Many of you know the history of Badger, and have followed the efforts in our community to create and realize a vision for the 7,350-acre property that recognizes its unique natural values, honors its rich natural and human history, overcomes historic conflicts, harmonizes varied interests, involves local communities, and serves future generations. For those new to the story, you can learn more about the history of the site at http://saukprairievision.org/history.
In 2000, a locally driven process to chart the future of the Badger lands began with the establishment of the Badger Reuse Committee. The 21 members of the committee represented federal, tribal, state, county, and local governments, local businesses, landowners, schools, and non-profit organizations. (I served on the committee, representing what is now the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance.) After dozens of meetings, countless conversations, and months of challenging negotiations, the committee reached consensus in March 2001 with the final Badger Reuse Plan (BRP). (The plan is posted on-line at https://www.co.sauk.wi.us/cpz/badger-reuse-plan.) The plan calls for Badger’s future landowners and stakeholders to collaborate in managing the property as a whole, and to integrate several main categories of appropriate use: restoration, agriculture, education and research, and recreation. It was and remains a remarkable achievement for local citizens, and for the state of Wisconsin. (See the attached 2002 Wisconsin State Journal editorial for an independent testimonial.) The BRP was officially endorsed by the Sauk County Board of Supervisors, the Ho-Chunk Nation, the Wisconsin DNR’s Natural Resources Board, and other stakeholders.
With adoption of the BRP, the future of Badger began to unfold. The U.S. Department of Defense accelerated its efforts to clean up the serious groundwater and surface soil contamination, and to deconstruct the 1400 buildings on site (the great majority of them dilapidated and/or contaminated). Anyone driving past Badger on HY 12 can now see that the landscape has changed dramatically. As lands were deemed clean, they became eligible for transfer to new owners. In 2004 the USDA Dairy Forage Research Center received about 2000 acres that it had been using for its research farm since the 1980s. In 2010 the Wisconsin DNR, through an agreement with the U.S. National Park Service, acquired the first portions of what will ultimately amount to at least 3400 acres. The Ho-Chunk Nation, through the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, has requested about 1550 acres of the Badger lands; the Nation’s request is currently under consideration. The BRP called for establishment of a Badger Oversight and Management Commission (OMC) as a forum for consultation and decision-making among the landowners and stakeholders at Badger. The OMC has met continually since 2005 as the clean-up, building demolition, and land allocations at Badger have proceeded.
WISCONSIN DNR’S MASTER PLANNING EFFORT
The Wisconsin DNR’s portion of the Badger lands has been officially designated the “Sauk Prairie Recreation Area.” This is one of several categories of formal land designation used by the DNR, and seemed to be the best fit for the unique circumstances of Badger. It has both plusses and minuses. Appropriate recreational opportunities were and remain an important part of the BRP vision. However, it fails to convey the full range of uses that the BRP called for, and the special opportunities that Badger presents. In any case, the Wisconsin DNR began one year ago, in the summer of 2012, its master planning work on the recreation area. This is a formal process that the DNR is obligated to follow as part of its land management responsibilities.
We who have worked for so long on Badger were of course eager to see the DNR move forward with planning; this presents an important next step in the realization of the Badger Reuse Plan. In many ways we were pleased with what we read in the DNR’s initial planning documents. However, we were also deeply disconcerted to find, at the end of its document, unexpected language, suggesting that Badger would be appropriate for “non-traditional recreational uses” such as ATV trails, a long-range rifle range, paint-ball competitions, etc. Such uses run counter to the explicit recommendations in the BRP, that recreational uses should be “low-impact in nature,” “compatible with other uses,” and “have no significant detrimental impacts on the cultural and natural features of the property.” These provisions of the reuse plan were built into the NPS-DNR land transfer agreement. We have yet to learn where the suggestions for “non-traditional recreational uses” came from. No one involved in the long, hard work of consensus-building at Badger had ever brought them up, and no representatives of these special interests have ever appeared before the OMC.
We (i.e., the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance and other interested organizations and citizens) have been in regular communications with the DNR planning office, making the case for full recognition of the values and recommendations of the Badger Reuse Plan. We have been frustrated by the response we have received. This is especially the case because it was the BRP that allowed the DNR to acquire this land, and to have this opportunity. In the meantime we have been at work, sharing information with our neighbors, meeting constantly with the other Badger landowners and stakeholders, reaching out to our elected representatives, attending DNR board meetings, and taking other actions to ensure that the DNR keeps the promises it made in the Badger Reuse Plan.
On Friday, July 11, 2013, the DNR planning team released its preliminary vision and goal statements and three draft conceptual alternatives for the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, the next step in its planning process. I’ve attached that document here. We requested that the document be open to a 60-day public comment period. The DNR is allowing a 45-day comment period.
