Another step in the long-unfolding transition of the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant is now occurring.
The public has until Aug. 30 to comment on alternatives for uses of the new Sauk Prairie Recreation Area (aka Badger). Then the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will develop a full proposal for public review, before asking for final approval of a plan by the Natural Resources Board.
The DNR is guided by state master planning law, which directs them to gather input and evaluate a range of possible uses before making final plans for large state properties.
In the case of Badger however, we’re not working from a blank slate. There are previous commitments to consider. The 2001 Badger Reuse Plan was an agreement entered into by 21 representatives of local, state, federal and tribal units of government that included the WDNR secretary and representatives of both Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum. The plan emphasizes conservation and low-impact recreational activities and it is still in effect.
The land transfer agreement by which the federal Park Service is officially handing over 3,800 acres at Badger to the state of Wisconsin includes the DNR’s own usage proposal that calls for emphasizing conservation values and assuring low-impact recreational uses.
I’ve been asked enough about this that I requested one of our legislative attorneys to review these transfer documents and tell me what we got ourselves into. I’m glad I asked.
It turns out that transfer of the former Army lands to Wisconsinites comes with some serious strings. Those include “reversionary interests” that can be exercised in perpetuity by the Park Service. Basically it means we have to do what we said we were going to do — including using the lands for low-impact recreation — or the people who wear the Smokey Bear hats can do a bunch of different things, ranging from sending us nasty letters to actually taking the land back.
So now the DNR has issued three “conceptual alternatives” for the public to consider. One alternative — required by law — is the “do nothing” alternative. Nobody really thinks we’re going to do nothing, so we’re really down to two alternatives.
Alternative No. 2 you could call the brussels sprouts option. It emphasizes restoration of grassland and other habitats, but not much for real people. No development of trails or roads, no visitor center, no historic interpretation, no staff on site. I could be wrong, but I doubt there are many people who want that tradeoff.
Alternative No. 3 is like the steak and ice cream option. There are new visitor and interpretive centers, trails, auto routes, scenic enhancements, connections to Devil’s Lake, fishing access, historic markers, and lots of new investments for people. And there is also more than 600 acres designated for use as a long-distance shooting range and for motorized sports such as ATVs, UTVs, dirt bikes, etc.
As a member of the Assembly’s Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee, I’ve supported many bills to benefit shooting sports and motorized sports. No problem. But whatever you think about shooting ranges and motorized sports, you cannot call them “low impact” using any English dictionary.
So for all the great opportunity to do good things at Badger, one question the DNR needs to answer is why and under what justification they are proposing uses for the property that are contrary to previous commitments and a legally binding transfer agreement. And if we’re serious about protecting conservation values at Badger, the newly proposed land uses need to be carefully evaluated to see how they affect those values. That hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve also asked the department to make clear that their current alternatives are not an “either/or” sort of thing — but rather something that anyone can comment on to suggest what they like and what they don’t. So far, however, if you review the alternatives you would not know that.
I encourage you to exercise your right to make your voice heard on Badger before the comment period closes Aug. 30. You can review the alternatives and comment online at dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/masterplanning/SaukPrairie/.
You also can hear directly from DNR planners from 5 to 7 p.m. July 31 at their open house at the River Arts Gallery in Prairie du Sac. It’s time for the public to step up and assure a sound future for our newest state recreation area.
As always, it’s an honor to serve as your state representative.
Rep. Fred Clark, D-Sauk City, represents the 81st District in the state Assembly.