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Monroe County citizens tackling climate change
Rekumani speaks in Sparta
HO-CHUNK NATION mem-ber and Monroe County citizen Rekumani, and Kristin Pomykala, kicked off the presentations at the recent ‘Lets Talk Climate’ event with a discussion of the ‘Rights of Nature’ movement. Rekumani, who chose not to sit above the audience on the dais while talking, has been active in the Ho-Chunk Nation to pursue an amendment to the nation’s constitution recognizing the rights of nature.

SPARTA - The Monroe County board and many county citizens have taken a bold stand in accepting that climate change is happening. The county board recently passed a climate change resolution and formed a task force to jump start their county’s preparedness.

“Whether or not we all agree that climate change is happening, most in the county agree that the large rainfalls and floods our area has been experiencing in recent years is much greater than we’ve experienced in the past,” county citizen Andrea Hansen said. “The rainfall in late August of 2018 which breached three flood control dams in our county and flooded the Coon Creek, and Little LaCrosse and Kickapoo River watersheds has provided us all with undeniable evidence that we are facing a new normal.”

Hansen works with a recently formed citizens group in the county called POWER (Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources). Their activities were galvanized after the Monroe County Board voted unanimously in September 2019 to pass a ‘Climate Change in Monroe County’ resolution, and formed a Climate Change Task Force (CCTF). POWER is dedicated to building awareness and taking action on climate change. 

The group held a ‘Lets Talk Climate Crisis and Monroe County’ event at the American Legion Hall on Sunday, Nov. 17. The event drew almost 60 citizens, and offered a speaker’s panel and information tables from 10 different citizen action groups.

Rights of Nature

Ho-Chunk Nation member and Monroe County citizen Rekumani, and Kristin Pomykala, kicked off the presentations at the event with a discussion of the ‘Rights of Nature’ movement. Rekumani, known to some as Bill Greendeer, is a member of the Deer Clan. He has been active in the Ho-Chunk Nation to pursue an amendment to the nation’s constitution recognizing the rights of nature.

“I believe that ecosystems, natural communities and species within the Ho-Chunk Nation territory possess inherent, fundamental and inalienable rights to naturally exist, flourish, regenerate and evolve,” Rekumani said. “We are all related to each other, to the trees, to the water, and to all of the life on the planet.”

Rekumani said that he has been encouraged by Monroe  County’s efforts to take proactive action to respond to the threat of climate change. If the Ho-Chunk Nation were to pass the constitutional amendment proposed by Rekumani, they would be one of the first tribes in North America to do so.

So far, Rekumani has succeeded in convincing the Ho-Chunk Nation General Council to recommend the constitutional amendment to members of the nation at their September 18 meeting. On December 18, they will ask the nation’s legislature to establish a Rights of Nature working group. The next step after that will be a vote by the nation’s membership about whether to adopt the proposed constitutional amendment.

Rekumani described the ‘Rights of Nature’ constitutional amendment that had been passed by the nation of Ecuador. Ecuador was the first country to recognize Rights of Nature in its Constitution, ratified by referendum of the people of Ecuador in September 2008.

The new Ecuadorian Constitution includes a Chapter:  ‘Rights for Nature.” Rather than treating nature as property under the law, ‘Rights for Nature’ articles acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.  The people of Ecuador, as a result, have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems.  The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.

“People are winning lawsuits in Ecuador using their constitutional amendment,” Rekumani explained. “Nature must be seen as a sacred gift from the creator, and not as a resource or property.”

Sparta Earth Club

Kristin Clark, a senior at Sparta High School, spoke to event attendees about a program the school’s Earth Club started to deal with the school’s food waste. The program employs a recycling system in the school cafeteria to reduce non-recyclable materials, recycle all recyclable materials, and convert all of the food waste from the cafeteria into a valuable gardening input.

The ‘Kompost for Kids’ program uses a dehydrator device called the ‘Ecovim 250,’ a commercial food dehydrator than can handle the quantities of food generated by commercial foodservice operations. The end product can be used as a soil amendment suitable for use in landscaping. The system is capable of reducing compostable waste weight and volume by 83-93 percent. 

The Earth Club sells the odorless output as a gardening amendment, and uses the funds raised to supply winter clothing for children is need in the school district. They are able to raise about $1,300 annually. The resulting product has a plant nutritional profile of 2.8 percent nitrogen, 0.62 percent phosphate, 0.90 percent potassium and 0.15 percent sulfur.

Every day, millions of tons of food waste are simply bagged up and dumped in a trash bin for destination to the landfill. In the U.S. alone, over 40 percent of landfill content is food waste. This food breaks down, and begins to emit tons of methane and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as it slowly decomposes. 

Composting is an excellent way to utilize food waste, but the problem is time. It takes weeks or months to properly compost food waste and it takes space and labor to do it correctly. The Ecovim provides technology which dehydrates this food waste in hours. The reduction in volume can be as high as 90 percent, leaving only 10 percent of the original mass processed. 

Other speakers

The other speakers on the panel at the event included Monroe County Town of Ridgeville Supervisor Ron Luethe; 27-year veteran of the Wisconsin DNR Dan Helsel; and Kate Beaton of Wisconsin Conservation Voters.

