in order to be a meaningful resource for local and state policy makers and agency staff for decision making.

The air quality section has the same fundamental flaw as the agency’s recent actions regarding fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. While the DNR asserts that mechanical processes, such as those at industrial sand mines, do not produce or emit PM2.5 (only larger particles), the agency does not have evidence to support this conclusion.

The Strategic Analysis also relies on studies based on voluntary monitoring and industry-funded studies at industrial sand facilities. The report also only makes passing reference to independent research such as that of UW Eau Claire’s Dr. Crispin Pierce’s PM2.5 study that shows that industrial sand facilities may be causing or contributing to unsafe levels of fine particulate matter around mining facilities. This reliance on industry-funded research shares the same limitations as the Health Impact Assessment of Industrial Sand Mining in Western Wisconsin published by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Health, Inc. earlier this year.

However, the Strategic Analysis does acknowledge the threat of acid mine drainage from industrial sand facilities and supports further study of the potential for frac sand mining to allow metals to leave bedrock and enter surface and groundwater. DNR has known for some time that some wastewater holding ponds at industrial sand mines have had high levels of metals, which present a risk to groundwater quality and the health of rural residents who rely on private wells for drinking water.

But in the meantime, DNR should require monitoring at industrial sand facilities to ensure that these discharges are not going unnoticed. DNR recently revised its industrial sand stormwater and wastewater general permit and should have, but did not, account for uncertainty about the potential for metals in these discharges.

Public comment welcomed

The DNR is accepting public comment between now and Aug. 22. The DNR will host a public informational meeting July 26 at 4:00 p.m. at the Chippewa Valley Technical College, Business Education Center, Casper Conference Center , Room 103A/B, at 620 W. Clairemont Avenue, Eau Claire.

Robust public comment will improve the final Strategic Analysis, if the DNR will hear the public’s concerns, accept more air quality studies, and address the legal and environmental concerns with fine particulate matter associated with frac sand mining.

The True Cost of Sand Petition

On October 29, 2014, petitioner Ken Schmitt presented the True Cost of Sand Petition to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board and shared his experience as a grass-fed beef farmer in western Chippewa County whose community is increasingly dealing with the negative impacts of frac sand mining. The True Cost of Sand petition was a summary of concerns local citizens have voiced over the last few years.

These concerns about hazardous dust, polluted runoff into streams, truck and train traffic, shrinking natural habitats, and negative impacts on the quality of life in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area have been the root of many of the calls to Midwest Environmental Advocates’ law center’s legal helpline since the initial boom of frac sand mining in our state. Many people who signed the petition expressed shock that the DNR had never done any meaningful, big-picture study of the frac sand industry’s impacts on our water, air and land.

The petition, signed by over 1,100 Wisconsin residents asked for a simple request: The state Natural Resources Board should direct the Department of Natural Resources to conduct a strategic analysis of the impacts of frac sand mining and processing. Then NRB Chairman Preston Cole directed the DNR to review the petition and submit their recommendations for action, and the DNR issued an outline of what the analysis would include in March of 2015.

An unbiased, comprehensive look at the impacts of frac sand mining on the health, environment, economies and way of life of Wisconsin communities can be an invaluable resource for local and state policy makers and agency staff to use for making decisions on zoning, laws and rules, public health policy and land reclamation planning.

For more on the True Cost of Sand Petition and the DNR’s Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis, visit midwestadvocates.org/truecostofsand.

Midwest Environmental Advocates is a public interest organization that uses the power of the law to support communities fighting for environmental accountability. Learn more about the Midwest Environmental Advocates on the web atmidwestadvocates.org, like MEA on Facebook or follow @MidwestAdvocate on Twitter.

A year after Cecil killing, threats to African lions grow

Some call it the “Cecil the lion effect.”

A year ago, an American killed a lion in Zimbabwe in what authorities said was an illegal hunt, infuriating people worldwide and invigorating an international campaign against trophy hunting in Africa. Some conservationists, however, warn there are greater threats to Africa’s beleaguered lion populations, including human encroachment on their habitats and the poaching of antelopes and other animals for food, a custom that deprives lions of prey.

The death of Cecil at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park raised the profile of African lions on the “conservation radar,” but most substantive steps in lion conservation since then have been directed against trophy hunting rather than bigger problems depleting lion numbers, said Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, a conservation group. Those measures include airline bans on the transport of parts of lions, rhinos, elephants and other wild animals shot in hunts.

In a report marking the anniversary of Cecil’s death in early July 2015, Panthera and two other conservation groups — WildAid and WildCRU — estimated that it would take at least $1.25 billion a year to effectively manage all protected areas where African lions roam.

The groups advocated more protection for lion habitats, measures to stimulate tourism and economic growth unrelated to hunting, and the supply of alternative sources of protein to local people to reduce demand for wild animal meat. Restrictions on hunting should be tightened as more data emerges on whether trophy hunting of some threatened species is even sustainable, the report said.

The number of African lions in the wild has dropped by more than 40 percent to about 20,000 in the past two decades, according to estimates. Lion populations in West, Central and East Africa have dropped, though some conservation success has been recorded in the southern part of the continent.

Cecil, who wore a GPS collar and was being monitored by researchers, was killed in a protracted hunt in which he was, according to authorities, lured out of the wildlife park and initially wounded by an arrow. The death unleashed an extraordinary outpouring of anger at Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot the lion, and other foreigners with means who have traveled to Africa to kill wildlife.

The hunting industry countered that it has a conservation role, channeling revenue from hunting back into wildlife areas that would otherwise end up as farms for livestock.

