DBA backs wetlands permitting changes
Friday, December 22, 2017
By the Dairy Business Association
MADISON, Wis. — John Holevoet, director of government affairs for DBA, testified at a hearing on Thursday in favor of changes to the permitting of projects that involve wetlands. His involvement is another example of DBA’s commitment to staying on top of important issues in Madison that affect our members. John’s prepared remarks are below.
Testimony Regarding AB 547 & SB 600 – December 21, 2017
My name is John Holevoet, and I am the director of government affairs for the Dairy Business Association (DBA). DBA represents dairy farmers, dairy processors, and allied businesses throughout Wisconsin. Our members include dairy farms of all sizes, with herds ranging from fewer than 50 to more than 10,000 cows. Through a deep commitment to advocacy, collaboration and open conversations, DBA seeks to empower our membership to lead Wisconsin’s dairy community forward.
I want to thank Chairman Horlacher and Chairman Cowles as well the other members of their respective committees for the opportunity to speak regarding AB 547 and SB 600. We support these bills. The proposed legislation has several parts, but the general thrust of the bills would be to allow more flexibility when dealing with wetlands. That is a pragmatic approach and one that will pay dividends in terms of encouraging development while also protecting the environment. For example, the focus on mitigation is likely to focus resources and attention on those areas where help is most needed or it would be most impactful.
Of the legislation’s various parts, I want to focus my testimony on changes it would have regarding the treatment of manmade or so-called “artificial wetlands.” These bills would exclude such areas from the definition of wetland and the requirements that go along with such a definition. This change makes common sense. It will also help agriculture to be more adaptable.
The bill identified “artificial wetlands” as nonfederal wetlands that were created by “human modifications to the landscape or hydrology and for which DNR has no definitive evidence showing a prior wetland or stream history.” Unfortunately, “artificial wetland” have been far too easy to create on farms. They have been the result of various drainage, irrigation, or even conservation practices. Once “created” a wetland can then become a regulatory nightmare especially for a family farm that is looking to grow in place at or near the original farmstead location.
I would like to provide an example of the challenges farmers face dealing with “artificial wetlands” now. The DBA member in question is a 300-cow dairy farm in Brown County. The farm is owned and managed by a father and son team. It is at the same location their family has farmed since 1913. They are a progressive and civic-minded farm family. They have served on different state and local boards. They are active participants in more than one conservation initiative. In short, they are model members of our dairy community. Being conservation-focused, the family installed grassed waterways to help prevent erosion and reduce runoff. They did not implement this practice because of the promise of cost-share or to receive some sort of payment. They spent the time and money necessary to install these grassed waterways because they want to be good stewards of the land and water.
As many of you know, these are challenging economic times for dairy farmers, who are facing a third year of low milk prices. To help cope with this, the farm planned a modest addition to their free-stall barn to allow them to house and milk more cows. Their plans were disrupted because of an “artificial wetland” created by one of these grassed waterways. This is a ridiculous turn of events. They were not going be disturbing a wetland as most people would think of it. They were merely going to build on part of their land, which they had previously set aside and allowed vegetation to grow on because of a voluntary desire to do better for the environment.
This example is disturbing for multiple reasons. It is sad to think of farmers having to deal with one more hurdle to them using their land in a responsible fashion to support their family. It is even worse to think about the negative message this situation sends to these farmers and others about voluntary participation in conservation practices. It actually discourages farmers from taking certain steps for conservation. We want farmers to view state and local officials working on conservation as allies, but it is hard to foster that positive relationship when issues like this arise.
AB 547 and SB 600 would prevent this particular situation from persisting and would stop it from being repeated elsewhere. Wetlands are important to the landscape. Farmers was to protect them and understand their importance, including as it relates to meeting water quality goals for which farmers and others will be held accountable. I ask you all to support these two bills because of the provisions they have to address issues farmers and others are having because of the regulation of manmade wetlands. This is just one reason to vote for these measures. I am here on behalf of just one segment of our state’s economy, but many others are also here to voice support for these bills. Ultimately, support for these bills is warranted for many good reasons.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. I would welcome any questions about my testimony that you may have.