Task Force

Luethe, who also sits on the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force, worked for 32 years as a USDA soil scientist before retirement. He was raised on a dairy farm near Norwalk in Monroe County.

“The impacts of climate change are increasingly being recognized by citizens and governments, “Luethe said. “We need to start with our efforts at the local level, and all of the county’s citizens need to be a part of finding solutions.”

Luethe was excited to report that Monroe County has hired a land use planner, Roxie Anderson, who will help the county shape their land use plans to be prepared for the increasing effects of climate change. He emphasized that it would be especially important to have the county’s agricultural community on board with the effort.

He described the initiatives outlined in the resolution passed by the county board that will shape the CCTF’s work:

1. Implement monitoring devices (weather stations) and warning systems in real time by coordinating with emergency management and the National Weather Service. 

2. Floodplain Manage-ment – remove struc-tures/roads/crossings within the floodway that have a history of being flooded and/or under immediate threat. Define standards for building within the flood-plain.

3. Complete a flood im-pact study to identify the 100-year floodway boundary based on recent rainfall data and current land use. Focus on areas with development pressure and/or chronic flooding issues.

4. Zone to promote sus-tainable land use decisions. Improve existing enforce-ment of the shore land-zoning ordinance.

5. Enforcement of land use decisions.

6. Flood Mitigation Pro-jects – watershed manage-ment - implement/develop water infiltration, retention practices that address rainfall and runoff.

7. Promote sustainable land use policies or practices that influence state and federal legislation.

8. Climate Change Miti-gation:

• ID contributions/sources

• Establish standards for sustainable living

• Implement mitigation programs (ex. tree planting, mass transit, runoff curve number (RCN) and temper-ature balancing, agriculture – carbon sequestering prac-tices, etc.)

• Individual empowerment

9. Provide information and education.

10. Seek funding sources to implement the Task Force’s recommendations and goals.

Wisconsin DNR

WDNR’s Dan Helsel reported to the group that he was inspired when Governor Evers declared 2019 to be the ‘Year of Clean Drinking Water.

“I am interested in seeing citizens become engaged in their watersheds around issues of water quality,” Helsel said. “There are reportedly 94,000 wells in the state that are currently threatened with water contamination and I am excited to see the State of Wisconsin mobilizing around the issue.”

Helsel also reported, that as an employee of the WDNR, he is very happy that state employees are once again able to talk about the issue of climate change.

“Secretary Cole issued a directive allowing DNR staff to publicly discuss climate change which is why I am able to be here today,” Helsel said. “And Governor Evers recently signed Executive Order 3 which creates the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy which calls for the State of Wisconsin to become carbon free by 2050 and meet the terms of the Paris Climate Accord.”

Helsel reported that in the aftermath of the 15-20 Water Quality Task Force hearings statewide in 2019, he is hopeful to see legislation coming in 2020 that will help to protect Wisconsin’s water quality.

Conservation Voters

Kate Beaton, Western Organizer for Wisconsin Conservation Voters, was the final panelist to speak at the event.

“Right now, the biggest conservation issue in our state is clean drinking water,” Beaton said. “The most important thing facing citizens of our state right now is to elect people to do the important work we need to done.”

Beaton described her work on the Eau Claire City Council to spearhead a clean energy and climate change initiative in the city.

“Our City Council passed a resolution calling for a transition to clean and renewable energy by 2050,” Beaton said. “The initiative will include all of the city’s buildings, buses, and the city’s private sector homes and businesses.”

The reason the city council passed the resolution is because of the lack of federal progress and the feeling that our nation is “slipping backwards,” Beaton said. “Until recently, our state agencies could not even discuss climate change.”

Beaton said the city council’s actions inspired their energy provider, Excel Energy, to make a public commitment to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

“Local elections are very important in this work,” Beaton said. “The month of December is when we need to encourage good candidates for local elections to step forward, with elections to occur in April of 2020. We are seeing more and more of the movement to address the impacts of climate change occurring at the local level.”

Information booths

Ten different organizations had information booths at the event, simulating many animated discussions about the issues facing the county’s residents. Those organizations were:

• Monroe County Health Department, who provided information about well water quality and testing.

• CAFO Info, by Mona Kufalk. Kufalk and her neighbors have been fighting the issuance of a WPDES permit for Hawk High Dairy, a dairy CAFO operating in the Norwalk area. Kufolk and other concerned neighbors live near the dairy, and are concerned that having this farm in their community could threaten water quality in local streams and private wells. Kufolk and her neighbor have reported that their wells are already contaminated with unsafe levels of nitrate, and even after installation of a water filtration system, they won’t drink the water because “it smells bad.”

• Sand Mines Photo Exhibit by David Erickson

• Frac Sand Sentinel, Pat Popple

• ‘Making a Difference,” by Mary Von Ruden

• Ethos Green Power, Alicia Leinberger

• Indivisible-W103, by Jill McMullin

• League of Women Voters, Deb Lutjen

 • Wisconsin Citizen Action, Ben Wilson

• Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Kate Beaton