Tag Archives: natural resources

Position cuts, mission shift lead to scaled-back DNR under Walker

Gov. Scott Walker promised to transform the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And he has — cutting scientists, shrinking its budget and pushing the agency to be more receptive to industry.

And even more changes could be in store. Walker and Republican lawmakers, who hold their largest majorities in decades, are pondering whether to eliminate the agency and spread its duties across state government as well as charge people more to get into state parks and to hunt. It all adds up to a picture of a struggling agency no one recognizes any more, critics say.

“They want this chamber of commerce mentality,” said Scott Hassett, who served as DNR secretary under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. “That’s a different image than protector of natural resources. It’s sad.”

Agency officials and the Walker administration counter that the DNR is doing fine, carrying out its mission to protect the environment and enhance resources while becoming more customer-friendly.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the DNR has become “more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable” since Walker took office.

Republicans have long criticized the DNR, saying its pollution and hunting regulations are too strict, making it difficult for businesses to expand and draining the fun from outdoor sports.

Walker’s three state budgets cut $59 million from the DNR and eliminated nearly 200 positions, including half of its science researchers.

Last month DNR officials announced a major reorganization to deal with staffing cuts, including allowing large livestock farm operators to use consultants to help write permit applications so DNR staff won’t have to spend so much time on them.

The budgets also have scaled back the stewardship program and removed support for state parks, leaving them to survive on fees.

That’s created a $1.4 million deficit in the parks account, and Walker’s now mulling raising access fees.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited 75 deficiencies in how the DNR handles water regulation. Two environmental groups sued the DNR in 2014 to force the agency to adopt federal air pollution standards that were published a year earlier. The agency finally adopted them late last year.

This past June, state auditors found the agency wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large livestock farms and wastewater treatment plants.

The audit also found a permit backlog for large farms, with DNR employees not having enough time to closely monitor the farms’ operations.

Last fall federal regulators visited the DNR to investigate claims that the agency is failing to enforce water pollution laws and regulations. The EPA hasn’t released any findings yet. And last month the agency removed language from its website that stated human activities are causing climate change, saying instead that the cause is debatable even though most scientists agree burning fossil fuels causes global warming.

What’s more, waning interest in hunting has resulted in fewer license purchases, creating a $4 million gap between revenue and spending authority for habitat management projects. The DNR has suggested Walker make up the difference by raising hunting and fishing license fees.

“So many changes and roadblocks have tied DNR’s hands so dramatically that they’re really not able to do the job the public expects them to be doing,” said Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, a plaintiff in the air lawsuit.

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a key Republican constituency, said the DNR has become friendlier to businesses and is still doing its job despite the staffing cuts.

DNR spokesman James Dick cited a list of accomplishments. They included improved air quality — a DNR report released in September found air pollution has dropped statewide over the last decade — efforts to recruit hunters and the purchase of a conservation easement on 67,000 acres in northern Wisconsin, the largest conservation purchase in state history.

He also pointed out the agency is working to correct the EPA-identified deficiencies, walleye stocking has expanded and the agency has made strides in building a customer service image.

“There will always be critics who vocally disagree with what we’re doing but we prefer to note the accomplishments we’ve made over the last five years,” Dick said. “Since the start of this DNR administration, we have always believed it is possible to protect the environment, wildlife habitat and other natural resources without impeding the economic growth and development of our state.”

The agency still isn’t getting any love from GOP lawmakers. Rep. Adam Jarchow has resurrected a proposal to split the DNR into two new departments that would handle wildlife and pollution and spread the rest of the agency’s duties across three existing agencies. He has said the DNR doesn’t function in its current form.

Republicans have tried to break up the agency before but have failed in the face of opposition from outdoor clubs and environmental groups. Still, Walker has said the plan is worth pursuing. Five former DNR secretaries who served under both Democrats and Republicans, including Hassett and George Meyer, now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, sent Walker a letter last week urging him to keep the agency intact.

Meyer, who served under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, said in a telephone interview that Walker is building a “negative” environmental legacy.

“His idea of customer service,” Meyer said, “is really just a business customer service.”

Wisconsin utility regulators remove climate change language from website

Wisconsin utility regulators removed references to climate change from their website months before state environmental officials altered global warming language on their own site.

The Public Service Commission eliminated a web page about global warming sometime after May 1 of last year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The page for years had featured material devoted to climate change, including strategies for reducing Wisconsin’s reliance on coal. It included links to wind turbine development on the Great Lakes and to a report from a global warming task force that former Gov. Jim Doyle convened.

