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Riverway Board goes to six-meeting format
Lower Wisconsin River
Dec 2022 to Jan 2023 flow on Lower Wisconsin River
RIVER FLOWS are normal for this time of year, according to Mark Cupp, who shared that the Muscoda gauge is currently ‘iced up,’ and so not reporting.

LOWER WISCONSIN RIVER - The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board voted unanimously at their January 12 meeting to move to a six-meeting-per-year format for 2023. The decision came after a serious discussion of board member’s needs, ability to provide timely review of permit requests, and virutal options at meeting facilities.

“The options in front of us are to continue with monthly in-person meetings, hold monthly in-person meetings with a virtual option, go to bi-monthly in-person meetings, bi-monthly in-person meetings with a virtual option, or bi-monthly meetings with board field trips on the months where a meeting isn’t held,” LWSRB Executive Director Mark Cupp told the board. “We also need to decide if we will continue to ‘take our show on the road,’ holding meetings in different venues up and down the Riverway.”

Board member Randy Poelma asked Cupp if the board would be able to conduct operations committee site visits if the meetings moved to bi-monthly with a virtual option?

“I think we could incorporate in-person operations committee site visits as-needed, depending on the permit applications,” Cupp responded. “It’s still to-be-determined, but I envision the board field trips as occurring under the auspices of the operations committee, in a public meeting format that would be noticed and open to the public.”

Board member Lara Czajkowski-Higgins told Cupp that her sense was that he was recommending bi-monthly meetings because monthly meetings are not needed. She asked if all the board field trips would be scheduled during the day, Monday through Friday, or if some could be scheduled for weekends?

“I suggest bi-monthly meetings in order to be respectful of board member’s time,” Cupp said. “As far as holding some field trips on weekends, that would be a possibility.”

Board member Meredith Beckman stated that she supported continuing to hold meetings up and down the Riverway.

“I think there’s a value in holding our meetings in different locations in the Riverway as it gives board members a chance to see different places and interact with the public,” Beckman said. “I think bi-monthly meetings would be fine.”

Board member Lara Czajkowski-Higgins moved to move to a bi-monthly meeting schedule in the odd months, with a virtual option, scheduled in locations up and down the Riverway as much as possible. Board member Randy Poelma seconded the motion.

In addition, board member Dan Hilberry moved, and board member Kim Cates seconded a motion to hold four-to-six board field trips, in even months, on the second Thursdays of the month and on weekends from time to time. The board voted unanimously to pass the motion.

Climate resilient forests

The featured speaker at the meeting was former Riverway forester Brad Hutnik. Hutnik currently serves as a Wisconsin DNR (WDNR) Forest Ecologist/Silviculturist.

Hutnik delivered an address entitled ‘Driftless Area Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change.’ The talk discussed a multi-state project researching how best to respond to current and future impacts of climate change on forest resources. The project is led by Miranda Curzon of Iowa State University, with Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin DNRs, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS), United States Forest Service (USFS), and Colorado State University as partners.

“Part of this long-term research project will take place in the Riverway, looking at ways to make our forest resources more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” Hutnik explained. “Our goal is to determine best practices to respond to change, tweaking management while still providing ecological, economic and cultural benefits.”

Hutnik pointed out that the teams from Iowa and Minnesota are predominantly DNR staff. He said that Wisconsin had taken a different tack, pulling in partners from a broader spectrum within the state. Wisconsin research team members include the Kickapoo Valley Reserve executive director, Ann Calhoun of The Nature Conservancy, Brandon Bleuer, Ho-Chunk Nation forestry manager, John Withers, a procurement forester, as well as three additional WDNR staff.

Why should we care?

Why should we care about climate change impacts on our forest resource in the Driftless?

Hutnik answered that question, detailing the benefits provided to Driftless Region citizens from healthy forests.

“Degradation of our forest resources has potential to negatively impact recreational opportunities, economic opportunities, and our natural communities could also suffer,” Hutnik explained. “Driftlesss Area forests help to deliver cold, clean water to our cold-water fisheries, and warming waters could threaten brook trout survival. Anyone who wants to pass the resource on to future generations should be concerned about climate change.”

Projected climate change impacts on Wisconsin’s forests include longer growing seasons, carbon dioxide fertilization, increased droughts and extreme weather, less frozen ground, increased fire risk, species range shifts and generally, increased stressors.

Adaptation options

Hutnik said the framework for management solutions to the impacts of climate change on the forest resource can be broken down into three options – Resistance, Resilience and Transition.

“Resistance involves tweaking current management to promote forest persistence. Resilience will involve incorporating observations and the science to begin to use what we have learned to make the resource more resilient in the midst of unpredictability and increasing changes,” Hutnik said. “Transition will involve taking steps to stabilize the resource according to the new ‘normal’ conditions.”

In the course of these management shifts, the resource is expected to move from an ecosystem that is still recognizable as being the same as is currently in place to an ecosystem that has fundamentally changed to something different.

“The list of anticipated climate change impacts shouldn’t be seen as ‘bad,’ but rather ‘different,’” Hutnik said. “Obviously, there are lots of unknowns and that is the reason to be proactive in trying to get out in front.”

Hutnik explained to the board that in coming years, they could expect to see permits for removals, and for treatments involving invasive species control, prescribed burns, underplanting and timber sales. He said there will be four research sites in the Driftless, each 10-acre plots, for a total of 40-acres.

In other business

In other business, the board

• learned that Prairie du Chien will celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Marquette and Joliet journey of discovery in 2023. Upcoming events include the ‘Fete du Voyageur’ fundraising event on February 18, and the larger event scheduled for June 16-18

• learned that Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) would hold their annual meeting on Saturday, Jan. 21, from 4-6 p.m., at Grandma Mary’s Café in Arena

• learned that both Gigi LaBudde (Sauk County) and Lara Czajkowski-Higgins (Crawford County)  seats expire in May of 2023, and that both have expressed interest in re-appointment to the board

• learned that LWSRB staff, working with their information technology support, was purchasing equipment to upgrade sound capabilities for virtual meetings

• learned that due to very cold conditions on the Winter Solstice, turnout was very light for the observance at Frank’s Hill

• learned that river flows are normal for this time of year, and that the Muscoda gauge is currently ‘iced up,’ and so not reporting.