Quick Links to Conservation News

The following are links to half a dozen conservation stories that have happened recently, or are happening now around Wisconsin. These include stories of things some “citizen conservationists” are doing for causes like land conservation, and water pollution monitoring. There are also links to:

  • a Snowy Owl update, 
  • Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters updates on legislation affecting ground water and the state’s sand mining industry,
  • Followup to a train derailment and ethanol spill

Citizen Conservationists:  Private Land Owner’s Donation to a “Conservation Corridor”

For over a decade the Jim Pines family of Chicago has been a private partner in a large effort to conserve land for wildlife habitat on the Wisconsin River, not far from Portage, WI. Others in the partnership with the Pines family include other private landowners, and non-profits – the Aldo Leopold Foundation, as well as the Sand County Foundation – and government agencies – the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and US Fish & Wildlife Service. Together they manage an area of nearly 12,000 acres known as the Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area.

A view of the Wisconsin River from Ferry Bluff Hill, a few miles down river from the Pines Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area. (Photo at Wikimedia)

A view of the Wisconsin River from Ferry Bluff Hill, a few miles down river from the Pines Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Recently Jim and his wife Maggie purchased 1000 acres to add to the effort, calling it part of  “a beautiful conservation corridor,” as well as an extension of the legacy of Jim’s late father, Phil Pines. The family first purchased property in the area in 1979, and Phil Pines donated over 2000 acres to the Important Bird Area program in 2005.

Citizen Scientists: Monitoring Water Pollution in Kewaunee County

This next link, to a story in Door County’s Peninsula Pulse provides the details of a completely citizen-driven, hands-on project to monitor water pollution in adjacent Kewaunee County. Each month for the past three years, members of the group, Kewaunee Cares, have monitored water quality at 3 different rivers: the Kewaunee, the Ahnapee, and the East Twin Rivers.

Those who volunteer at their own expense, collect six samples from the 3 rivers. They date the samples, document what they’ve found with notes and photos and deliver the samples to a laboratory in Luxemburg, WI. In several weeks the group receives a report on just what’s in the water – nasty things like E. coli and nitrates.

"Welcome to Kewaunee County," in Wisconsin. (Photo at Wikimedia)

“Welcome to Kewaunee County,” in Wisconsin. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Kewaunee Cares samples specifically for these pollutants because they are the ones that are showing up in Kewaunee residents’ wells. And because – in the words of Lynn Utech, one of the founders of the group, no one else is collecting this information that could help identify Kewaunee County’s water problems.

Although this particular article does not reference the problems in the county from large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, I know from other articles that they are considered the source of much of the problem. Here is a summary of Kewaunee County’s CAFOs, By the Numbers, provided by The Pulse.

Another Season of Snowy Owl Visitors from the Arctic?

If you’ve been following snowy owl news at all, you know that the arctic-breeding Snowy Owls are generally a rare sight in Wisconsin; and that their arrival in large numbers all over the midwest and eastern United States in the winter of 2013-14 was a very rare thing called “an irruption;” and that a follow-up irruption last winter was surprising to the scientists that are studying this charismatic bird species.

Snowy Owl researchers, who are poised now to learn more about this arctic visitor (due to its increased availability), seem sure of one thing only: the complete unpredictability of these beautiful snowy birds.

Snowy Owl in flight over Hamden Slough NWR, in Minnesota in 2014. (Photo by Lee Kensinger, for USFWS Headquarters)

Snowy Owl in flight over Hamden Slough NWR, in Minnesota in 2014. (Photo by Lee Kensinger, for USFWS Headquarters)

The early arrival this year of 72 individual snowy owls in Wisconsin by November 9th, was completely beyond prediction; it was far more birds, and a far earlier arrival date than any known before here, in Wisconsin. And now, Ryan Brady, wildlife biologist for Wisconsin’s DNR, has tempered the excitement about that dramatic news with this update on Facebook: reports of snowy owl sightings since early November have dropped off drastically; and the news that many of the new arrivals had seemed to be in poor physical condition, and may have not survived.

It still is early, though, to speculate what this means for the possibility of more winter visitors, Brady cautioned on Facebook. Anything might yet happen. In addition to following snowy owl developments at the DNR’s website (recommended), you will find additional information at the website, Project SNOWstorm (also recommended!).

Conservation Voters: Keeping an Eye on Ground Water Issues

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters maintains that “staggering increases in the number of high-capacity wells” permitted in Wisconsin, threaten the state’s supply of ground water. This newspaper column describes the problem as being “at crisis levels in central Wisconsin.”

Last year, according to WCLV it’s members “took nearly 17,000 actions” – writing letters, making calls, and meetings with legislators – to defeat a bill that would have made our groundwater problems worse. “We are asking you to do that again,” says WCLV.

At their website, WCLV describes two bills being considered now:  Senate Bill 239, which they oppose, and Senate Bill 291 which needs amending to strengthen it.

Conservation Voters Support a Law to Monitor Sand Mining Sites

On their Facebook page the WLCV just announced support for a new bill to require air monitors at all frac sand mining sites. The monitors would measure dust leaving the site.

“This relatively new industry has very little oversight in Wisconsin,” asserts WCLV, adding that the few state laws that would apply to the frac sand mining industry are rarely enforced. Just five years ago Wisconsin had only a handful of frac sand facilities; that number has mushroomed to over 100 today.

A Wisconsin Train Derailment and Ethanol Spill

In early November a train derailment near the small town of Alma, WI, brought home the need for enhanced rail safety, as rail cars carry more and more hazardous cargo. This event also resulted in a spill of 18,500 gallons of ethanol into backwaters of the Mississippi River. At risk of fish kills from this, is a 300 acre backwater area within the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

Looking west over the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Looking west over the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. (Photo at Wikimedia)

There is a silver lining to an ethanol spill that differs greatly from an oil or gas spill, in that ethanol is known as highly soluble in water and will break down quickly. It will not persist in the environment. This article in the LaCrosse Tribune does a thorough job of explaining all these issues, and other potential environmental effects, as well.

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