The following letter was submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Sept. 24 by Michael John Jaeger, vice president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.
I am submitting these comments on the Draft Master Plan for the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area on behalf of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. WSO is an active, volunteer, nonprofit organization established in 1939, with over 1,400 members throughout Wisconsin.
WSO has had a long and active presence in the Sauk County area. We began purchasing land int he Baraboo Hills in 1960, which we actively manage as a natural area. Our property, The Harold and Carla Kruse Honey Creek Nature Preserve, was designated as a State Natural Area in 1971.
Our mission is to promote the enjoyment, study, and conservation of Wisconsin's birds. Birdwatching is an extremely popular activity in our state with the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimating that over 1.6 million Wisconsinites enjoy watching birds at some level.
WSO has an active Conservation Committee, which reviewed the Draft Master Plan. The committee works to analyze issues, provides expert advice, and helps to develop actions to reduce potential impacts to Wisconsin birds. The future use of the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area is a significant enough bird conservation opportunity to warrant WSO's attention and comments from its Conservation Committee.
We provided comments during an earlier phase of the master plan's development in August 2013. These focused on the unique values of the Badger site to Wisconsin's birds, along with the exceptional opportunity to increase critical bird habitat. We also expressed concerns that some of the possible recreational uses of the site could significantly degrade this opportunity.
We are very pleased that the draft master plan proposes considerable grassland and oak opening habitat management and ecological restoration throughout the property. Restoring the extensive grasslands and savannah habitats that once occupied this site would be beneficial to many rare and declining bird species.
Our previous concerns focused on possible use of Badger for ATV trails and a shooting range. We commend DNR for having excluded those potential recreational activities from the draft Master Plan. We also hope that they will not make their way back into the master plan as DNR conitues through the planning process.
The draft plan does, however, contain a seemingly "high impact" potential use which might be inappropriate from a bird conservation perspective. Dual purpose motorcycles are noisy and fast-moving, which can be disruptive to birds and other wildlife. While we would prefer to see these motorcycles entirely out of the master plan, if they are included, we strongly urge that DNR not allow their use during the breeding bird season.
WSO appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the Draft Master Plan. As a final note, we want to reiterate that the conversion of Badger to the SPRA is a unique opportunity to preserve and further enhance the remarkable grassland bird habitat at this site and we doubt the opportunity to restore or preserve a grassland of this size exists anywhere else in southern Wisconsin. Please emphasize recreational activities that are compatible with this area's remarkable resources.
The public comment period for the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area draft master plan and environmental impact statement closed Sept. 25. WDNR staff are reviewing the input received and will prepare a document summarizing these comments. This summary document, as well as all of the surveys, letters, and emails received, will be posted to dnr.wi.gov. The department anticipates that this will occur in late October.
The draft master plan includes recommendations for a variety of recreational uses on teh 3,300-acre property, located between Sauk City and Baraboo. The site comprises roughly half of the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant. Other portions of the old Badger plant have been transferred to the Ho-Chunk Nation and the USDA's Dairy Forage Research Center.