Since our inception a decade ago, struggling with the growth of industrial animal agriculture on our beautiful yet sensitive landscape, we have expanded our project to cover many other challenges, but the core pillars of our mission have remained and continue to guide us as we strive to empower the community and protect our land and waters.
Environmental justice, local control, and sustainable land use all sound very noble, but why those? What do they mean to us, and how do we embody those values? Read on for insights into the history and purpose of your faithful Driftless environmental watchdog, Crawford Stewardship Project.
“Environmental justice,” as practiced by CSP, means respecting and standing in solidarity with those most affected by the destructive parts of our economy and society, and encouraging participation in the solution. We provide a voice to the voiceless and the light of public attention to issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug (and into the watershed).
“Without bodies working, nothing gets done,” notes Fred Hausler, a farmer and active supporter who lives next to the Wauzeka hog CAFO. “At the start of Crawford Stewardship Project, I saw the need for people in the county to be aware of things that were taking place that we didn’t know about and weren’t talked about.
CSP has helped uncover what is really going on by coming out and doing water quality monitoring. That is a project I want to see continue. We have found things in my creek that the lab had never seen here before! It is awfully hard to believe how the state doesn’t seem to give a darn about what goes into the Wisconsin River, which my stream flows into. The state is not being realistic about what is taking place.”
Fred’s story is mirrored by people we have helped all across the region dealing with various industrial operations encroaching on their lives and livelihoods. The high capacity well proposal in Copper Creek, the frack sand mine in Bridgeport, the frack sand loading site in Prairie du Chien, even Viroqua where a large hog slaughter plant is being pushed… the same dynamics play out and CSP is there to empower those impacted to tell their story and connect with decision makers to find just solutions. With a decade of experience under our belt, we are becoming the go-to organization in the areafor those who feel ignored and powerless in the face of great changes in our communities.
Edie Ehlert, CSP co-founder and Board President, notes how our mission and values also keep us cohesive and rooted as an organization. “Crawford Stewardship Project’s cooperative and supportive values are the key underpinnings of our success in bringing forward environmental justice issues and working with others. We encourage one another, using consensus decision making to figure out best actions. It is this respectful way of working together that has kept us together, has kept us enjoying one another’s uniqueness and abilities. Our group strength is reflected in our work in our communities.”
While the mere mention of “local control” in our early years brought eye-rolling from many, in recent years it has become a widely appreciated value statement, recognized by those from all political stripes. At its heart, it means trusting that local people know best how to make decisions for ourselves, and that we have an inherent authority to self-govern and decide the fate of our communities. We believe that this is possible if there is a transparent and democratic process. We have always advocated our local governments to embrace their full authority and responsibilities.
Ellen Brooks, CSP Board Vice President and co-founding member reflects, “Since CSP was originated in 2007, we have attended hearings and committee meetings in Crawford County to influence and inform local policy decisions. Generally, we found local municipalities, the county Land Conservation Department staff and committee whom we report to monthly, as well as the County Board, open to our positions regarding a variety of conservation issues.
What we end up running into, often, are limits on our local control and authority. The Wisconsin Livestock Siting Law in large-scale agriculture, the Interstate Commerce Clause in rail transport, and a state cell phone tower siting law all prevent our county and municipalities from taking basic steps to protect our community’s environment, health, and welfare,” Ellen laments.
Whenever such preemption of local control rears its ugly head, CSP jumps into action, mobilizing our networks. In the last few years we have weathered and won no less than three attempts by the state to strip our municipalities of decision-making power over frack sand and other non-metallic mines. Ellen reminds us that this is important because, “as citizens, our supporters can influence our local government in a real way that may not be possible when dealing with state or federal officials.
We are happy for this avenue of protecting the environment and want to encourage the county to take the authority that it has and use it for the best outcome for all citizens.”
This philosophy of local control and self-determination extends beyond our relationship with local governments into every relationship with allies, partners, and many new groups we have helped form. We operate using the late Rob Horwich’s Community Conservation model of catalyzing independent groups whose successful actions then stimulate the formation of more groups. By helping organize those most affected into effective grassroots groups and decentralized networks, we allow them the freedom they need, and CSP can stay small and efficient, while accomplishing more and growing our network of allies.
Sustainable land use
The word “sustainable” has become such a buzzword these days that it has been diluted, but we hold to the term and its basic meaning. Sustainable use of the natural resources that we are so blessed with in this area means not depleting or compromising them. If we hope to be sustained by our land, water, and air, we must not exhaust or contaminate them. We must respect the Earth, her cycles, and all life.
This is a simple concept, but to understand what is sustainable (and what is not) on a landscape as complex as ours takes hard science and data.
And for our scientific and educational campaigns to be sustainable, they should be rooted in the community, which means educating decision makers of the available science, and using citizen science to fill in the gaps with important data.
Kathy Byrne, CSP Board Secretary and former Coordinator of our Citizen Water Quality Monitoring project, describes how, “our water quality monitoring volunteers are essential to our gathering data on the health of surface waters, which are especially threatened by
contamination. Not having the resources or the volunteers needed to monitor every stream in Crawford County, our focus has been on larger operations that are a cause for special concern. However, what each of us does individually on our own land also plays a role in the health of our water.”
“Our Karst Landscapes and Groundwater Susceptibility Survey of Crawford County has broadened our scope and impact,” explains Lamar Janes, CSP Board Treasurer. “We are creating a tool to help landowners, local government and agricultural agencies identify appropriate land use practices to protect the groundwater. The strength of the tool will be that rather than generic information, this data will be specific down to the level of individual fields. The valued assistance of volunteer citizen scientists in data collection makes creating this tool possible and affordable.”
Beyond gathering important information, if we are to shift our systems to a resilient and sustainable future, we must take on the hard issues. “Speaking out with neighbors for the land and water can be unpopular, especially with powerful corporate backed proposals. I gain the strength from those I work with to speak anyway, to use science, to encourage involvement of others.” reflects Edie Ehlert.
CSP will continue to tackle controversial local and regional sustainability issues. From large-scale industrial agriculture and frack sand mining to high capacity wells and government regulatory failures, we go beyond simply trying to improve practices of unsustainable operations. We fundamentally question the industrialization of our rural lands and support truly sustainable and just practices. Edie characterizes our passion in the immortal words of Mahatma Gandhi: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”