Wisconsin senator wants DNR to pull support for Mississippi changes
Todd Richmond, Associated Press
Last update: August 04, 2006 – 7:00 PM
MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Rep. Mark Green wants the state Department of Natural Resources to pull what he says is support for a final draft of federal management plans for a national wildlife refuge on the Mississippi River.
Green, a Republican from Green Bay who is running for governor in Wisconsin, sent a letter to DNR Secretary Scott Hassett Friday warning the new regulations would mean less hunting in the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and infringe upon Wisconsin's right to govern its waters.
"I strongly believe that the DNR should be fighting to protect Wisconsin's rights and those of our sportsmen," Green said in the letter.
Hassett said in a March 6 letter to refuge manager Don Hultman the DNR supported the final draft of the regulations but had concerns over several parts of the package, ranging from habitat restoration projects to boundaries for closed refuge areas.
"We support (the plan) with the understanding that discussion of issues of concern to the Department ... will continue until resolution," Hassett wrote.
"We haven't signed off on anything and there's a substantial list of issues there," DNR spokeswoman Laurel Steffes said.
But Fish and Wildlife Director H. Dale Hall wrote in a July letter to Green that Hassett's letter amounted to support.
"The Wisconsin DNR has concurred with (the plan) in their comment letter of March 6, 2006," Hall wrote.
But Hassett, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, Green's opponent in November, said the DNR's final stance isn't due until Aug. 12.
The refuge, a collection of islands, channels, forests, marshes and prairies, stretches from southern Minnesota to northern Illinois. More than 3 million people visit it every year.
A federal law enacted in 1997 calls for every national refuge to have a new conservation plan in place by 2012. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working for months on regulations for the refuge. The drafts have been a sore spot with some river lovers, who fear the regulations could curtail their hobbies.
The Fish and Wildlife department released its final draft in July. The plan includes zones where people could use only non-motorized watercrafts or boats with electric motors; allows managers to remove rowdy campers; and sets up no-wake and no-hunting zones.
Hultman said the new plan will result in an additional 5,000 acres closed to hunting. But he stressed that not all the acreage will be closed at once all year long and that seasons in those areas will fluctuate.
He also stressed Fish and Wildlife hopes to eventually expand the refuge by 15,000 acres that officials hope to open for hunting.
Fish and Wildlife's Midwest regional director in Fort Snelling, Minn., still must sign off on the plan after a final comment period. Approval is expected by late August.
Green's letter to Hassett echoes a stance by a group of state lawmakers from western Wisconsin. The group, including eight Republicans and two Democrats, believe the state constitution sets up the Legislature as the only body that can govern the state's navigable waters, including the portion of the refuge that falls within the state.
Hultman said Fish and Wildlife believes it has ultimate control over national parks and refuges, a position Hall reiterated in his letter to Green. Hall was responding to Green's request that the state be given the chance to approve parts of the plan affecting Wisconsin.
Hall said Fish and Wildlife would help draft state rules codifying the plan's regulations to match the state's regulations, but the regulations will be implemented regardless.
"From a practical standpoint, I hope you can appreciate the chaos that would result from different refuge regulations on a refuge located in four states," Hall wrote.