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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

June 2003

Readers Write

Keeping up on energy
Running on the marsh
Saving small spaces
The Writer and the River Rat
Rabbits and dogs
Green car washes
Controlling polluted runoff

Keeping Up On Energy

I read with interest your fine report on energy options in the December issue (The complex business of keeping the lights on, followed by A fresh look at energy in February 2003). In the '70s and early '80s I conducted research on energy issues in West Germany, including protest of power plants and lines, public participation in making decisions about siting energy facilities, and also energy conservation measures. But I have not kept up to date. Your article helped me.

Given the issues current and emerging in Wisconsin and neighboring states about siting energy plants, and the production and consumption of electricity, your article were certainly important ones.

Prof. Luther P. Gerlach
Blaine, Minn.

Running On the Marsh

This fall I was in a muskrat swamp waiting on ducks. I was near a muskrat house when I saw one of Wisconsin's most unique mammals, a water shrew. It would dive down into the water and pop back up to the surface just like a cork, then run on top of the water like a water skipper.

I looked it up in books and found very little. Did you ever do a story on the water shrew? Where can I find any information?

James Mattson

We will surely prepare a nature column about this industrious shrew (Sorex palustris) with the hairy, webbed toes that swims underwater for about 45 seconds and then pops back to the surface.

Saving Small Spaces

In a recent issue, I learned that the State Natural Areas purchase remnant natural areas to protect them, but most of these areas are larger tracts of rural land. Is there an agency or program that would be interested in saving much smaller areas within cities or suburbs? There is an area of land for sale for development in my community that is a beautiful wooded home to many animals. There could be important species of birds, salamanders and other small creatures that could be saved and provided for.

Susan Dragieff
Oak Creek

We posed your question to Thomas A. Meyer, who heads our program to preserve State Natural Areas involving private properties. Here is his advice:

"It's true that the State Natural Areas Program focuses on larger tracts of Wisconsin's native landscape containing the plants, animals, and natural processes that are indicative of pre-European settlement times. Though many parcels of "natural" land are found in urban environments, it's often difficult to protect them from the spread of exotic plant species, wandering cats and dogs, and overuse by humans. However, that's not to say small urban natural areas aren't important or aren't worth protecting. Many harbor remnant populations of rare species, afford critical refuge for urban wildlife and migrating birds, and provide important green space for communities.

"Today's cash-strapped communities are often unable to purchase new parkland, especially if the land doesn't provide opportunities for multiple recreational uses such as soccer fields and playgrounds. It may be worth a try to work through the local community bureaucracy: alderperson, parks department, etc.

"The best course, though, might be to enlist the help of a land trust. Land trusts are non-profit organizations that protect land; usually in a defined geographic area, and typically for a specific purpose (preserving farmland, protecting natural areas). The land trust movement has exploded in Wisconsin in the past few years. There are now nearly 70 different private organizations devoted to buying and protecting land in our state. Some – like The Nature Conservancy – work statewide, others – like the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust – focus on protection in a small area such as a county or watershed. The Gathering Waters Conservancy is an umbrella organization that provides support to Wisconsin's land trusts. Gathering Waters, has contact information for all land trusts operating here. A few of the trusts working in the Milwaukee area including the Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy, Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers, and the Urban Open Space Foundation. To find other groups with interests in Oak Creek, contact Gathering Waters Conservancy, 211 South Patterson St., Suite 270, Madison, WI 53703, phone number (608) 251-9131."

The Writer and the River Rat

The February 2003 issue was just great, full of information and interest. The first article by Mary Kay Salwey (And the plot thickens) made so much sense and was easy to perceive. When I started reading the fifth paragraph about her husband and their acreage in Buffalo County, the light didn't go on, but when I turned the page, there he was, "The Last River Rat" in his domain. What a great little book it is (The Last River Rat by J. Scott Bestul and Kenny Salwey, profiled in our February 2002 piece Off the rack.) What if Mary Kay wrote articles about their wealth of knowledge of Wisconsin's resources, once in a while anyway?

