Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tell DNR not to privatize State Parks

Kohler Andrae State Park
Sweeping changes to public lands in Wisconsin may come from a request before the Natural Resources Board to change its rules and allow State Parks Master Plans to be ignored. This would open the door to private development within parks and public lands. Please read my letter below and feel free to use it as a model for your own. Letters should be sent to the two officials listed below. To read more about the issue read James Rowen’s article in Urban Milwaukee.

Dear Ms. Laurie J Ross, Natural Resources Board Liaison,

I am writing in opposition to the request for a rule change that would allow State Parks Master Plans written before 1996 to be dismissed.

As you know, this request is on the agenda for the January 24 meeting of the Natural Resources Board. Please register my opposition to the request.

Furthermore, I understand that there is an effort to close public commentary after January 19. I also oppose the rule change that would allow this to happen. Decisions like this one must remain transparent and open to public debate and input. The public has a right to a hearing on this rule change and a right to have enough time to learn the issues and to prepare responses.

The rule change that would allow a park’s master plan to be ignored would enable a private company to use State Park land. The request seems to specifically target the Kohler Andre State Park’s Master Plan, written in 1989, in order to permit a controversial golf course proposed by the Kohler Company to encroach on public park land. No part of this beautiful, ecologically important and popular park should be sacrificed to any private development.

However, a rule change as sweeping as this one would have consequences far beyond Kohler Andre State Park. It would open the door to further loss to private interests of treasured public state lands.

The Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Board ought to be the guardians of Wisconsin’s parks and public lands, protectors of the both the public interest and the natural environment. I urge you to reject this and any other request that would diminish or degrade public lands.

Send your emails promptly to Laurie Ross and Daniel Meyer. Time is of the essence.

Laurie J Ross, Natural Resources Board Liaison

Daniel Meyer, DNR Secretary

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sierra Club plans to bring Nearby Nature to Milwaukee’s inner city

A program to generate interest in the outdoors dovetails with 30th Street Industrial Corridor redevelopment

When two members of the Great Waters Group, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, offered to take me on a hike along Lincoln Creek near 35th Street I didn’t quite know what to expect. But I never would have expected to see a great blue heron. It is December 23, officially winter. The heron would have been a surprise even in summer here in Milwaukee’s 30th Street Industrial Corridor. It certainly doesn’t belong here now! I watch it rise, circle slowly over the neighborhood like a protective spirit, then slide silently off to the northeast, following the watercourse.

The appearance of the heron, although surprising in itself, represents something truly revelatory: sufficient natural habitat to sustain it in this unlikely setting. West of 35th Street the formerly channelized Lincoln Creek runs straight and narrow between rows of neighborhood houses. It’s easy to imagine the concrete that once controlled the flow of water. But we walk east—and north, where the creek bends and the greenway, now decked in wintry shades of ochre and rust, widens.

The land slopes into a shallow valley. We thread our way through tall thickets of Japanese knotweed, beautiful but invasive. Stands of trees rise on either side of the stream. When they leaf out again in spring they might even hide from view the line of black tank cars that frames the eastern horizon. The ever-present railroad still defines the industrial corridor, even as the factories have disappeared, leaving behind brownfields and blight. 

This story was published in my column at Milwaukee Magazine. Click here to read further.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Paradise Valley?

Photo by Noah Froh

Did you know there is a place called Paradise Valley in Waukesha County? Hard to imagine the origin of the name. It’s about as flat a landscape as I’ve seen anywhere in Wisconsin.

Someone tried to farm the wet soil here for a while until it proved unfruitful. The Wisconsin DNR purchased the land in 2012 and began a management plan that has been encouraging it to revert to wetland. The Bark River channel once flowed through the “valley” but the farmers diked the property and diverted the river. Now, with the dike breached, the river simply floods into the marsh.

I was introduced to the place recently by DNR wildlife biologist Dianne Robinson. She hosts regular tours of wildlife areas in Southeastern Wisconsin. The theme this time was tracking. We walked along the snow-covered roads that divide the marsh, watching for tracks along the way. There were plenty.

Larger animals, like weasels and coyotes tended to follow a straight line, taking advantage of the road just like we do. The smaller tracks of field mice, voles and the like tended to wander across from side to side. We learned to distinguish between dogs and coyotes and that the “thumb” of a mink is on the outside of its paw where our pinky is.

Robinson showed us how to measure the size of the print. People often overestimate, she said, because the impression in the snow can be quite a bit larger than the actual footprint.

We also saw sled tracks that veered off into the marsh grass. Paradise Valley is a popular spot for hunting and trapping, Robinson told us.

We saw the most tracks when we ventured out onto the frozen Bark River. However, with the thermometer reading a neat 0° Fahrenheit and wind chills approaching -15, we didn’t linger long.

The most surprising find was a cache of fish carcasses in amongst the cattails. Robinson speculated that they might have been hauled up by some predator before the water in a nearby pond froze over. More likely, she thought, the wetland dried up under them, leaving them high and dry to be picked apart by birds and passing animals.

The DNR website provides a long list of recreational opportunities for the Paradise Valley Wildlife Area. In addition to hunting and trapping they include birding, canoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, wild edibles gathering and wildlife viewing. There is even an accessible blind for hunters with disabilities. The sight lines are totally unimpeded under a sky as broad as the horizon.

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce Noah Froh, who is a student at Bennington College in Vermont. Noah, whose home is in Milwaukee, is interning with me during the winter interim period. This was our first outing together. Noah contributed the photo featured at the top of the post.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Polar Bear Plunge: A New Year's Day tradition at Bradford Beach

The deceptively brilliant sunshine was beautiful, but no match for the frigid air. The thermometer was at a near record cold, around 2°, with a wind chill reported at -22°. That did not stop the many dozens of would-be polar bears from plunging, nor the hundreds of spectators who lined the frozen shore.

Actual polar bears, of course, are well adapted to their natural arctic habitat and superbly insulated with a double layer of dense fur. The nearly naked human bodies that made the plunge into Lake Michigan’s approximately 33° water were clearly not so well adapted. While those who chose to partake entered the water bravely enough, a quick plunge left many gasping in shock.

Steam rose eerily from the warm bodies as they climbed from the water and dried off before dressing.

The spectators, by and large, were suitably prepared for the conditions. We do live in Wisconsin, after all.

The geese that were loitering out on the lake were unperturbed by the cold or the commotion.

To see more photos of the polar bear plunge go to my Flickr album