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Smith: Sportsmen for Wetlands initiative wells up in Wisconsin

Written by LOPPW | 02/23/2018

Smith: Sportsmen for Wetlands initiative wells up in Wisconsin                             by Paul A. Smith

What do you see when you look at a wetland?

Obstacle? Or asset?

Developers in Wisconsin have been stridently pushing their view in recent months.

To them, a marshy low spot that provides nesting for mallards and muskrats is a hindrance to progress. The sooner it can be filled the better.

They’ve backed legislation (AB 547/SB 600) that would allow filling of wetlands without even a permit.

The bills are being tweaked this week, and it’s not clear what the final versions will look like.

But a recent iteration had such bad implications for conservation that George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, called it “worst in a generation.”

The bare-knuckled punch by developers and business lobbyists would smash a hole in wetland protections established in bipartisan fashion in 2001.

The attack has not gone unnoticed.

The Wisconsin Wetlands Association, for example, issued a statement that said while it was “strongly supportive of policies that reduce red tape, promote well‐planned economic development, and protect our wetland resources … this bill achieves none of those goals.”

Testimony at a December public hearing was strongly in opposition to the bills. Representatives of every major sporting group in the state spoke against the proposals.

The issue helped galvanize a movement by those who see wetlands as a strength, not a liability.

In recent weeks, even as wetlands in Wisconsin lay frozen and still, an initiative welled up like a spring at the head of a trout stream.

It’s called Sportsmen for Wetlands.

It’s goal: to spread the word that Wisconsin hunters, anglers and trappers support policies that protect and restore wetlands.

It was formed by a coalition of Wisconsin conservationists, including the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Isaak Walton League.

In January, representatives of many of the groups discussed the idea of a joint effort to raise awareness for wetlands, said Erin O’Brien, policy programs director for the Wisconsin Wetlands Association.

“Wetlands are something all these groups value tremendously,” O’Brien said. “So we agreed to start a project that highlighted the broad range of support that’s out there.”

Sportsmen for Wetlands has started a Facebook page and has printed bumper stickers.

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“It’s a visible way for people to affiliate, to identify as a wetland supporter,” O’Brien said.

Just like the broad coalition of groups that came together to create Sportsmen for Wetlands, most polls show bipartisan support for protecting habitat in America.

The bumper stickers are scheduled to be distributed at 47 events between now and the end of April, O’Brien said, with more likely to be added.

That’s one of the short-range goals of the initiative. Longer term, Sportsmen For Wetlands could become the umbrella for proactive conservation measures.

“There’s a lot we need to accomplish for the resource,” O’Brien said. “We hope this will help us stimulate a broader dialogue going forward.”

After all the recent talk about what some Wisconsinites want to do to wetlands, it’s heartening to learn about what others want to do for them.

Sturgeon spearing: When the 2018 sturgeon spearing season begins Saturday on the Lake Winnebago system, ice conditions are forecast to be good, but water clarity is poor to fair, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Clarity on Lake Winnebago averaged 6.5 feet and ranged from 3 to 9 feet when measured on Monday, said Ryan Koenigs, DNR sturgeon biologist. If it holds, the water clarity will be the poorest since the 2006 season.

The situation was better on the Upriver Lakes, where the bottom was visible in 8.5 feet of water.

The 2018 sturgeon spearing season runs Feb. 10 to 25 or until harvest caps are reached, whichever comes first. Last year spearers registered 552 sturgeon from Lake Winnebago and 295 from the Upriver Lakes.