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Cull the herd PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 17:30

It’s time to act to control the exploding deer population and the harm it brings to other species—plants, animals and humans

On one day last week six mangled carcasses of deer were counted on the roadside of northbound I-43 in the eight miles between Port Washington and Belgium. It is safe to say that many more traffic-slaughtered deer littered other stretches of highways and rural roads in the area on the same day.

    We hope the animals didn’t suffer, but we know the humans involved in these collisions did, if not with physical injuries, then with financial wounds. Every one of those deer fatalities represented a trip to the body shop and a bill for motor vehicle owners and insurers to pay.


    More than $4 billion in vehicle damage is caused by collisions with deer in the U.S. each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. More than 200 people a year are killed in those collisions.


    The numbers and the highway gore speak of the takeover of urban and suburban spaces by wild animals that should be living in Wisconsin’s vast areas of forest lands that are virtually uninhibited by humans, but they only begin to tell the story of the costs imposed by the deer herd that has settled on human turf.


    Here’s more of the story: Agricultural crops are plundered, gardens are destroyed, landscaping—the plants and trees in which homeowners invest money, toil and pride to beautify their yards—is maimed, cedar tree varieties in natural areas are shorn of branches to the height of a browsing deer depriving other animals of necessary habitat, Lyme disease is spread to pets and humans by ticks that infest deer.


    The way things usually work in organized society is that when a problem as obvious and serious as this one appears, an effort is made to solve it. That’s not happening here.


    In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources is more concerned about increasing the number of deer available for hunters than decreasing the number that are plaguing developed areas. Local governments seem content to let their citizens endure the predations of the deer.


    But elsewhere government agencies are moving to reclaim land from deer herds.


    In Washington, D.C., the National Park Service dispatched professional sharpshooters to kill deer that were destroying seedlings and vegetation in Rock Creek Park. Using small-caliber rifles at night, the marksmen killed 106 deer on their way to the goal of culling the herd from 70 deer per square mile to 20. The meat was inspected and processed and 3,200 pounds of venison were donated to homeless shelters and other charities.

    Essex County in Connecticut runs a similar deer-shooting program that results in diminishing numbers of deer and meat for food pantries and meal programs.


    Durham, N.C., and Rock Island, Ill., have enlisted bow hunters to kill deer, a safer option for heavily populated areas than firearms. The hunters are required to shoot from elevated blinds or into ravines to limit the danger of wayward arrows.


    Hidden Valley Lake, Ind., was so overrun with deer that bacteria from the animals’ feces was declared a health hazard. The city issued permits to archers who had passed a test and after two years the deer herd was reduced enough that the number of deer-vehicle accidents declined significantly and the animals were less of a public nuisance.


    There are other examples across the country of efforts, involving contraception, poisoning and trapping as well as shooting with arrows and bullets, to take the initiative to restore some sort of balance between the occupying deer and humans, animals and plants.


    Some groups and individuals who deplore cruelty to animals object to deer-control programs on the grounds they are inhumane. Their concerns are understandable and their sensitivity to animal suffering should be respected. Their influence, in fact, encourages people in charge of deer-control programs to abide by the imperative to be humane. For their part, animal advocates should acknowledge that, as the carnage on the roadside attests, the accidentally inhumane deaths of many deer (not to mention humans) might be avoided by controlling the deer population.


    Meanwhile, owing to the lack of any sort of control plan, deer have an open invitation to live in vast numbers in Ozaukee County, along with the manifold problems they bring.


    Man is the only predator these destructive animals have in this part of the world. It’s time to act like a predator.


 
Fredonia’s ‘Bleak House’ PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 14:44

In a parallel to Dickens’ classic novel, a dispute over taxpayer land and money that should have been settled years ago has grown into a six-figure monster

Where’s Charles Dickens when we need him?

    There’s a story in Fredonia crying for telling by the great 19th-century writer that would be a blockbuster followup to “Bleak House,” his classic satirical novel about the futility of the English legal system.


    In “Bleak House,” generations of would-be heirs stubbornly carried on a fight for an inheritance that crawled along in a dysfunctional court system for decades until the dispute became moot because the inheritance had been consumed by legal fees.


    In the Fredonia version of “Bleak House,” a school district and a property owner have stubbornly carried on a fight over land drainage that started with a bill for $8,300 but has grown to a cost nearing $150,000 in lawyers’ fees.


    The story has two twists Dickens would have loved: The property owner is a member of the district’s school board and the eventual losers in the fight could be the taxpayers.


    Fredonia’s version of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the case in Dickens’ novel, is Northern Ozaukee School District v. Kendall J. Thistle and Carla C. Thistle. The lawsuit was filed in 2011, though the dispute dates back to five years before that.


    The facts of the dispute are not complicated enough to warrant a prolonged legal battle. Grading of land by the company developing the Village Green subdivision (which went out of business before the subdivision was completed) disturbed natural drainage and caused nearby land owned by the Thistles to flood.

    To protect their property, the Thistles constructed a berm. The berm deflected water runoff to adjacent land owned by the school district, creating a pond that district officials considered a safety hazard. The district had the pond drained at a cost of $8,300 and asked the Thistles to pay the bill. When they refused, the School Board sued.


    Who’s at fault? Blame can justifiably be heaped on the irresponsible and evidently incompetent subdivision developer, Regency Hills Mastercraft, but that serves no purpose because the firm is bankrupt.