A PSC spokeswoman, Elise Nelson, said the page was recommended for removal in 2014 along with 98 other pages as part of a long-term website cleanup.

The Department of Natural Resources removed language from its website last month that stated human activity is causing climate change, even though the vast majority of scientists agree that’s the case. DNR officials said this week it made the revisions after a northern Wisconsin newspaper asked whether the agency should be posting information stating that human activities have contributed to global warming.

The two agencies are the most influential in state government on climate change because they both regulate coal-fired power plants, a major source of carbon emissions.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker controls both agencies and combatting global warming hasn’t been a priority under his administration.

Each agency has filed comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency objecting to higher energy costs under President Barack Obama’s administration’s climate change regulations.

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.

 

Timber company’s sand plants would destroy Wisconsin wetlands

A timber company subsidiary is looking to build a pair of sand processing facilities in western Wisconsin that would eliminate more than 16 acres of wetlands.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Meteor Timber wants to build sand drying plant along Interstate 94 in Monroe County and a sand mine 14 miles away in neighboring Jackson County. Together the facilities would be valued at $65 million and create nearly 100 jobs, the newspaper reported.

Sand would be trucked from the mine to the drying plant. Meteor would build a 10-mile railroad spur to a Union Pacific line to transport the sand to Texas oil fields, where it would be used for hydraulic fracking.

The project would eliminate 16.6 acres of wetlands, including more than 13 acres of hardwood swamp. Jeffrey M. Olson, a section chief for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, called some of that land pristine, saying it’s never been touched.

The state Department of Natural Resources has issued 60 wetland permits to sand operators since 2008, allowing the destruction of 26 acres.

Meteor’s wetland use would amount to 60 percent of that total.

Meteor needs approval from both the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed. Both entities require that disturbing wetlands be avoided whenever possible but Meteor is trying to persuade the DNR and the corps that no alternative sites are suitable.

Midwest Environmental Advocates, an environmental law firm, is representing the Ho-Chunk Nation, which has tribal trust lands in the area. The firm is urging the corps and the DNR to deny permits for the project. Sarah Greers, an attorney for the firm, questioned why other sites can’t be found and why the company wants to build the facilities since the sand mining industry has slowed.

Christopher Mathis, managing director of real estate for Meteor, said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel that the company is sensitive to wetland impacts but can’t find any other commercially viable sites.

Meteor would preserve 358 acres on the property, shut down a cranberry marsh and remove dams from the marsh to naturalize a creek on the property, the Journal Sentinel reported. The company also would pay to restore wetlands in the same watershed.

Meteor, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Timberland Investment Resources, has nearly 50,000 acres in forest holdings in Wisconsin.

 

 

Dane County court rules against DNR in CAFO case

The latest development in Kewaunee County residents’ drive to protect drinking water from agricultural pollutants confirms the duty of Wisconsin DNR to require monitoring for groundwater pollution.

In October 2015, Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed suit after DNR decided to ignore an administrative law judge order to require monitoring and an animal unit cap in a Kewaunee County Confined Animal Feeding Operation permit.

Late last week, Dane County Circuit Court ruled that DNR’s actions were illegal and that the agency overstepped its authority by ignoring the ALJ order.

In the case of Kinnard Farms, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt ordered groundwater quality monitoring, a limit on the number of animals at the facility and other conditions on the facility’s wastewater permit to address widespread concern about groundwater contamination in late 2014.

Ten months later, DNR ignored that decision and stripped these sensible and necessary groundwater protection conditions from the permit, according to a news release from Clean Wisconsin.

Dane County Judge Markson wrote: “The laws that provide structure and predictability to our administrative process do not allow an agency to change its mind on a whim or for political purposes. The people of Wisconsin reasonably expect consistency, uniformity, and predictability from their administrative agencies and from the Department of Justice .…DNR had no authority to reverse (its own final) decision. Its attempt to do so is without any basis in law, and it is void.”

Responding, Elizabeth Wheeler, a staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, said, “This ruling reinforces that DNR has an absolute duty to protect groundwater. The conditions in this permit are reasonable and common-sense protections in an area that is riddled with widespread drinking water contamination.”

She continued, “It is a fundamental duty of DNR to ensure that Wisconsin residents have a safe, reliable, and clean source of drinking water. The people of Kewaunee County don’t have that right now, and if DNR can’t require monitoring or other limits in permits, it will be impossible to locate the source of the contaminants, much less clean up the mess.”

Act 21 at issue

One of the issues in the case was to what degree 2011 Act 21 limits DNR’s authority.

