FRIENDS OF THE BLACK RIVER FOREST
Over 7 years ago, a group of neighbors joined around a kitchen table to talk about their love of the Black River Forest and the state gem, Kohler Andrae State Park which lies within it.
The forest, dunes, wildlife, and the history of the peoples who lived here continuously from prehistoric to historic times were well known. Several neighbors belonged to environmental groups and understood the impacts of development to our waters, wetlands and forests.
Friends of the Black River Forest organized to preserve the integrity of the Black River, its wetlands, the forest, and the adjoining Lake Michigan shore as an ecological whole.
The Kohler Company would like to develop its 247 forested acres along the shore of Lake Michigan into a championship golf course. This proposed course would decimate the unique features within an ecosystem containing Kohler Andrae State Park.
To make room for the greens, an estimated 75% of Kohler’s 247 acres will be clear cut—that’s 180 acres of trees, vegetation and habitat leveled.
Rare, functional wetlands will be filled, and wildlife populations will be reduced to that of an older subdivision.
Over time, thousands of pounds of pesticides and fertilizer applied over stripped land on a shallow sand-based aquifer will impact groundwater and the Lake.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources granted the necessary Wetland Fill Permit to Kohler without sufficient review of its impacts to our environment and resources. It also gave Kohler prime land from our beloved Kohler Andrae State Park in a contrived maneuver that circumvented state and federal requirements designed to preserve itfor the public.
This land, taken from residents by eminent domain in the 1960’s, has been preserved without any disturbance because of its ecological significance. It will now be razed for the Kohler golf course’s 22,500 sq. ft. pesticide mixing, and machine and fuel storage areas. Lastly, the DNR has given easements to reconstruct the entrance to the park with a rotary and cut a road going north across this prime land and into the course. Kohler-Andrae State Park welcomes over 430,000 annual visitors, making it one of Wisconsin’s most visited and popular parks.
Our group, “Friends of the Black River Forest”, challenged the DNR in 2018 and won a judgment from a state Administrative Law Judge who revoked the Wetland Fill Permit issued to Kohler by the DNR. The judge cited the incomplete review of impacts to groundwater.
Kohler has appealed this.
The state has also awarded us reimbursement of our attorney and court costs as we prevailed against the state. The DNR refuses to reimburse us for these costs.
Beyond our legal efforts to address the incomplete wetland fill permit, we have also challenged the DNR and the Natural Resources Board in court for their actions related to the land swap granting prime state park land to Kohler. After the DNR and Kohler Company challenged our standing to bring the suit, an appellate court overturned two circuit court decisions and affirmed our right to standing, particularly regarding environmental concerns.
The DNR, Wisconsin Department of Justice, and Kohler have recently asked the state Supreme Court to review this. This review is critical to the rights of Wisconsin residents to challenge a state agency’s decisions regarding our common resources.
Kohler’s land used to be within the town of Wilson, where Friends began. The Town Board had been in negotiations to have the Kohler Company complete its Conditional Use Application. The Wilson Plan Commission would have expected Kohler to subject its plan to an environmental impact study reviewed by experts. Kohler quietly arranged annexation to the City of Sheboygan to avoid Wilson’s adherence to its ordinances.
The company bought houses and installed renters in order to gather signatures needed to petition the City of Sheboygan for annexation. Furthermore, the Wisconsin Department of Administration, City of Sheboygan, and Kohler met without the Town of Wilson to create justification for this annexation of land miles from the city adjacent to the state park. The Supreme Court sided with the City. On December 15, 2020, the Sheboygan Plan Commission (now with the proposed golf course within its limits), voted against its own ordinances, without environmental review, to approve a Conditional Use permit for the Kohler course.
As we wait to see if the Wisconsin Supreme Court will affirm our legal standing in relation to the land swap, we MUST continue to educate others on the rare and necessary features of this ecosystem, before it’s too late.
