Skip to comments.State Lawmakers Challenge New Federal Regulations on Mississippi River
Posted on 03/29/2006 6:50:07 AM PST by Diana in Wisconsin
MADISON, WI (AP) -- Plans for new federal regulations in the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge may violate the Wisconsin Constitution, a group of state lawmakers contends.
Eight lawmakers from western Wisconsin - six Republicans and two Democrats - say they believe the state constitution permits only the Legislature to protect the state's navigable waters, including the portion of the refuge that falls within the state's jurisdiction. They have asked Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to draft a legal opinion addressing their argument.
"We are responsible for protecting those waters for the benefit of the public and we are without power to abrogate this trust," the letter said.
Refuge manager Don Hultman said the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government the authority to regulate national parks and refuges.
"This is property of the United States," he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked for nearly a year on a new $216 million conservation strategy for the refuge, which runs about 260 miles from southern Minnesota to northern Illinois.
The plan has been a sore spot with some river lovers, who fear it will curtail their hobbies. The proposal calls for zones in mostly backwater areas where people could use only nonmotorized watercraft or boats with electric motors instead of more noisy gasoline motors. It also calls for no-wake and no-hunting zones.
Lautenschlager, a Democrat, criticized the proposal in a letter earlier this month, saying it doesn't do enough to protect the environment and animal habitats.
Hultman countered that 78 percent of the funding for the regulations is earmarked for habitat improvement and land acquisition.
"I'd say the emphasis is certainly on habitat," Hultman said.
Lautenschlager spokesman Kelly Kennedy didn't immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment on whether the attorney general would comply with the lawmakers' request.
More than 3 million people visit the river refuge, which includes islands, channels, forests, marshes and prairies. The refuge is home to ducks, bald eagles and dozens of fish species.
A federal law enacted in 1997 calls for every national refuge to have a new conservation plan in place by 2012.
Thousands of people showed up at public hearings in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois last year to complain about parts of the Upper Mississippi plan. The wildlife service pulled it back for revisions and reissued a scaled-down version in December.
That draft features three fewer new no-hunting zones and 10 fewer electric motor-only zones. It creates six more zones where duck hunting would be prohibited - one more than the original draft - and sets up eight no-wake zones covering 10,569 acres.
The lawmakers' letter was signed by state Sens. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, and Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire, as well as state Reps. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, Lee Nerison, R-Westby, Barbara Gronemus, D-Whitehall, and Gabe Loeffelhoz, R-Platteville.
The public comment period for the proposal closed March 6. Hultman said the agency hopes to release a final plan this summer.
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