Our ‘Canary in the Coal Mine’ is showing signs of distress

Throughout the 1900’s, coal miners brought canaries into mines as an early-warning signal for toxic gases. The birds, being more sensitive, would become sick before the miners, who would then have a chance to escape or take protective actions.

Kewaunee County our “canary” for Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO’s) is giving the rest of Wisconsin an early warning. Kewaunee County residents and business were told before they had 15 CAFO’s and over 80 percent of their agricultural land spread with liquid manure not to worry, they heard:

1) The promises from the CAFO owners to be good neighbors; 2) the assurances from their politicians that CAFO’s are the most regulated industry; 3) that the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection had determined proper setbacks for barns, feed storage and manure lagoons, 4) that the Department of Natural Resources approves Nutrient Management Plans (NMP) for the appropriate land spreading of liquid manure and finally; 5) from industry friendly scientist and researchers that their health would not be harmed.  They were let down by all, look to their website at www.restorekewaunee.com for their full warning.  

Now conditions in Kewaunee, have educated and enlisted the citizens in a fight to save their homes and businesses, to restore Kewaunee. They have tested streams, reported spills, attended hearings, replaced county board members, written local ordinances, sued the polluters, and petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Not to mention put up a billboard, but what they do for us, is show us the way.   

As dairy CAFO’s look to expand they have Central Wisconsin clearly in site. As pig CAFO’s look to escape a piglet killing virus in the densely packed locations in Iowa, they look to locate them at 10 mile spacing throughout Wisconsin. As water becomes scarce in other areas, CAFO owners worldwide look to exploit our resources, the word is “Wisconsin is open for Business” and it has been heard everywhere!

CAFO’s are polluters.  They convert our natural resources to their cash as quickly as possible; they create a short-lived pollution based prosperity, an illusion of prosperity. Inflicting costs in the form of environmental degradation, a cost that will be paid by future generations.

CAFO’s: Raise the standard of living for themselves while lower the quality of life for everyone else; Make themselves rich by making everyone else poor; Succeed on subsidies; Use political clout to force the public to pay for their pollution costs while maximizing their profits. 

In Fond du Lac, Crawford and Rock Counties they fight to slow the expansion.  In Dane and Door they spend on costly digesters to protect their waters from dead zones caused by blue-green algae.  

In Waushara they head to court to preserve their lakes and streams flows.  In Wood they petition their elected officials for protection of their homes and business from the clear and present danger from a proposed almost 6000 acre Dairy CAFO and the very disturbing plans for the aerial spraying of manure.  

And if you didn’t believe that this is a Statewide issue, Bayfield County recently passed a moratorium on the expansion of CAFOs in response to the plans to site a 26,000 hog operation all the way up North on the shores of Lake Superior.  

We own the water, our government does not, our legislature is merely the trustee for future generations. There has always been environmental laws, it has always been illegal to pollute.  Polluters work to crush environmental laws.  We see it in the disappearance of transparency, the public officials, the capture of the Agencies by the industries they are to regulate; and at the local level we see the end of planning and zoning laws, the reduction of public hearings and the end of public participation in decisions.

We must come together, our strength will come from our combined efforts. Our State  and governmental agencies did not protect Kewaunee and will not protect us.  We must heed the warning of the “canary” and take protective actions. We need to give our county and local officials the courage, the support and the votes to pass protective laws to preserve and protect our communities.

We will need to stand strong as our communities are threatened with litigation from the polluters. We can pay now or we will pay later, we will not avoid this cost by hoping for the best.  Kewaunee County knows this all too well.  We have an obligation as a generation, to pass on communities to our children that will provide them a future with air, water, landscapes, wildlife and public lands of the quality and beauty that were given us.

Our “Canary” has given us the early warning, time to act.

/s/ Russ Brown, Richford, WI