WI: Plans for Sandhill, Meadow Valley and Wood Co. tabled

Madison – The Natural Resources Board (NRB) voted to delay
adopting the master plan for 90,000 acres comprising the Sandhill,
Wood County and Meadow Valley wildlife areas at its Oct. 26
meeting.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented its report on
the draft master plan, which calls for future expansion of 1,668
acres at Sandhill, 481 acres at Wood County and 364 acres at Meadow
Valley. The proposal has received favorable responses at public
meetings and DNR asked the board for approval.

But following the presentation about the three properties, NRB
member Bill Bruins asked what the projects cost DNR to operate, and
whether it was wise to expand the areas when DNR can’t manage all
of the land it has now.

Neal Paisley, DNR manager of the three areas, said that the DNR was
identifying potential expansion of valuable areas and would only
buy from willing sellers.

NRB member Christine Thomas added that there is a huge demand for
public hunting land, and these new areas will provide public
access.

NRB member Terry Hilgenberg asked the board to defer action on the
item to have more time to review this plan. He noted that the plan
is important because it encompasses 15 percent of the DNR’s
wildlife land holdings.

Discussion from board members noted that a master plan was just an
overview and there had already been ample public input and any
major concerns would have surfaced already.

Hilgenberg pressed his point, telling the board chairman that he
disagreed. “We need to have open discussion and I cannot vote for
it without fully understanding what’s in the plan.”

Hilgenberg’s motion to table the plan passed 6 to 1, with NRB
member Jane Wiley voting no. Board members will tour these wildlife
areas in early November and the plan will come back to the board in
December.

Discussion on whether to approve the plan brought out two related
concerns:

• The deer herd is very low on public land, and NRB member Greg
Kazmierski said that there would be merit in issuing deer tags for
private land and for public land;

• NRB member Preston Cole said he heard several themes in the
board’s concerns, including purchasing agriculture land and putting
it toward wildlife habitat, and purchasing more land when the DNR
did not have the resources for managing its current holdings. He
thought the board needed a road map to help address these
concerns.

Bruins said Cole’s observations are right on.

Cathy Stepp, DNR secretary, said she has been “chewing” on these
things since last spring.

“The fundamental question is what is our definition of management?”
she said. “That will drive what our staff levels are. The agency
has been woefully neglectful of doing master planning of properties
purchased with Stewardship over the last several decades, but it is
not the staff’s fault. The planning folks have worked
tirelessly.”

She also said she picked up on the theme that when there are
problems with current lands they need to be more concerned about
that, while also being vigilant of special properties.

More board concerns

When board members had a chance to bring up their own issues,
Kazmierski said he is concerned that DNR committees, except the
turkey and deer committees, don’t have representation from outside
of the DNR. He thought that outside input would eliminate hard
feelings.

NRB chairman Dave Clausen said the new federal budget does not
include any money for depopulating infected deer farms. He is
concerned this may drive CWD disease underground and would like an
update on how it will affect Wisconsin’s CWD control
programs.

He also noted that in August the DNR received a letter from the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of 75 pollution deficiencies.
He said the DNR responded to the complaint only one day prior to
the Oct. 14 deadline. Clausen is concerned about some of the
response content. He said the EPA could pull the state’s ability to
issue permits, and that would be expensive for businesses. He wants
board members to review the correspondence before discussing that
topic in the future.

Stepp said that the DNR leadership team is in place, with new
regional directors in Green Bay, Milwaukee and Madison. She said
that in addition, 30 positions were filled with transfers and 16
new employees were hired, almost half of whom previously worked as
limited-term employees.

Stepp also said that proposed legislation about streamlining DNR
regulatory efforts have come from DNR staff members and were not
stirred by proposals about mining. Stepp said they have encouraged
staff members to suggest improvements without changing
standards.

The board also:

• Allowed public hearings on extending the commercial whitefish
season on Lake Michigan;

• Accepted the donation of $35,000 from the Friends of the Kettle
Moraine for a trail shelter in the Kettle Moraine State Forest
Northern Unit;

• Approved an agreement with the Friends of Crex, Inc., to donate
$68,200 for a wildlife educator at Crex Meadows Wildlife
Center.

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