    Beyond that, the question of who is responsible for the district’s pond-draining expense has faded into virtual insignificance in the shadow of the inflated and ever-growing consequences of the failure of both sides to resolve a disagreement over a comparatively small amount of money.


    The fact that Kendall Thistle is a member of the School Board of the district that is suing him has been a complicating factor. He has dutifully recused himself from discussions and votes concerning the lawsuit, yet the fact remains that his part in failing to settle the issue could cost the people he was elected to represent.


    A majority of his fellow School Board members obviously believe they are in the right, but fighting for a principle is a luxury best indulged in by individuals. Representatives of public bodies, on the other hand, should be looking for the course of action that best protects the interests of their constituents, which is often not the same thing as “winning.”


    No one involved in this mess can escape responsibility for letting a disputed bill of $8,300 grow into a six-figure monster that someday will have to be paid by someone—the defendants or the plaintiffs, including taxpayers and presumably the district’s insurer, or all of the above.


    A recent attempt at settlement failed, to no one’s surprise, and the case is scheduled to go to trial in Ozaukee Circuit Court in late June.


    In the meantime, we recommend that the parties to the dispute read “Bleak House.” It’s a very long book, and frankly, a bit tedious in places, but it teaches a lesson in the futility of stubbornness in pursuit of legal remedies that this group needs to learn.

 
A committee that delivered PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 07 May 2014 13:47

Port volunteer group has made good on its pledge to improve lakefront safety with a list of accomplishments that show it’s worthy of continued support

At long last, there are life rings and ladders on the Port Washington breakwater, as well as life rings on the city’s north and south beaches.

    A kiosk near the marina launch ramps provides loaner life jackets for Lake Michigan boaters.

    Classes offered by experts in Great Lakes safety have taught adults and children alike how to enjoy Lake Michigan safely.

    Large, well-conceived signs erected at the entrances to both city beaches provide practical information as well as reminders about lake currents and other hazards.

    These are the remarkable accomplishments of Port Washington’s Waterfront Safety Advisory Committee, a group formed just more than a year ago in response to the drowning of 15-year-old Tyler Buczek off north beach on Labor Day weekend 2012.

    The word “advisory” in the committee’s name suggests that it doesn’t have the same standing as other committees. In fact, it’s not an arm of city government but a volunteer group that, more than merely advise, has inspired, spearheaded and financed a long overdue initiative.

    Much of the group’s success is owed to the fact its members questioned the excuses used to justify years of inaction when it came to making the waterfront safer. Among the now discredited excuses:

    • There is no money for waterfront safety improvements.

    Without relying on taxpayer-generated contributions from the city, the committee has raised thousands of dollars in donations from individuals, corporations and civic organizations to pay for its first year of work and help finance its ongoing mission. Not necessarily accounted for in that figure are the hundreds of hours of work dedicated by volunteers from all walks of life.

    • Red tape makes some improvements impossible.

    That was the conventional wisdom when it came to the idea of the city putting life rings and ladders on the breakwater. The structure’s owner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would never allow it, and even if it did, the city would expose itself to unreasonable liability if it assumed responsibility for the life-saving devices.

    As it turns out, the Army Corps allowed the volunteer group to do what the government agency should have done, and the life rings and ladders that resulted are checked regularly by city employees to make sure they’re ready to use in case of emergency.
   

    • Life rings and other life-saving devices will be targets for thieves and vandals.

    Committee leaders report that one life vest was taken from the marina kiosk and not returned. It has been replaced.

    In addition to challenging the conventional wisdom, the committee has engaged the community and city leaders in its mission, which although focused on safety has sparked a renewed appreciation for the city’s greatest asset.

    Credit for that belongs to committee leaders like Kevin Rudser, a city alderman, and Mayor Tom Mlada, the chairman of the group who since its inception has articulated the importance of its objective and inspired results.

    “There are certain times when life gives you a calling,” Mlada told Ozaukee Press last week, referring to Buczek’s death. “It certainly did move us to a place of action. If there’s anything good to come out of this tragedy, it’s this. As a community, we should be very proud of that response, but there are still things that can be done.”

    Among the additional improvements the committee has planned are a second waterfront safety day tentatively planned for May 31, additional beach life rings and life vest kiosks built by Boy Scouts at both beaches. Eventually, the group wants to install emergency phones on the beaches.

    A related project is the construction of a Coal Dock Park pavilion in memory of Buczek and Peter Dougherty, who drowned while kayaking off Port Washington in 2012, being spearheaded by Buczek’s uncle Jim, a member of the committee.

    These are projects worthy of public support in the form of participation and donations of money, time and talent. Those who join the effort can feel good about contributing to a cause that enhances the ability of Port residents and visitors alike to enjoy Lake Michigan safely and is led by a committee that in just a year has proven its effectiveness with a notable list of accomplishments.

    There remains, however, one glaring safety improvement that has yet to be addressed — a railing along the Coal Dock Park promenade to divide the walkway from the water 10 feet below.

    This issue, which is not under the purview of the Waterfront Safety Advisory Committee, languished for months in the hands of the Coal Dock Park Committee.

    Despite hand wringing about how a railing could diminish views from the park and interfere with ships that may someday dock there, the issue has come down to money. The city is waiting to see if it will be awarded a state grant to help fund the project.

    Instead of waiting for what will undoubtedly be another summer, officials could follow the lead of the Waterfront Safety Advisory Committee and find a way to get the job done sooner rather than later.


 
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