Participants in this year’s Superior Days — a grassroots lobbying initiative focusing on northern Wisconsin issues — met with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the University of Wisconsin-Extension, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources during its first day of lobbying on Tuesday.
During those meetings, Bayfield County officials requested more DNR and UW-Extension staff to provide better oversight of a proposed hog operation. Tim Kane, UW-Extension Community Development Educator in Bayfield County, said residents fear that staff cuts to the agency will impact its ability to regulate a concentrated animal feeding operation proposed by Iowa-based Reicks View Farms. The company plans to build a hog farm for roughly 26,000 hogs in the Town of Eileen near Lake Superior.
Kane said people want to know that the DNR has adequate resources to enforce water quality standards in light of the proposed development.
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“Bayfield County has 962 inland lakes, all kinds of waters, rivers and streams, groundwater, et cetera,” said Kane. “It’s really important to our economy — recreationally, tourism, second homes, et cetera. We need to protect that. How can we get the resources from DNR to best do that is kind of the gist of the issue.”
John Gozdzialski, DNR northern region director, informed delegates that the agency received approval late last week to hire a CAFO specialist.
“But you don’t have to have a CAFO person in every county in order to do an effective job of overseeing CAFOs for instance,” said Gozdzialski.
He also noted that two staff members in Black River Falls and Wausau have been tasked with CAFO oversight ever since a position in Eau Claire was left vacant. It’s unclear where the new position would be located, although Gozdzialski noted other DNR staff in the northern region are available and capable to check on any complaints.
The proposed hog operation in Bayfield County was also a topic of concern in discussion with leaders at UW-Extension. The county requested another UW-Extension agriculture agent to assist with CAFO oversight and the region’s farming needs, including succession programs and emerging farm practices. The county currently shares one agriculture agent with Ashland County.
Extension plans to eliminate 80 positions to deal with a $3.6 million cut as part of the overall $250 million cut to UW System in the last budget. The agency announced last week that it would regionalize services, which would group Bayfield, Ashland, Douglas and Iron counties together.
Mark Abeles-Allison, county administrator, asked how the changes may factor into more assistance for county farmers.
“That’s a needs assessment process,” said Extension Dean Rick Klemme. “What is it that’s really important to the four-county area to make sure that we have adequate coverage?”
Some county leaders have expressed fear that the cuts to UW-Extension will pit counties against one another in competition for services.
Douglas County Administrator Andy Lisak said their next step is to work with other counties to establish their priorities in terms of the services that Extension would provide.
Doug Finn, who chairs the Douglas County Board, said counties will need to think out of the box more so than they have in the past.
“This is challenging times,” he said. “We might be disappointed that we’re getting so many reductions here. We need to respond to it in a professional manner so we can provide the services that our counties need.”
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