James C. LaPinske

We agree. As DNR's State Wildlife Educator, Ms. Salwey writes, draws, teaches and works with a team of DNR wildlife educators and interpreters to help the public appreciate wildlife and foster more wildlife habitat throughout Wisconsin. Ms. Salwey is a seasoned outdoorsman, trapper and now an educator. Another story by Ms. Salwey is in the works for late fall.

Rabbits and Dogs

I enjoyed the February story Adolescents, beagles and cottontails, and got this information about a group Rabbits Unlimited that formed in South Carolina to encourage local chapters of hunters who care about both "beagling" and hunting. (P.O. Box 186, Abbeville, SC 29620). Maybe it will spark an interest in other rabbit hunters to start local chapters. I think they have a good idea.

Jim Fonville
Marietta, Ga.

You can surely find groups close to home as well. Several Wisconsin beagle clubs and rabbit hunting groups can be found in Internet searches of "Wisconsin beagle clubs," Wisconsin dog field trial groups, and through the site Beagles Unlimited.

Green Car Washes

I was very pleased to read the article about car care in your February article on curbing runoff in towns (Slow down in town, February 2003). As the owner of two self-service car washes, I educate customers about the benefits of using such washes. Not only is runoff controlled at commercial car washes, but also the water, detergents, gunk and grime go into a holding pit. The solids are collected regularly and disposed of by certified haulers. The water goes into a sanitary sewer where it can be properly treated before being released. Studies have also shown that people typically use less water washing cars at self-service car washes than when washing their cars at home with a garden hose.

Thanks for addressing the issue of car washing as it relates to our environment.

Chris Klar

Controlling Polluted Runoff

I enjoyed reading Where the law meets the land, by Natasha Kassulke in the February issue. My father is a conservationist in Rusk County and fights issues like this every year that concern groundwater pollution and damage from runoff. Although I don't live in an urban area with lots of blacktop and concrete, our area has the same issues and I believe that public education about groundwater and runoff management is needed. Many citizens don't know what is going on beneath their feet. Others may know, but don't understand the methods of going about managing these problems.

These new federal and state laws to curb runoff may help shape the future and I agree with Natasha that "We can change how cities and land look for the better."

Aaron Kunstmann
New Auburn


Energy Plans

The Wisconsin Environmental Initiative (WEI) won praise for its report, Environmentally and Economically Sound Energy Strategies: Recommendations from the Energy Forum Working Group, described by the Wisconsin State Journal as "a 30-page roadmap for lawmakers that showed how it's possible for Wisconsin to have abundant supplies of electricity without sacrificing quality of life or relying on polluting technology." The report is available at Wisconsin Environmental Initiative.

The report highlights many of the same issues raised in our December 2002 and February 2003 articles on energy innovation worth considering as Wisconsin plans future energy needs. A similar forum on developing sound environmental policies was hosted March 17th to explore ways to sustain both a healthy environment and robust economy.

Bird/Tower Collisions

In March the Forest Conservation Council, Inc., American Bird Conservancy and Friends of the Earth filed suit in a federal appeals court stating that the Federal Communications Commission illegally approved communications towers that serve as death traps for millions of migratory birds (see our February 2000 story Battered by the airwaves.). The lawsuit claims 4-60 million birds die each year crashing into the country's 60,000 communications towers that are at least 200 feet high.

This particular suit focuses on 5,800 towers built on the Gulf Coast since 1996 on the 100 miles between Port Isabel, Texas to Tampa, Florida along a major bird migration route. Litigants said following U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines to keep towers lower than 200 feet, minimize lighting and support wires and avoiding siting towers in wetlands and floodplains could mitigate bird deaths.

Spokespersons for the Personal Communications Industry Association say the wires provide "safety and support," lighting must comply with federal aviation rules and both locations and tower heights aim to provide adequate cell phone coverage.

PBDE Testing

The blood of 12 central Indiana mothers and their infants has relatively high levels of PBDEs, chemicals used in flame retardants, said researchers at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs in a study released in March 2003. (See our February 2003 story A smoldering issue.) The study released in Environmental Health Perspectives found that polybrominated diphenyl esters (PBDEs) were present in maternal and newborn blood at levels 20 or more times greater than those found in studies of Scandinavian mothers and infants. The Scandinavian studies sparked international research to document the spread of these flame retardant residues in air, water, soil and aquatic habitats.