WisBusiness: Public weighs in on Mississippi River conservation

By Gregg Hoffmann

ONALASKA – A series of public hearings on a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge concluded Thursday night with pledges of cooperation and additional public participation.

Don Hultman, regional manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said eight public workshops to work out details of the plan will start June 13 in Winona, Minn.

“We want public input, and they have not been shy about giving us that,” said Hultman, who estimated that around 1,500 people attended the public hearings over the last couple weeks.

Public input for the plan is scheduled to end by Sept. 1. Hultman estimated that a final draft of the plan will likely not be completed until late winter 2006.

Elements of the plan, which call for more restrictive use of parts of the Refuge and some possible fees, have caused controversy at all of the hearings.

A group circulated a petition Thursday night calling for the adoption of Alternative A, one of the options in the current plan’s draft that would virtually make no changes in current practices.

The agency has put forth an Alternative D as its preferred plan, which integrates protection of wildlife and its habitat with continued public accessibility.

But, again, Hultman emphasized that none of the alternatives have yet been adopted.

“We could end up taking some parts of several of them” he said.

Congressman Ron Kind, who attended the hearing, said, “Fish and Wildlife is trying to walk the line between preserving this beautiful resource we have and public access.”

Kind said 33 million people rely on the Upper Mississippi as their prime source for drinking water. Forty percent of the migratory waterfowl in the country use it as a flyway. The refuge draws more tourists than Yellowstone Park, Kind said.

At the planned workshops, members of the public will sit down with agency officials to work out the final details of the plan. The wildlife service also will work with the Corps of Engineers and natural resources agencies from the four states that border the Refuge.

People wishing to participate in the workshops are asked to register at least three days in advance by calling 1-888-291-5719 or 505-452-4232 or sending an email to [email protected].

If a workshop reaches the capacity of 120 persons, an additional workshop will be scheduled. All workshops will run from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

A schedule of the workshops follows:

June 13 – Winona Middle School Cafeteria, 1570 Home Road
June 14 – Wabasha/Kellogg High School Cafeteria, 2113 Hiawatha Dr.
June 16 –Prairie du Chien High School Cafeteria, 800 E. Crawford St.
June 21 – Savana Illinois House of Events, 108 Main St.
June 22 – Stoddard American Legion Post 315, 414 Broadway
June 23 – Onalaska Middle School, 711 Quincy St.

For more details on the plan, and issues facing the Mississippi, see an upcoming WisBiz In-Depth.