Throughout our state, thousands of kitchen table activists like Friends, are fighting against those who buy and sell our resources for their own profits. Like most grassroots groups, we finance our educational efforts and pay for legal challenges through small donations, grants and brat frys.
After seven years of battle, we are still here, and the golf course isn’t. We are determined to ensure corporate power and political influence do not cause irreparable damage to this historic, one-of-a-kind ecosystem.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
The Central Wisconsin Lake Michigan Coastal Landscape
Driven by making an impact and inspiring change, our Environmental Protection Movement is always expanding our understanding of contemporary issues and developing campaigns pushing for positive solutions. Learn more about our focus below.
MIGRATORY BIRD STOPOVER AREA
This area is recognized by the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative for providing critical nesting, wintering, and stopover habitats to birds traveling Lake Michigan’s migratory routes.
ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE
Several endangered and threatened species of wildlife call this unique environment home, including the: Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle, Piping Plover, and Red Shouldered Hawk.
ENDANGERED AND THREATENED PLANTS
Many types of flora found in this area such as the Pitcher's Thistle, Dune Goldenrod, Thickspike, Prairie Dunewort, Common Moonwort, Sand Reedgrass, Clustered Bloomrape and Slender Bog Arrow-Grass have already been classified as endangered or threatened.
RARE WETLAND AND DUNE STRUCTURES
Developed over thousands of years, this area features rare interdunal ridge and swale wetlands. There are only 10 known examples of these in the state of Wisconsin. Additionally, this rare gem is the only ridge and swale wetland in Wisconsin that exist in a forest setting.
PROTECTING LAKE MICHIGAN AS A FRESH WATER SOURCE
The proposed deforestation on Kohler's land adjacent to the state park and the plans to fill in wetlands will exacerbate agricltural runoff along with golf course pesticides and fertilizers into Lake Michigan.
Besides including old growth forest the land has been described by Pat Trochell, former wetland specialist. Testimony during FBRF contested case hearing on the wetland permit issued to Kohler Company:
“While some of the property has been altered by invasive species and a pine plantation, the area in general is relatively undisturbed and undeveloped areas with upland plant communities including Great Lakes beach, Great Lakes dune, northern dry-mesic forest and northern mesic forest. Wetland communities include hardwood swamp/floodplain forest, southern sedge meadow and alder thicket. Great Lakes ridge and swale complex is a wetland upland complex found between the Black River and Lake Michigan. Interdunal wetlands are also present on both properties.
Great Lakes beach, Great Lakes dune and Great Lakes ridge and swale communities are ranked by the state as S2, meaning they are imperiled in Wisconsin due to the rarity of the plant community (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) and because they are vulnerable to extirpation from the state. Interdunal wetlands are considered critically imperiled inWisconsin (five or fewer occurrences or very few remaining individuals or acres) and globally because of extreme rarity (6 to 20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) and/ or factor(s) making them very vulnerable to extinction throughout its range. Great Lakes dune and beach communities are also ranked as S2 communities. “
INDIAN BURIAL MOUND SITES
Archeological reports through 2015 indicated that this site is home to at least one Native American Burial Mound. Additionally, an archaeological study recovered 25,186 prehistoric artifacts on the property. These rare archaeological treasures are some of the few remaining remnants of Woodland Indian history in Wisconsin. In 2018, further excavations unearthed human emains of indigenous peoples. Several burial sites were found prompting the reburial under the supervision of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. The concern of the tribes now is the fate of other remains disturbed by bulldozers.
SUPPORT OUR MISSION
FBRF works to educate the public on the importance of preserving the unique central Wisconsin coastal landscape comprised of forests, rare dunes and wetlands, hundreds of species, and Lake Michigan, a major source of fresh water. To this end we participate in educational conferences, monitor actions which threaten this ecosystem's survival, maintain a website and social media presence publishing environmental information.
Your donation helps us continue our advocacy to maintain this area as an ecological whole including Kohler Andrae State Park and our legal challenges to prevent its destruction by a golf course.
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