National monuments deserve protection

Kickapoo Indian Caverns
Dave Skoloda
Coulee News

Carole Porter said in a gentle voice that it “struck at my heart” to hear the plans of a potential buyer for land she has treasured since childhood. The prospective buyer was planning to clear trees and put in a commercial zip line where she had wandered as a child amid old oaks and carpets of shooting star flowers.

She made the comment by way of explaining why she instead patiently waited two years while the Mississippi Valley Conservancy raised the money needed to purchase and preserve the property her parents had developed and operated as the Kickapoo Indian Caverns near Wauzeka in Crawford County.

The conservancy will place its “protected forever” sign on the 83-acre site that includes one of the largest bat hibernating caves in Wisconsin.

As I listened to the speakers at the event celebrating the purchase, the comparison with the news the day before was unavoidable: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had completed the review of the nation’s National Monuments ordered by President Donald Trump — a review critics of the monuments believed might scale back federal “land grabs” under the 1906 Antiquities Act signed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

I was witnessing, I thought, the reason why presidents have set aside millions of acres of land and why it will be very hard for Trump or any other president to turn back the clock on land conservation. The reason is the passion of the kind exhibited by people like Carole Porter about the land, their sense of ownership even though they might never experience it except in viewing pictures or descriptions. Carole no longer lives in Wisconsin, but she couldn’t bear to see the property developed. Neither could some 300 individual donors, a number of foundations, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources all of whom contributed to the preservation of the land.

The caverns have scientific value, both for the protection and research on the bats that hibernate there: the federally threatened long-eared bat, and the state threatened little brown bat and eastern pipistrelle. The land has historical value because of the evidence that native Americans once used the caves. And the cave has cultural value for the generations of people who have visited it.

Those are some of the same values cited in the legislation that authorized the national monuments and that continue to justify the preservation efforts by presidents of both parties.

Zinke told the Associated Press that he had recommended the downsizing of three of the monuments but that all 27 of the monuments he reviewed should be retained.

But even the reduction in size of three monuments that he proposed will prompt a legal and congressional battle, according to the National Geographic.

The article added: “The monument review prompted public protests in some of the states that contain the monuments under review, and drew more than 2.8 million comments during the public comment period—one of the largest public responses to Interior Department action in the agency’s history. The majority of the comments, Zinke said, favored maintaining existing monuments.”

As for the Kickapoo Indian Caverns, the conservancy will manage the land to protect the bats, closing it during the hibernating season in an effort to protect them from the introduction of the white nose disease that has decimated bat populations.

In a news release, the conservancy said the property will be open to the public year round for hiking, cross-country skiing, bird-watching, hunting and outdoor recreational activities. Guided hikes, volunteer work days, and other events will be offered to welcome all ages to experience and enjoy the site.

Protected forever, just as Carole wished.

The national monuments deserve the same assurance.

Dave Skoloda is an award-winning journalist and former owner and editor of the Onalaska Community Life and Holmen Courier.