As you will see, the majority of land uses proposed by the DNR do promote ecological restoration and nature-based outdoor recreational activities. We are pleased to see these uses emphasized. However, we are see several serious flaws that require action.
One option described in Alternative 3 is a the creation of a 562-acre “Special Use Zone” set aside for motorized recreation (i.e., off-road vehicles) and a shooting range—that is, for high-impact recreational uses. These uses are simply inappropriate, for many reasons.
- Such uses, as noted above, run counter to the Badger Reuse Plan and the reuse process to which we have all been committed.
- They explicitly contradict provisions in the DNR’s agreement with the National Park Service.
- They will have detrimental impacts on neighboring landowners within Badger, and neighboring private landowners outside Badger.
- They will have detrimental impacts on other recreational users and visitors at Badger.
- They will have detrimental impacts on the sound environment of Badger, which is unique in southern Wisconsin for its degree of quiet.
- The proposed Special Use Zone supports significant breeding populations of grassland bird Species of Greatest Conservation Need (see http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/profiles.asp). This nearly one-square-mile block of grassland and savanna habitat supports high populations of rare and declining grassland birds including Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Brown Thrasher, Willow Flycatcher, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Henslow’s Sparrow. The impacts of the proposed high-impact uses on grassland birds and other wildlife has not been documented or analyzed.
- The area in which these uses are proposed includes, among other features, one of the important pioneer cemeteries of Badger (the Thoelke Cemetery), the highest quality prairie/savanna remnant on the entire Badger property, and a unique geological feature – the drainage channel of glacial Lake Merrimac, still visible after 12,000 years.
We are also disappointed that the alternatives presented by the DNR do not reflect the full scope and spirit of the Badger Reuse Plan. The alternatives downplay the critical opportunities for education and research at Badger, and make no mention at all of agriculture. These are essential parts of the reuse vision. Badger has already served as a vital research and education site. We have hosted hundreds of students, from hundreds of Sauk County school kids to advanced UW graduate students, at Badger. The potential to share lessons of history, science, and culture at Badger are boundless. Similarly, Badger provides unique opportunities to show how conservation and agriculture can and must work together for the good of Wisconsin’s land, water, wildlife, people, economy, and future. These were the creative opportunities that we all recognized in crafting the Badger Reuse Plan. The DNR’s planning effort falls short in building upon them—at least so far. That is where you come in.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Most important: review the planning document and write a message or letter to the DNR. The deadline for submitting comments is 4:30 pm, August 30, 2013. Submit your comments to Ms. Diane Brusoe, 101 S. Webster St., Madison WI 53707, or via e-mail to email@example.com. Suggested key points:
- I appreciate and strongly support the emphasis on ecological restoration, nature-based recreation, community participation, and interpretive and educational activities described in Alternatives 2 and 3.
- Because Alternative 2 is the closest to what the BRP recommended, I support it. We ask that it be expanded to emphasize appropriate visitor access and compatible recreational uses, and that it incorporate the educational and interpretive activities described in Alternative 3.
- The high-impact recreational uses described for the “Special Use Zone” in the Alternative 3 – specifically the “motorized use and a shooting range” – run counter to the Badger Reuse Plan’s recommendation for compatible, low-impact recreational uses; are inappropriate for Badger; and will negatively affect neighbors within and adjacent to the Badger property. The “Special Use Zone” and these high-impact recreational uses should be removed from the proposed alternatives.
- I am disappointed that the proposed alternatives do not reflect fully the aims of the Badger Reuse Plan, and in particular their failure to integrate research and sustainable agriculture into planning for the Badger lands.
- The DNR should keep its promise to the people of Wisconsin, and to the other Badger stakeholders, and should work to fully implement the Badger Reuse Plan in its planning.
- SHARE THIS MESSAGE with five of your friends and ask them to send in their comments.
- Read this fine op-ed by State Representative Fred Clark, from the Baraboo News Republic, 16 July 2013: http://www.wiscnews.com/baraboonewsrepublic/news/opinion/columnists/article_1785e5a6-edc3-11e2-be30-0019bb2963f4.html
- Contact your state and federal representatives on this issue, and let them know what you think.
- Attend the DNR’s public open house on July 31, 5:00-7:30 p.m. at the River Arts Center, 105 Ninth St. in Prairie du Sac.
- Stay informed by visiting the website of the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance: www.saukprairievision.org.
Thanks for reading this long message. My friends and neighbors and colleagues have walked a very long path at Badger for these many years. Now is your opportunity to make a real difference for the land and for future generations. Thank you for your voice and your help.
As an old friend of the land once said:
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.
When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
Member, Badger Reuse Committee (2000-2001)
Founding member, Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance