Sauk Prairie Recreation Area will have motorcycles and helicopters alongside rare bird species

Natural Resources Board upholds changes to Master Plan
Autumn Luedke

The Wisconsin State Natural Resources Board decided Oct. 22 to uphold the original Master Plan for the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, allowing high-impact activities to occur on the state land. The board, which serves as the policy-making entity for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, made no changes to the plan, despite considerable concern noted for the impact those activities could have on the restored prairie land.

According to Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance Executive Director Charlie Luthin, some of those activities include dual-sport motorcycles, military helicopter training, dog trialing and other undefined special events.

“It’s disappointing, but I’m not surprised at the decision,” Luthin said. “We kind of expected it. The Natural Resources Board that exists today voted that plan in three years ago. Actually, we were more disappointed with the DNR; after three years of litigation, we thought they might have said, lets add a few points in for compromise.”
The decision by the Natural Resources Board was due to an administrative challenge by the Alliance. The Board was obligated to reconsider the master plan. Although no changes were made, the Alliance is allowed to appeal the Oct. 22 decision, which it is considering.

The Alliance claims the DNR is in violation of its original agreement following the Badger Reuse Plan, created 18 years ago to serve as a guide for what the land could be used for in the future. The plan called for low-impact recreation on the land, such as bird watching, hiking and biking. When the DNR was granted the land by the National Parks Service, it agreed to adhere to the Badger Reuse Plan.

“The National Park Service approved [the DNR’s appeal to acquire the land] based on [the Badger Reuse Plan] in 2004,” Luthin said. “Now the DNR says it doesn’t feel it should be held to their promise made to the National Parks Service or the people of Wisconsin. “They set it for low impact; the DNR said they would follow through with that. Now they have a different plan with high-impact activities. That’s why we sued and hold the DNR accountable for this. Because they decided they were not going to stand by that promise.”

In addition, a lawsuit was filed by the Alliance against the National Parks Service for failing to uphold environmental laws pertaining to the portion of the Badger property transferred to the DNR. The Alliance’s appeal of the federal case against the National Parks Service was heard in May in the Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago. A decision has yet to be rendered.

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