“Each (wildlife) population needs its own management plan,” said Stewart Dorrington, who hosts bow and arrow hunters at a wildlife area three hours by car from Johannesburg. He said in a telephone interview that some anti-hunting activists favor a “blanket statement” about the ills of all hunting across Africa.

Dorrington, who does not have lions at his Melorani Safaris hunting operation, said many hunting areas in South Africa are struggling to get foreign clients at the moment.

In December, the United States made it harder for American big-game hunters to bring a lion head or hide into the country, announcing that it would protect African lions under the Endangered Species Act. At least 11,000 lions were logged in the trophy hunting trade between 2004 to 2013, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a conservation group.

Conservationists are also increasingly concerned about the use of lion bones to replace tiger bones in traditional medicine in parts of Asia, as well as for use in ceremonies in some African countries.

Hunter, the Panthera president, said lions are relatively easy to spot in some wildlife parks and leave the impression that their overall population is plentiful. Lions are social, active during the day and accustomed to vehicles, he said.

“They’re one of the top drawcards for tourists visiting Africa, in protected areas,” said Hunter, noting the death of Cecil had generated massive awareness about their plight. “I hope that it doesn’t go away.”


Environmental group scores Wisconsin legislators

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ Conservation Scorecard 2015-16 paints a picture of aggressive attacks against Wisconsin’s environment and natural resources.

The scorecard, the league said, also shows conservation voters were able to stop or improve some of the worst legislation.

“We saw more attacks on our air, land and water during the 2015-16 legislative session than ever before,” said Jennifer Giegerich, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters legislative director, said. “Special interests like factory farms and frac sand mining companies pushed their radical agendas at the expense of the people who live, work and raise their families in Wisconsin.”

She added, “However, the Conservation Scorecard shows how citizens made all the difference. Without conservationists from every corner of the state taking action and talking to their legislators, this session would have been a lot worse.”

The league said citizens helped protect $33 million dollars for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program; protected the Great Lakes from plastic microbeads and ensured that water systems are not privatized.

Additionally, the league praised 43 legislators who earned perfect scores and placed five legislators on an honor roll: Sens. Rob Cowles and Mark Miller and Reps. Chris Taylor, Joel Kitchens and Cory Mason.

Those on the dishonor roll are: Sens. Tom Tiffany and Frank Lasee and Rep. Adam Jarchow.

A glance at the scorecard by the numbers:

Average Senate score: 44 percent

Average Assembly score: 44 percent

Number in Senate with a perfect score: 8

Number in Assembly with a perfect score: 35

“This session was full of bad ideas, many of which became law. Too many legislators are out-of-touch with the voters who live, work, raise their families, and play in Wisconsin. It’s time to turn things around,” Giegerich said in a news release.


On the Web

To view the Conservation Scorecard 2015-2016, please visit www.conservationvoters.org/scorecard2015-2016.

Birding for bigger budgets: Wisconsin birdathon benefits conservation programs

Those who venture into the woods on a weekend in May might spot an “Old Coot” or a “Lower Chippewa River Titmouseketeer.” These are not new species to add to the Sibley Guide to Birds, but rather team players in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon, an annual event that brings hundreds of birders outdoors for spring scoping and raises money for conservation programs in the state.

The slogan: see a bird, save a bird.

The goal is to raise $70,000, according to the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.

Birders — there are no restrictions on experience levels — join a team or create a team online and then find sponsors to pledge to donate for each species a team sees during a 24-hour period.

“It’s like a walkathon but with birds instead of miles,” says Diane Packett, whose role as birdathon coordinator is to manage the website, recruit participants and help as many as 100 teams get set up to raise money and count birds.

Some teams got out as early as April 15, but the event continues through June 15.

Among the participants are eight teams of hotshot birders with a goal of raising $30,000:

  • Lake Superior eBirders in Ashland and Bayfield counties, who last year counted 161 species.
  • Madison Green Team of Dane County, who travel by bike, foot and kayak in search of birds at the UW Arboretum, Dunn’s Marsh, along the Capital City Bike Trail, in the Nine-Springs Wetlands and elsewhere.
  • Cutright’s Old Coots, whose territory includes Ozaukee, Sheboygan, Fond du Lac and Dodge counties and who participate in honor of Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame member Noel Cutright.

Other celebrated teams include Curlew & Screech representing Columbia, Dane, Iowa, Sauk, Richland, Grant and Crawford counties; Secretary Birds of Door County and Green Bay; WSO Tessen Team of the Green Lake region; MotMotley Crew of Dodge County and the Titmouseketeers of Eau Claire, Dunn and Buffalo counties.

“The signature teams include the state’s most serious birders, but the Great Wisconsin Birdathon can be great fun for everyone, no matter what skill level,” says Ruth Oppedahl, executive director of the NRFW. “Birding in your backyard for just a few hours is a wonderful way to learn about Wisconsin’s birds, while also taking action to help conserve them.”

Packett says, “You can make the birdathon whatever you went. We have someone who does the birdathon from his backyard. Some people spend half a day. Some people start at midnight and drive around the state.”

Students also get involved, including a grade-school class that identifies species on a neighborhood walk.

“A lot of people think it is a great big species competition,” said Packett. “It can be. But it doesn’t have to be.”

The birdathon benefits the Bird Protection Fund, which supports the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, Osa Conservation and the recovery of whooping cranes and the Kirtland’s warbler.

Get involved

The Great Wisconsin Birdathon continues through June 15, a partnership between the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative. To create or join a team or pledge to a team, visit wibirdathon.org.

Nick Anich of the Lake Superior eBirders team celebrates seeing a white-breasted nuthatch. — PHOTO: Ryan Brady
Nick Anich of the Lake Superior eBirders team celebrates seeing a white-breasted nuthatch.
— PHOTO: Ryan Brady