FWS receiving mega input on refuge plan

By Greg Koelker Correspondent

Stoddard, Wis. — At public hearings up and down the Upper
Mississippi Refuge system, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(USFWS) is getting plenty of citizen input — a lot of it negative
— on its 600-page, four-alternative plan to manage the refuge for
the next 15 years.

After an hour-long briefing May 24 in Stoddard that described
the four plans, refuge manager Jim Nissen said, “We can mix and
match. This is not an all or nothing plan,” and then the floor was
opened to comments and questions.

The first question was from an air-boat ice fishermen, “Why does
the electric motor restriction run year-round? Why in winter when
there are no birds or animals around?” The response: that he had a
valid comment and “we have discussed this.”

Officials told the next person that user fees for canoeists,
hikers, and bird watchers, “were not part of the exploration.” The
user fees were mostly directed at campers. The man asked, “Would I
need to pay a fee to park my boat in the refuge?” The response was,
“No.”

Part of the presentation talked about the heavy use of the
refuge and the effects it had on wildlife, fish, plants, and island
and shoreline erosion. One person wanted to know if the barge
traffic is being controlled by this plan. “It is not specifically
addressed, but we do make our concerns known to the Corps (U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers.)”

Dave Michniak, of Stoddard, made an impassioned speech about
forcing people into a smaller areas and taking things away. “What
then? We live here. This isn’t the big city.”

“Why not allow quiet, low pollution four-stroke boat motors in
the electric motor areas with a no-wake zone?” asked a man who said
he was a hunter and a bass angler.

Stoddard resident Bud Veal expressed concern about the
electric-only area proposed for south of the Lansing dike near
Lansing, Iowa, and Ferryville. “I have hunted there since the
1950s, and I am too old use a canoe.” He drew a round of
applause.

Gary Beck, of Genoa, asked, “You’ve done a lot to create new
islands. What about current islands we are losing?” The response,
“In Goal 3 we state we want to stabilize and maintain existing
islands, but it comes down to dollars and cents.”

Another man said, “I am touched by the government’s concern
about my safety and welfare, but reducing hunting area wouldn’t
reduce firing lines. Everywhere you put a boundary, you will have a
firing line (during duck season.) Also, I have two sons. I’d have
to pay a bundle to take them hunting for just a day (referring to
the possible daily fees per gun on Lake Onalaska). You are just
creating another bureaucracy.” The response, “I appreciate your
perspective and comment.”

Garold Becker, of the Chaseburg Rod and Gun Club’s habitat
committee, said, “Our position is that this will add new
restrictions. There are enough restrictions that are not being
enforced already. Litter on the beaches for one. I take my family
out for an afternoon on the sand bar, we bring back a bag full of
garbage. I think there may be some items in the refuge plan that
can be tweaked, but we feel that if wardens enforced existing laws,
you achieve your goals.”

Becker said sportsman are already paying enough. “We already
have Pittman-Robertson, duck stamps, and license fees,” Becker
said. The response, “P-R goes to the states for land
acquisition.”

The next guy wanted to know why USFWS personnel were not taking
any notes on citizen questions. The USFWS was video taping the
meeting. Another wanted wardens to do more about restricting glass
in the refuge.

Fred Funk, of Onalaska, said, “At my age, I can see the
importance of support. Plan D is so anti-public it will lose
support. The public has been responsible for saving the refuge from
commercial interests in the 1970s (extensive dredging) and 1980s
(pollution from the Twin Cities).” He urged all people to write
their comments because “written comments are much more powerful
than just showing up at a hearing.”

Tim Morgan, of Chaseburg, representing Ducks Unlimited urged
everyone to take a comment sheet and “put your ideas in writing.”
He also said, “I think Plan A, with adjustments, is the best idea.”
He said that when he was 12 he hunted Goose Island because of the
easy foot access. That area is now closed. “A kid can’t do that
anymore with all the restrictions and this plan makes it
worse.”

Another man who identified himself as representing the Minnesota
Trappers Association said they were opposed to the electric-motor
areas.

Alternative D is not without its supporters. One fellow said,
“With the increased use on the refuge, we at the Friends of the
Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge support Plan D.”

A woman who said she was a bird watcher said, “Tonight all I’ve
heard has been focused on, ‘My rights are being taken away.’ I’m a
birdwatcher; I care about all of the other things. If you are
concerned about leaving things for our children and grandchildren,
maybe we should be willing to give up something to keep it.”

Someone in back asked her if she was willing to pay a fee to
birdwatch, and she replied that she was.

Another man said he appreciated all the time and hard work that
has gone into the plan. “You guys are being proactive and trying to
find compromises. You are to be commended on the plan and for
listening to us.”

That comment received a round of applause, but the next speaker
said, “There are enough rules and we should be able to depend on
sportsmanship. I can’t afford $50 a day to hunt.” Then, “I wonder
about the misuse of funds when I see all these $40,000 white
(USFWS) trucks parked outside.” The moderator asked if he favored a
managed hunt, and he said, “No!”

Funk made a comment near the end of the hearing. “We all agree
there are problems, but we don’t agree with your solutions.” He
called for a show of hands for those who supported Plan A (to
maintain the current plan) and most of the assembled 200 or so
raised a hand. He added, “The sportsmen here can be your biggest
ally.”

Written comments on the four management plans can be mailed to:
Upper Mississippi River NW&FR, Attn: CCP Comment Room, 101 51
East Fourth Street Winona, MN 55987.

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