WisBusiness: Opposition grows to Mississippi River plan

By Gregg Hoffmann

LA CROSSE – Opposition to the Comprehensive Plan for the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge could lead to legal action that challenges the federal government’s power to manage the 240,000 acre refuge.

Wisconsin Atty. General Peg Lautenschlager has challenged the federal government’s power, contending that the new plan violates the state’s rights to manage shipping ways. Wisconsin legislators from districts along the refuge also have voiced opposition to the plan.

About 70 different communities are located along the refuge. Seven or eight different levels of government, in four states, are represented in that group.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of coming up with the comprehensive plan and managing the refuge. The service has held a long public review process.

The procedure for the plan started in August 2002. Since then, 46 meetings on alternatives have been held. About 4,600 people attended the meetings and workshops, and 2,438 written comments were submitted.

Some of the earlier plans sparked controversy because of additional fees and restrictions on use of the refuge. Under this final plan, closed areas, where motorized use would be restricted and at some times of the year prohibited, would increase from the current 15 to 23, although the total acreage would decrease, from the current 44,544 to 43,764.

Any formal legal action will likely take place soon, since final approval of the plan is expected in August. The next step in the planning process is a decision by the Regional Director, Midwest Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fort Snelling, Minnesota, on which alternative in the plan draft will become the final management plan for the Refuge. This decision will be made after a required 30-day minimum waiting period and recorded in a formal Record of Decision.

No public meetings will be held, although the public or agencies may provide information or comment during the waiting period.

The La Crosse Tribune ran an editorial Thursday basically saying any legal challenge to the comprehensive plan could jeopardize the refuge and make it almost impossible to manage the resource. The Tribune also is soliciting public input via its web site at http://www.lacrossetribune.com/