My name is Michael John Jaeger: I'm vice president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.
WSO is an active, volunteer-based, non-profit organization established in 1939.
We have over 1,400 members throughout Wisconsin. Our mission is to promote the enjoyment, study, and conservation of Wisconsin's birds.
WSO provides opportunities for all people to enjoy resident and migratory birds, while being a leading steward of, and ambassador for, Wisconsin birds.
Birdwatching is a huge activity in our state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that over 1.6 million Wisconsinites enjoy watching birds at some level.
WSO has an active Conservation Committee that keeps our membership informed of important bird conservation issues, focusing on the statewide level.
These issues can affect bird populations directly or indirectly through habitat changes. We work to analyze the issues, provide expert advice, and help develop recommended actions to reduce potential impacts to Wisconsin birds.
The golf course proposed by Kohler here in Sheboygan County is a significant enough bird conservation issue to warrant WSO's concern.
I'm going to address one part of this concern, the loss of stopover habitat for migrating birds. We will also provide comments on additional aspects of our concern. We'll provide further information about our issues in a written submittal.
Every spring and fall, tens of millions of migrating birds sweep through the Great Lakes region.
To successfully make this journey, they need spots, called stopover sites, that can provide them with critical food and shelter.
Seldom are these migration flights a one-shot deal, most are multiple-leg trips. Some of these birds may breed as far north as Greenland and the Arctic Ocean and many spend their winters as far south as Central or South America.
Loss of stopover habitats poses an on-going threat to migratory bird populations nationwide.
The Great Lakes region poses another challenge for migrating birds. The size of the lakes is a barrier to some migrating birds, while others will readily cross these large expanses. Those that do cross the lakes depend heavily on stopover sites along the shorelines.
A phenomenon known as "fallout" occurs when nighttime-flying songbirds find themselves still over the lake in the morning when their flight period ends. These birds make their way towards land to find suitable stopover habitat in which to rest and refuel. Wisconsin birders themselves flock to the western shore of Lake Michigan during spring migration to see these flocks of migrants.
Prior to European settlement, the landscape along the Lake Michigan shoreline was dominated by northern or central hardwood forests, interspersed with a mixture of wetlands, and minor inclusions of other vegetative cover.
Today, the landscape is dominated by extensive agricultural lands and human development. The forest cover that remains is generally scattered and housing developments have encroached on many of the remaining forest blocks. Those few undeveloped forest stands are the critical remnants of the migration stopover habitat that was once widespread in this region.
The DNR's Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin publication says this about the lakeshore landscape in the Sheboygan area:
"The Lake Michigan shoreline is heavily used by migratory birds of many kinds, including waterfowl, loons, grebes, gulls, terns, shorebirds, raptors, and passerines.
Many sites along the Lake Michigan shore are popular with birders because of the high diversity of birds and many rarities that can be observed there...Providing and maintaining a sufficient variety and abundance of the habitats needed by these birds is a priority conservation goal."
This publication goes on to say that one of the management needs for this lakeshore landscape is to "work with private and public partners to identify and protect additional shoreline forests, as these habitats are in very short supply, public land is scarce, and bird use during migration periods is heavy. Reforestation along some areas of Lake Michigan shoreline that are used as migratory stopover sites for land birds is generally desirable."
The area south of Sheboygan, including the state park lands, has been recognized by others as an important resource for migratory birds.
It's been identified as an Important Bird Area, or IBA, a worldwide program in which Wisconsin participates. This area was recognized as an IBA due to the extensive use by birds as on-shore migratory stopover habitat and off-shore wintering waterbird habitat.
This area has also been identified by the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative as a Tier 1 area, the highest level of significance for bird migration stopover habitat.
The golf course proposed by Kohler would result in a significant change to the existing forest communities on its 247-acre site.
WSO asks that the Environmental Impact Statement for this project include a thorough examination of the role this parcel plays as stopover habitat.
This examination should include the current condition and stopover habitat value of the Kohler parcel, the change that the proposed golf course would make to that habitat, and the regional significance of this area as critical stopover habitat in an already extensively developed landscape.