My friend Jean lent me a book titled Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World. With the news concerning climate change growing more and more alarming, the book creates a “space for change” through essays, reflections and stories that address the question:
“If our world is facing an imminent environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now?”
I would add that it is our responsibility, as individuals, to find ways to mitigate the affects of climate change and do what we can to preserve and restore the natural environment we have left.
One group that has been living this charge for more than two decades is the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance. This is the Wisconsin non-profit “dedicated to the conservation and ecological restoration of the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant lands, and to the implementation of the Badger Reuse Plan, a multi-party consensus plan for the future land use and collaborative management of the former Badger property”.
The group has demonstrated its commitment to “the conservation and ecological restoration” through their expertise, passion, sweat and elbow grease. The Alliance, along with countless volunteers who have donated time and money, has transformed the land, known as the Sauk Prairie, to what it was before the ammunition plant existed; prairie and oak savanna.
The second prong of the group’s mission is its dedication to the Badger Reuse Plan, “a multi-party consensus plan for the future land use and collaborative management of the former Badger property”. One of the stakeholders that took part in the planning process is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The WDNR helped to shape the following statement:
” The conversion of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant presents tremendous opportunities for the protection, and enhancement, use, restoration, and enjoyment of the property’s unique natural and cultural features.”
It was the Badger Reuse Plan that “provided the basis for the State of Wisconsin to request, in 2004, that the federal government transfer to it a portion of the Badger lands”. This rare land transfer happened in 2010. Wisconsin now holds this land because of the Reuse Plan.
It appears that the WDNR has forgotten its participation in the reuse process. In an article in the June issue of the DNR journal Wisconsin Natural Resources, entitled “Transformation on the Prairie”, (http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/), there is no mention made of the impact of the Badger Reuse Plan on the nearly unprecedented federal to state land transfer, nor does the article credit the continuing efforts of hundreds of people who are working to implement the Reuse Plan.
The most disturbing part of all this is the apparent erosion of the commitment by the WDNR administration, as evidenced by public comments, to low-impact recreational uses on Badger lands, a key component of the Reuse Plan.
The Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance released the following statement this past Friday in response to the journal article. Questions regarding the response should be directed to:
David Tremble, President,
The Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance
Realizing the Promise at Badger
The June 2013 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine features the article “Transformation on the Prairie.” It describes the special opportunity that has come to Sauk County and to the people of Wisconsin with the decommissioning and deconstruction of the 7,350-acre Badger Army Ammunition Plant, and the transfer of the land to its future owners. As citizens of Sauk Prairie and Sauk County, and as long-time stakeholders in the Badger reuse process, we look forward to working with all the new landowners and others to make the most of the opportunity. This remarkable landscape holds many values that reflect its unique geology, ecology, and natural and cultural history. We are thrilled that restoration of the land’s life, beauty, and health will be moving forward at Badger, and that we will soon be able to welcome the people of Wisconsin and the nation to our backyard.
We are concerned, however, that the article leaves out critical parts of the Badger story.
How did the Wisconsin DNR acquire land at Badger? The article fails to mention how the State of Wisconsin came to acquire land at Badger (and additional lands that it may yet gain). When the U.S. Department of Defense announced the decommissioning of the Badger Plant in 1997, it unleashed a free-for-all among those looking to reap short-term profits from its closing. Over the next several years, local citizens, businesses, organizations, and local, county, state, federal, and tribal governments engaged in an intense conversation about Badger’s long-term future. In 2001 that effort resulted in the formal adoption of the consensus Badger Reuse Plan (BRP). The reuse plan in turn made it possible for deconstruction, environmental clean-up, and land transfers to proceed in a coordinated manner at Badger.
What about the Badger Reuse Plan (BRP)? The article fails to reference the Badger Reuse Plan. Overcoming decades of discord on the prairie, the BRP plan provided a path forward for all. And it provided the basis for the State of Wisconsin to request, in 2004, that the federal government transfer to it a portion of the Badger lands. The land transfer was officially agreed to in 2010. Wisconsin now holds this land, and this opportunity, because of the Badger Reuse Plan. It is stated in the article that “Transfer of a property of this size to the public at no cost for the land is practically unheard of.” It is certainly true that a land acquisition of this sort is extraordinarily rare. However, it did not happen by accident or without cost. The cost was paid for in the thousands of hours of hard volunteer work, over many years, by dozens of organizations and hundreds of citizens who shared a vision for this property, for our community, and for the future of Wisconsin.
What about the other partners at Badger? The BRP (available on-line at http://www.co.sauk.wi.us/cpz/badger-reuse-plan) calls for the landowners and stakeholders at Badger to manage the entire property collaboratively. The BRP makes it clear this is the only way to realize the full opportunity at Badger and to maximize the benefits for all the partners. The WDNR may eventually acquire up to 3380 of the property’s 7,350 acres. The USDA Dairy Forage Research Center has acquired about 2100 acres, and the Ho-Chunk Nation may acquire 1550 acres. (The small remainder is divided among three other entities.) The WDNR is thus not planning and managing its lands just for itself. The other landowners are not just neighbors, as the article states. They are full partners in the management of Badger as a whole.
How will recreational uses fit into Badger? The article fails to address the need to integrate all the future uses at Badger in a coherent way. The BRP calls for combining four primary future uses at Badger: 1) ecological restoration of the Sauk Prairie landscape; 2) agricultural activities that demonstrate how conservation and agriculture can work together; 3) education and research programs involving the land’s natural and human history; and 4) compatible recreational activities. The designation of the WDNR portion of Badger as the “Sauk Prairie Recreation Area” was a bureaucratic land classification choice that does not capture the full spirit of the BRP’s vision. On the plus side, it does reflect that recreation is one of the important uses envisioned for the Badger lands. On the minus side, it implies that the area will be devoted exclusively to just one of those uses.
What kinds of recreation are appropriate at Badger? Badger has space for a wide array of recreational activities, but not all. Through extensive public meetings, the committee that produced the BRP (which included the WDNR) reviewed and ranked dozens of proposals. Many of these involved recreational activities. The BRP is clear in its intent and language. Recreational activities are to be low-impact in nature, so as to minimize interference among the landowners and to maximize the potential for reuse of the property as a whole. When WDNR applied to receive land from the U.S. National Park Service, its application stated that only low-impact recreational uses would be allowed on the property (consistent with the BRP). The National Park Service accepted the application and transferred the property to the WDNR, but limited the allowed uses to those described in the WDNR’s application. As such, WDNR cannot currently allow high-impact recreational uses at Badger without prior National Park Service approval. The magazine article does not mention these facts.
Badger is unique. It is unlikely that we will ever have in southern Wisconsin so large a landscape in which to reclaim a vital piece of our natural and cultural history: the tallgrass prairie. We can demonstrate, at Badger, how prairie restoration can work together with other activities and land uses. We can provide important opportunities for citizens of all ages to participate actively in the re-creation of the Badger lands. We look forward to working with the WDNR in support of these common goals.
As the WDNR moves forward in its planning process, we respectfully ask that it provide the full story of the BRP in its public outreach efforts. The BRP represents the shared commitment of and between local governments, the State of Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunk Nation, federal agencies, and the public. The many partners at Badger have come a long way down a difficult and complicated trail. We have made progress together through the trust that we have built together. It takes hard work to keep those relationships strong. But as land stewards, we know that it is the most important work we do. The future of Badger depends on it.