Clean Wisconsin said industrial representatives have been trying to use Act 21 as a way to prevent DNR from requiring sensible permit conditions to limit pollution.

This law also is the basis for a recent opinion for Attorney General Brad Schimel that essentially stripped DNR of its authority to regulate pumping from high capacity wells, which is drying up rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands in some parts of Wisconsin.

“We are pleased that courts are rejecting the claim that DNR’s hands are tied by 2011 Act 21, and we hope this is the beginning of many court decisions that restore one of the most critical functions we rely on our DNR for: protection of our water,” Wheeler said.

The decision follows the release of 65 DNR-facilitated workgroup recommendations for addressing groundwater contamination in Kewaunee County, including increased CAFO audits by DNR and revised regulations for landspreading manure in sensitive areas.

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.

Community briefs: Wright trail, good jobs, frac forums and more

Wisconsin Gazette’s roundup of community bulletins, nonprofit announcements and other local news.

Wright in Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker in March recently signed Assembly Bill 512 to designate and mark a highway route as the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail.

Walker said, “It’s great to be here at Taliesin to see first-hand some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Spring Green. The bill we’re signing into law will help visitors to our state easily identify and find Frank Lloyd Wright landmarks, like the one we’re at today.  Wright’s architecture is world-renowned, and these signs will boost tourism even further throughout Wisconsin.”

Gov. Scott Walker in March recently signed Assembly Bill 512 to designate and mark a highway route as the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail. — PHOTO: Wikipedia
Gov. Scott Walker in March recently signed Assembly Bill 512 to designate and mark a highway route as the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail. — PHOTO: Wikipedia

The route will run through Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson, Dane, Iowa, Sauk and Richland counties and direct travelers the right way to Wright attractions.

The bill,  authored by Rep. Todd Novak, R–Dodgeville, and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, passed the Assembly with a vote of 96-2 and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.

Reggae for public rides

A reggae concert at Riverwest Public House on Locust in Milwaukee April 8 will raise money for the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union, an organization of bus riders fighting for better transit in the city. For more, go to transitridersunion.org.

Good work

GSAFE is seeking an executive director to begin work in July. For more about opportunities with the nonprofit, which advocates for LGBT youth and on education issues, go to gsafewi.org.

Historic Milwaukee Incorporated also is hiring. The nonprofit dedicated to increasing “awareness of and commitment to Milwaukee’s history, architecture and the preservation of the built environment” is seeking a part-time accountant. For more, go to historicmilwaukee.org.

High costs, higher ed

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., met with students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in late March to talk about student loan debt and her reform bill, the In The Red Act. The measure would allow student borrowers to refinance debt at lower rates, increase Pell Grants to keep pace with rising costs and also would make a new investment in community college. For more, go to, baldwin.senate.gov.

Beachy clean

Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic announced the state approved an $838,000 Knowles-Nelson stewardship grant at South Shore Park to enhance the beach and boat launch and improve water quality. South Shore Park also is receiving a $100,000 grant from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to reconstruct the parking lot, another water quality project.

Frac forums

Sifting the Future educational events are planned on April 20 in Madison and April 21 in Eau Claire. The hills of western Wisconsin supply 75 percent of the country’s frac sand market. Organizers invite people to learn about frac sand mining impacts on Wisconsin’s ecological and agricultural landscapes. The Madison event is at 7 p.m. at UW-Madison’s Union South. The Eau Claire event is at 6 p.m. at The Plaza. For more, go to midwestadvocates.org.

Honored by ARCW

The Aids Resource Center of Wisconsin’s annual Make A Promise Dinner and Gala takes place on April 9 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. ARCW is honoring state Rep. John Nygren for “his courageous leadership addressing the heroin epidemic, opiate overdose and his long-term commitment to supporting care and treatment for people with HIV.” ARCW also will recognize BMO Harris Bank for its philanthropy and UW Health for its work specializing in providing health care to people living with HIV.

Meanwhile, ARCW also is receiving honors. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, recognized the nonprofit as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.” For more, go to arcw.org.

Field fun

The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin is offering 188 expert-led field trips around the state in 2016, a 25 percent increase from 2015. The program offers opportunities for all ages and abilities to explore public lands, waters and wildlife by foot, bike, boat and even train. Since 1994, nearly 40,500 people have joined the foundation on field trips. Trips take place in 46 out of 72 Wisconsin counties. For more, go to wisconservation.org.

