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McCaleb: Pros and cons of wildlife refuge

Creating a national wildlife refuge on thousands of acres of largely rural land might seem like a no-brainer to area environmentalists.

But nothing is that simple when the federal government is involved.

That’s why at least some environmentally friendly local residents are wary of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to create the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge on more than 11,000 acres in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

The Bull Valley Association’s board, which is committed to preserving the environmental character and natural conditions of the village and its surrounding areas, is one group that does not want to be a part of the refuge.

“We think we do a good job locally of preserving and managing our land,” Bull Valley Association Vice President Tom Paulsen said. “Local control is better than management from afar.”

According to our previous reporting on this topic, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering creating the refuge to preserve and restore the natural habitat of area land because of the large number of migratory birds and endangered species that pass through and live here. The name of the proposed refuge, “Hackmatack,” comes from a Native American word for the tamarack tree.

When a refuge is created, public conservation areas fall under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jurisdiction, and the service begins to target private land for purchase. While private land owners don’t have to sell to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if they don’t want to, at least some likely will.

And when this previously private land then falls under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service control, it also falls under the refuge’s rules, which means new restrictions on land use.

For example, equestrian and snowmobile trails are significantly restricted in a refuge. In the grand scheme of things, that might seem relatively trivial. But if you’re a property owner who for years has used Bull Valley’s more than 80 miles of equestrian trails that cross in and through dozens of pieces of private property, it’s significant.

“Currently, the [Bull Valley] area has a large, connected equestrian trail system. In 85 percent of the cases this is made possible through agreements with individual private landowners,” the Bull Valley Association board wrote in a seven-page letter to its membership. “These permits would not transfer with title, leading to a fragmentation of the trail system, rendering it unusable over time. ... Their overall goal is to get horses off the refuge lands.”

In its letter, the BVA board explained many reasons why it thinks the refuge is not a good fit for its residents. I don't have the space to get into all of those reasons here, but you can read the full letter below.

Of course, there are plenty of local preservationists who think the refuge is a good idea, too.

One of them is Elizabeth Kessler, executive director of the McHenry County Conservation District. MCCD’s board adopted a resolution supporting creation of Hackmatack, and Kessler said she’s not worried about losing local control.

“We think that it essentially is an expansion of what the district is doing in preserving area land,” Kessler said. “We see it as a benefit to the county, and a positive to ecotourism.”

In the end, once the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes its decision, we’re going to have to live with it.

•  • •

Community leaders: Congratulations to the seven McHenry County women who were honored last week with Women of Distinction awards, which honored women who have bettered their communities through their professions and public service.

The recipients were nominated by community members and selected by McHenry County Magazine, a publication of Shaw Media, owner of the Northwest Herald.

The honorees were:

• Kay Rial Bates, president and CEO of the McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce.

• Diana Kenney, executive director of the Crystal Lake Downtown Main Street program.

• Nancy Fike, administrator of the McHenry County Historical Society.

• Suzanne Hoban, founder and executive director of the Family Health Partnership Clinic.

• Lorraine Kopczynski, former president and CEO of Pioneer Center.

• Cheryl Niemo, founder of Jail Brakers, an organization that supports those who’ve had a loved one incarcerated.

• Charie Zanck, CEO and vice-chairman of American Community Bank and Trust.

•  • •

SleepOut success: I learned Friday from Christin Kruse, vice president of funding development for Pioneer Center for Human Services, that last weekend’s SleepOut for Shelter event raised about $60,000 for Pioneer/PADS’ homeless services. That’s a similar total to last year.

About 500 people participated, many of them spending the night outside at Immanuel Lutheran School in Crystal Lake. Special recognition goes to the 70 or so Crystal Lake South High School seniors who slept out on South’s football field as part of their senior project.

It costs Pioneer/PADS about $750,000 a year to provide homeless services and operate temporary shelters throughout the county. None of that money comes from the state of Illinois, so every dollar raised is important.

As a member of Pioneer’s board of directors, I want to thank everyone who donated time and money.

•  • •

Way to go: Congratulations to the 800 or so area girls participating in this morning’s Girls on the Run 5K at Centegra’s Health Bridge Huntley campus.

I was not familiar with Girls on the Run until my daughter, Aleah, joined this year. Through the program, girls in grades three through eight stay after school a couple of times a week and participate in health education and other self-esteem-building activities all while training for the 3.1-mile run.

My daughter is the same child who, just last summer, repeated “I’m tired of walking” over and over when she visited Chicago with my sister’s family.

Aleah’s come a long way in just a few short months in the program, and we’re excited to see her cross the finish line with her friends and the hundreds of other runners. Thanks to her coach, Kris Calhan of Crystal Lake, and the many other coaches and volunteers who are positive role models in these girls’ lives.

•  • •

Words of advice: If you can help it, avoid the city today and Monday. If you haven’t heard, President Barack Obama is hosting leaders from North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations in Chicago, meaning tens of thousands of protesters are in town, as well.

This might be the first time since interleague play began that a Cubs/Sox game is the calmest place to be in the city.

• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603 or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com.

Note to readers: According to boundaries being recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the village of Bull Valley will not be part of the proposed Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge. This column originally stated that Bull Valley was within the refuge's boundaries but since has been edited.

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