Your Input Needed | Conservation Congress in Wisconsin

Apr 9, 2020 | DNR, Members

Update: Voting is now closed (4-17-2020). Are you familiar with the Conversation Congress? The Wisconsin DNR explains it this way: The only statutory body in the state where citizens elect delegates to advise the Natural Resources Board and the Department of Natural Resources on how to responsibly manage Wisconsin’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Anyone in Wisconsin with an interest in protecting our natural resources has a role to play, and the opportunity to vote and comment.

Due to COVID-19 the 72 in-person hearings that had been planned cannot take place. Fortunately, the Conservation Congress has an online system in place for you to share input.

How to Cast Your Vote

The online input option will go live at 7pm on April 13th and will remain open for three days (72 hours). The link to the online input option will be on the Conservation Congress Spring Hearing webpage.                    

We invite you to explore the questions ahead of time so you can be prepared when you cast your votes between April 13-16. And, because there are a lot of questions, River Alliance would like to draw your attention to a few questions we think will be important to you.

TOPIC: Non-toxic ammunition

Questions 1-7 are all about requiring the use of non-toxic ammunition on state owned or managed lands. This will help reduce lead poisoning of wildlife.
Please vote “YES” for questions 1-7. 

TOPIC: Back Forty Mine

Question 28 asks, “Would you support the Wisconsin Conservation Congress informing the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) that the proposed Back Forty Mine Project poses a significant threat to water quality in the Menominee River and Lake Michigan?

Please vote “YES” for question 28.
(For more background information on the Back Forty project, visit our Back Forty webpage.)

Here is the explanation from the Conservation Congress Questionnaire: 

“Aquila Resources’ Back Forty Project, a proposed open-pit metallic sulfide mine, would be located on the banks of the Menominee River, which empties into Lake Michigan and is one of the largest watersheds in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Menominee River provides a unique habitat for species of special concerns such as lake sturgeon and freshwater mussels, which would be negatively impacted by discharges into the water. The potential impacts of the mine include long-term leaching of acid-producing wastes into the ground water and the river. Hazardous wastes generated by the mine would degrade water quality and present risks to human health and the environment in Wisconsin as well as Michigan. Potential economic losses including reduction in property values and loss of tourism revenue are not factored into the permitting review process. The approval of this mine will result in the irreversible loss of significant cultural resources of the Menominee Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, including Native American grave sites and other areas of historical significance.”

TOPIC: Iron River Fish Passage

Question 48 asks, “Would you support working with local conservation groups and the DNR to restore fish passage for migrating (lake run) fish to the Iron River in Bayfield County?”
Please vote “No” for question 48. 

Statement from the Wild Rivers Chapter of Wisconsin Trout Unlimited

Brule Rivers Sportsmen are proposing removal of the block of fish passage on the Orienta Falls section of the Iron River.  They have added Wild Rivers TU as a supporting organization.  We not sure how that happened, but Wild Rivers TU is not a supporting organization and should not be on the list of supporting organizations.  We have drafted this notice to be emailed to all conservation congress leadership and to be requested to be entered into the record of all conservation congress April meetings where the proposal will be presented.

The communication is necessary because we never approved being supporting partners.

The Wild Rivers Board oppose the project for the following reasons:

  1. It is our understanding that even before the Orienta Dam, there was not fish passage of Lake Superior migratory fish, so the Iron River is a rare example of a Lake Superior Tributary in which fish passage did not occur.
  2. There are wild populations of native brook trout in many tributaries to the Iron, and the integrity of these wild native fisheries needs to be maintained.
  3. We contacted the hatchery on the Iron River and there are also opposed to opening migratory passage from Lake Superior.  

Bill Heart, President Wild Rivers Chapter
Bob Rice, Past President, Wild Rivers TU Chapter

Here is the explanation from the Conservation Congress Questionnaire

“The Iron River in Bayfield County is the third largest trout stream tributary to Lake Superior. Prior to the Orienta Dam installation in 1923, anadromous (lake run) fish species ascended Orienta Falls on the Iron River. The dam failed in 1989 and was removed shortly after. A lamprey barrier was installed at that time blocking upstream migration for all species and has remained in that condition ever since.

Sporting groups including the Brule River Sportsmen’s Club, Douglas County Fish & Game League, Western Lake Superior Trollers Association, Wild River’s Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Douglas County Conservation Congress support the restoration of fish passage on the Iron River. 

A 1993 DNR Study Report estimated the anadromous salmonid run on the Iron River would annually increase Wisconsin’s Lake Superior anadromous fishery by nearly 29% and contribute an estimated $300,000 to the local economy. Four of the five goals outlined in the draft Lake Superior Fishery Management Plan directly relate to restoring fish passage for anadromous fish:

  • Protect, maintain and improve the diversity and connectivity of tributary coastal and main lake habitats of Lake Superior’s fish community.
  • Work with stakeholders to identify and implement strategies that protect, support and enhance the diversity, sustainability and viability of the Lake Superior fishery for state and tribal sport, commercial and subsistence fishing.
  • Develop, evaluate, and implement strategies to maximize the resilience of Lake Superior fisheries through controls, management and mitigation of future threats.
  • Identify strategies to coordinate with stakeholders to improve Lake Superior fisheries.

However, removal of the barrier would open 186 miles of tributaries to Lake Superior. There is concern about the potential spread of aquatic invasive species (particularly VHS) with alteration of the barrier (VHS is currently found only below Orienta Falls Dam). The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and other partners and stakeholders would need to be consulted with any potential modifications to the barrier. USFWS has expressed concerns due to the proximity to the Iron River National Fish Hatchery.

Currently, there are healthy populations of brook trout in the headwaters of the Iron River and downstream brown trout become more abundant. The possible impacts on these populations would need to be assessed prior to alteration of the barrier. The Wisconsin DNR recently released the Fish Passage at Dams Strategic Analysis that would be used in any decision-making process.” 

Please reach out anytime with questions.
Email: [email protected]