The Cream City Foundation welcomed a new board member, Pat Galgan. — PHOTO: CourtesyThe Cream City Foundation welcomed a new board member, Pat Galgan. — PHOTO: Courtesy
The Cream City Foundation welcomed a new board member, Pat Galgan. — PHOTO: Courtesy

Cream City crew

The Cream City Foundation welcomed a new board member, Pat Galgan, and announced its slate of officers for 2016: Paul Milakovich, chair; Angelique Harris, vice chair; Erika Baurecht, vice president; Jose A. Milan, treasurer; Stewart M. Morrisey, assistant treasurer; Bridget Paskey, secretary; Renee Krinberger, chair of the fund development committee; and board members Galgan, Rob Doerfler-Eckstein and Eric M. Peterson. CCF is Southeastern Wisconsin’s LGBT community foundation. For more, go to creamcityfoundation.org.

Send community announcements to Lisa Neff at lmneff@www.wisconsingazette.com.

Mazo Beach closed, state cites ‘illegal’ activity

Mazo Beach will be closed to the public beginning on March 8, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Mazo Beach, which has enjoyed a reputation as one of the nation’s most popular nude beaches, is in the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway about 6 miles southwest of Sauk City on the south side of the Wisconsin River.

The DNR, in a news release, said it would close 140 acres of the 46,000 acre Riverway property. Three years ago, the state announced it would close the beach on weekdays. Already the DRN closed the area at night and banned beach camping in the late 1990s.

The reason for the closure is “illegal behavior, such as drug use and public sexual activity.This illegal and illicit behavior that developed there over several decades has created a pattern that discourages broader use of the property,” according to DNR natural resources area supervisor Brian Hefty.

The announcement from the department said the area would be closed until further notice and “pending re-development.”

The state is updating a master plan for the riverway, which involves gathering public comments. The redevelopment would be to “provide a range of recreational opportunities to a broad group of citizens.”

“Despite an increase in incremental management efforts implemented over a long period of time to curb illegal and illicit behavior at Mazomanie Beach, including weekday and partial closures, this type of behavior has continued on the property,” Hefty said.

This activity, according to the DNR, “limited user diversity … and has had an adverse impact on people who are interested in pursuing other recreational opportunities in the area, but who would avoid the area because of discomfort and concern with current illegal activity.”

State changes would involve constructing a changing building and picnic shelter, providing toilet facilities and improving the parking lot to handle at least 50 vehicles.

The plan also calls for “a rustic day use area on the river shore at the north end of Conservation Drive that would provide picnic tables, water and grills and a picnic shelter; a new carry-in canoe landing; and 4 to 8 miles of primitive to lightly developed hiking trails.”

Hefty stated, “The expanded recreational facilities and re-development through master planning will provide for an overall enhanced experience for property users while reducing illegal and illicit activity.”

The DNR said law enforcement officers still would patrol the property and individuals in violation of the closure would be cited.

The DNR closed the beach under NR 45.04 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, which the department “may close, by posted notice, any land, structure or property owned or administered by the state of Wisconsin and under the management, supervision and control of the department. No person may enter or be in any building installation or area that may be locked or closed to public use or contrary posted notice without a written permit from the property superintendent.”

Where in Wisconsin is Mazo Beach?

The beach on Google Maps.

Recommended reading …

Nature in the buff.

State to hold hearings on oil pipeline

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning to hold a pair of public hearings on Enbridge Energy Partner’s plans to build a crude oil pipeline from North Dakota to Superior.

The proposed Sandpiper project calls for building a new 30-inch diameter pipeline from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region through Minnesota to Superior. The project also includes replacing an existing pipeline known as Line 3. Both pipelines would cross about 14 miles of land in the town, village and city of Superior to the company’s terminal in the city.

State to hold hearings on oil pipeline
State to hold hearings on oil pipeline

The DNR has scheduled two public hearings on the project’s draft environmental impact statement on March 10 at the Superior Public Library.

The first hearing is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. The second will start at 6:30 p.m.

Enbridge has a track record that includes more than 800 pipeline spills since 1999 in its Lakehead System and more than 100 wetland violations during the construction of Wisconsin’s “Line 61” pipeline, as well as being responsible for the 2010 tar sands spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Michigan spill was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

 

Sandpiper pipeline project …

  • Type: Crude oil pipeline
  • Status: Proposed
  • Length: 616 miles
  • Expected initial capacity: 250,000 barrels per day between Tioga and Berthold, ND; 225,000 bpd between Berthold and Clearbrook; 375,000 bpd between Clearbrook and Superior.
  • Estimated to transport: Light Bakken crude
  • Estimated capital cost: $2.6 billion