Crex area expansion may hinge on PILT payments

By Tim Eisele Correspondent

Spooner, Wis. „ By the time the Natural Resources Board takes up
the topic of Crex Meadows expansion again at its October meeting,
the DNR should have more information for board members regarding
local officialsÍ concern about payment in lieu of taxes for the
proposed area of expansion.

At the boardÍs August meeting in Spooner, DNR Northern Region
director John Gozdzialski offered an update on the proposed
expansion of Crex Meadows Wildlife Area and Governor Knowles State
Forest.

The DNR has held a series of public meetings. From those
meetings, Gozdzialski said the department believes thereÍs a good
amount of general support in Burnett County for the proposal.

ñHowever, having said that, I can tell you that there simply is
no support for it at the township level (of local government),î
Gozdzialski said. ñThe key issue is payments in lieu of taxes
(PILT). That is the major sticking point. The other major issue is
eminent domain, but we think that will be overcome if we go on
record as saying that we only purchase property from willing
sellers.î

NRB member Herb Behnke, of Shawano, made a motion that the item
come back to the board as an action item in October. He said he
realizes there is support for the expansion, but the townships want
greater PILT payments annually for the land that was purchased
years ago under a different payment program.

John Welter, board member from Eau Claire, said the DNR must
make clear that eminent domain will not be used, and the DNR will
only enter into transactions with willing sellers. Welter also
noted that there seem to be no problems with the present PILT
system.

During the discussion, it was pointed out that payments in lieu
of taxes have no bearing on the DNR proposal, as people should talk
to their legislators if they want the old payment program
changed.

The NRB will meet Sept. 27-28 in Port Washington, but the Crex
Meadows expansion will be back on the agenda for the Oct. 25-26
meeting in Tomahawk.

Lake Superior brook trout

Steve Schram, DNR Lake Superior fisheries supervisor at
Bayfield, Bob Adair of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and
Laura Hewitt of Trout Unlimited, presented a report on the joint
Lake Superior Basin Brook Trout Plan.

The goal is to protect and improve self-sustaining brook trout
populations and their habitat in WisconsinÍs Lake Superior basin,
and a joint plan between agencies is thought to be the way to go to
restore stream hydrology, improving fisheries management and
restoration stocking.

The plan shows how stream habitat and watershed health has
changed over the years, and emphasizes the importance of forested
habitat and how complex stream channels were changed.

The plan identified priority locations for brook trout
initiatives, including the Brule, Bark, and Raspberry rivers, and
Whittlesey and Graveyard creeks.

Some initiatives include adding spawning gravel, re-exposing
historic spawning sites, establishing more restrictive angling
regulations, improving fish passage, and other activities.

ñThere are no easy fixes here. WeÍre on the right track, but it
will take time,î Adair said.

Welter was interested in the planÍs impact on splake, a cross
between a brook and lake trout, and suggested the DNR include a
photo of a splake on the fishing regulations pamphlet so fishermen
can identify them.

ïDeclining wildlifeÍ plan

The board accepted a proposal by the DNR to submit a plan to the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fund a new program to address the
needs of declining wildlife species that would keep those species
off, or remove them from, federal and state endangered and
threatened species lists.

ñThis will help wildlife species that are most at risk and
identify habitat they are associated with and where they occur
across the state,î said Signe Holtz, director of the DNR endangered
resources program.

The program will ensure that Wisconsin is eligible for state
wildlife grants of about $1 million per year from federal funding
sources.

Although Steve Willett, board member from Phillips, expressed
concern; he thought the DNR had developed a program without giving
the public a chance to comment at public hearings, but Holtz said
that letters were sent out to many public groups to allow them to
have input.

Jonathan Ela, board member from Madison, commented in support of
the program that it is not regulatory, but instead is a source of
information that will help assess the status of all wildlife
species and determine actions that might improve their
condition.

Other action

The board also adopted revised rules involving structures and
dredging in public waters that create five additional general
permits. They include pea gravel blankets; maintenance dredging of
previously dredged areas; manual dredging; jetting to harvest
aquatic plants; and dredging less than 25 cubic yards from a river
or stream.

The permits will apply to waterfront property owners, and the
DNR made the changes to provide specific standards, a shorter
permit review period, and reduced permit fees, while protecting the
publicÍs rights in navigable waters.

Board members also authorized the DNR to hold a public hearing
in Ashland to consider three changes to water quality rules to
protect the waters of Lake Superior from toxic pollutants.

The changes would extend the outstanding resource water
designation for tributaries into Lake Superior for a one-quarter
arc out from the riverÍs mouth; prohibit new or increased discharge
of nine toxic pollutants unless the polluter certifies that the
discharge is necessary after using best technology available; and
designate Lake Superior as outstanding resource waters.

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