With the building season soon upon us, Wisconsin residents shouldn’t be surprised to see more factory farms (aka Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs) being expanded or newly built. The DNR had some 50 new applications for this type of industrial animal production in the works. About 200 CAFOs are currently operating in Wisconsin.
There is precious little locally that can be done to restrict these, regardless of their threat to air and water quality. That’s because the Livestock Facility Siting Law, enacted in 2004, strictly limits the input of local governments. And if townships or counties try to protect local resources by putting conditional uses on the permits they issue to CAFOs, they are faced with the threat of expensive court battles. However, some innovative local governments are limiting where CAFOs can be located by passing, for example, nuisance ordinances for certain practices. In addition, local citizens can organize to bring up local concerns, question and review permits, and monitor local water.
Producers favor a uniform siting law, and such a concept might be plausible if 1) conditions across the state were uniform, and if 2) the regulations of the law could be monitored and enforced. Unfortunately neither is the case. Wisconsin varies greatly in its local topography, geology, soil cover, and water resources, all of which affect how wastes from these operations can be safely spread. And the DNR staff of enforcement personnel to monitor the CAFOs is vastly undersized. In Wisconsin’s Northeast Region, the DNR has only 3 enforcement staff members to cover 95 CAFOs.
Any operation that continuously generates millions of gallons of waste annually is inherently risky and a threat to the environment. The sheer amount of manure produced often overwhelms the ability of the land and crops to absorb it, and the nutrients then become toxic waste in our water. That’s why the Crawford Stewardship Project continues to support return of siting power to local governments who are familiar with local conditions.
Edie Ehlert, Crawford Stewardship Project