Habitat Destruction Begins at Home (Why, Mr. Kohler? Part 2)

Naturalist Jim Buchholz is worried about the wildlife in and around Kohler-Andrae State Park.  Before retiring in 2013, Buchholz had served as superintendent of Kohler-Andrae for twenty-five years. On May 11, he took a group from Sierra Club and Friends of the Black River Forest  on a tour of some of the rare dunes at Kohler-Andrae as part of Wisconsin Loves Parks day.

Sandhill cranes flew overhead while bluebirds built their nests in the white pines. The landscape appeared pristine and untroubled, and Buchholz was clearly an expert on it.

But it’s also clear that many species of animals and plants are endangered by Kohler Company’s desire to impose an eighteen-hole championship golf course on this wild landscape. State surveys, Buchholz said, already contain “a whole list birds that are of special concern.”

Recently, Buchholz and I were able to have a more in-depth discussion of the animals and plants that will be impacted by Kohler Company’s plan to build a championship golf course north of the Park.

Let’s Start with the Birds . . .

Making their homes in Kohler-Andrae and the area to the north are 200 species of birds. Seventeen of those species are hawks or birds of prey.  “All the owls of Wisconsin are in that area,” Buchholz said.

Among the birds that currently have habitats in the area are the boreal chickadee, ruby-crowned kinglet, black-throated warbler, and the Connecticut warbler, the wood thrush, and the hooded warbler.

“The big thing” Buchholz said, “is the resting areas for the migrating birds. Almost any bird species that migrates through Wisconsin can be observed” in the park and on the Kohler land north of it. The area is a “really important resting area for birds in migration,” Buchholz said.

Buchholz is particularly worried about the whippoorwill. “They used to be more common, but they’re declining in a big way all over the nation . . . especially in Wisconsin. They nest on the ground, so they like brushy areas to rest in . . . woodland areas with brush.”

When Buchholz was superintendent and lived at the park’s official residence, located along the northern border of the park and on the southern border of the Kohler Co. property, he observed many of the 17 different hawks and eagles that inhabit the area. “The Red-shouldered hawk, which is now threatened, was found there,” he said, along with peregrine falcons and Cooper’s hawks. A bald eagle nested on the lake shore.

Plants are part of wildlife too . . .

“There are quite a few threatened [plant] species in that area that we know of,” Buchholz said. “The main ones closer to the lake that will be destroyed by the expanding [golf course] greens are the dune thistle, the sand-reed grass, and the marram grass.” Also in trouble, Buchholz said, are the clustered broom rape and the dune goldenrod.

Kohler Company plans to build a golf course on the rare wetlands on its property, and to clear-cut a 200-year old forest, severely impacting the habitats for wildlife.

“We do have a threatened species in the park,” said Buchholz. “The Blanding’s turtle, a state threatened species that lives in the park and on the Kohler land comes out of the river marsh to lay [its] eggs.”

But the turtle is not the only amphibian that would be impacted by removal of the wetland. “The spring peepers, the green frog, the wood frog,” would all lose habitat, “and then we’ve got blue spotted salamanders and the tiger salamanders – they’re going downhill too, they’re not doing well in Wisconsin,” Buchholz said. “And with so many trees going down, the gray tree frogs, you have to consider, would be displaced.”

And lastly the mammals . . .

“We’ve got all the regular, common [mammals].,” Buchholz said. “There are a lot of deer in that area, and no hunting has been allowed in that area forever,” but Kohler Company will be forced into “trapping and shooting deer cause their gonna ruin their greens.”

And of course, the park and the Kohler land also contain rare mammals – the grey fox, a woodland species, lives in the wooded areas. Badgers are found in the park and on the Kohler land. “On the Black River, otters come through as well.”

The area, says Buchholz, is home to literally hundreds of species.

And the forest . . .

“That’s a mature area that has not been logged out. Some of those trees are 100 or 200 years old,” Buchholz said. “There are red oaks and a few white oak, and red and white pine native to the area and growing there,” as well as the “American beech, which only grows in eastern Wisconsin.”

And one last thing. “Besides cutting down trees,” Buchholz said, “they’re not going to be able to grow grass on sand. There is no soil there (in the Kohler-Andrae area), so they [will] have to bring in all the black soil to make the greens.”

Dumping black soil on sand, growing grass on rare coastal dunes, treating that grass with Roundup. Does that sound like a good plan for your State Park and a rare wetland?

Why Doesn’t Kohler Get it?

Plant and animal species are disappearing at a faster rate than at any time in recorded history. Many people say that the “sixth great extinction” is now upon us. As a result of climate change and the destruction of their habitats by development, millions of species are currently at risk around the planet.

“Most of the causes of this carnage seem familiar: logging, poaching, overfishing by large industrial fleets, pollution, invasive species, the spread of roads and cities to accommodate an exploding global population, now seven billion and rising,” said a recent New York Times editorial.

And now we have a new culprit: golf.

The New York Times editorial focused, as these discussions tend to do, on large-scale, global destruction. But the species and habitat destruction taking place on this planet today are not just happening in Indonesia and the Brazilian rainforest, though it is tempting to think so, to worry about the things we know we cannot change, when right here in Wisconsin, the same thing is happening. And we could change that.

We here in Wisconsin need to understand one important fact: habitat destruction begins at home. Some of those disappearing species are disappearing right in our own backyard. We are part of the climate disruption in our state. And we can act to prevent further destruction. The proposed Kohler golf course must not happen. The Kohler land must be preserved.

Next up: Whistling Straits was a disaster, so let’s go build another one? (Why, Mr. Kohler, Why? Part 3)

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