May 10, 2015

SUBJECT: WDNR and BNSF Railroad Team-Up to Kill Endangered Black Terns


black tern next to BNSF line

Taken on May 10, 2015. Just a few days ago the Black Terns returned to the La Crosse River Wetlands / Myrick Marsh. In this image, the orange fencing in the background is a silt fence erected by BNSF. Above the fence is a train passing by. The Black Terns typically nest just west of the existing BNSF track.

Note: This page is rather long and if you don't want to read it all, fine. Just please drop to near the bottom of this page for instructions on how to write to Wisconsin's DNR.

In times of war the term "collateral damage" is used to window-dress the taking of human lives. During hunting season, deers are "harvested" and it appears the Wisconsin's DNR is about to grant a "take" permit to BNSF Railroad for the killing of the endangered Black Tern in the La Crosse River Marsh.

This is the same DNR that just a few short months ago stipulated in a permit to BNSF that:

"The project must comply with state and/or federal endangered species laws, follow-up actions, and protection recommendations as reported by WDNR Natural Heritage Conservation’s Endangered Resources review report. No construction may occur within the Wisconsin State Endangered Species, Black Tern’s nesting period from May 15 to July 31."

Although most area residents were not happy about the approval of the permit, at least the Black Terns would be protected. Whew!


BNSF in 2014 publicly stated they would comply with this protection but little did we know that behind the scenes BNSF was prodding the state of Wisconsin to change the permit. And now, Wisconsin's DNR who once led this country in protecting our natural resources has done an about-face and is about to grant BNSF a Black Tern Take Permit.

To top it off, the DNR has back-handedly posted information about this take permit without informing the public properly. The only information presented to the public was on their website and no one would have known about it unless they happened to look there.

Black Tern
Black Tern In-Flight

Wisconsin's DNR has gone from protecting the state's natural resources to protecting corporate interests. I really don't know how the decision-makers at the DNR sleep at night. This is disgraceful. This is deceitful. This dishonors those who work for the DNR that still believe in the DNR's mission statement:

To protect and enhance our natural resources:

our air, land and water;
our wildlife, fish and forests
and the ecosystems that sustain all life.

To provide a healthy, sustainable environment

and a full range of outdoor opportunities.

To ensure the right of all people

to use and enjoy these resources
in their work and leisure.

To work with people

to understand each other's views
and to carry out the public will.

And in this partnership

consider the future
and generations to follow.

Wow. I wish the Wisconsin DNR would read their own mission statement.

To protect and enhance our natural resources?

To ensure the right of all people?

To work with people?

To carry out the public will?


So here we are just a few days away from the close of comments regarding this hideous undertaking. What can YOU do about it?

Write to the DNR and let them know that this is a bad decision. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Lack of transparency. The process that the WDNR used to notify the public was flawed. Instead of taking out space in the local newspaper, they sent out a press release which did not guarantee it would be printed (and it wasn' least, initially). They published it on their website, but how was the general public informed to look there?
  • Lack of public involvement. The changes being made to the permit should have involved open discussion with the public and it has not.
  • Lack of in-depth study. To date, no in-depth study has been done regarding the Black Tern in the La Crosse Marsh. The DNR is being nonchalant about the taking of Black Terns in the La Crosse Marsh without adequate research to know specifically what impact the take permit will have on the present and future Black Tern breeding area and overall population.
  • Lack of analysis of the construction process. The DNR seems to only be concerned with the area adjacent to the existing track. The DNR has failed to recognize that bridge construction in the marsh will include pylon driving which will cause major nest disturbance over a much broader area. Hundreds of acres suitable for nesting are at risk due to excessively loud pounding.

  • 75 Days. Really? By allowing the Black Terns to have a normal nesting season will only mean that BNSF will be unable to construct their second track in the marsh for 75 days. Is it really all that much to ask for to protect a species on the Endangered Species List? It is obvious BNSF does not care about the public nor the environment. It's all about the bottom line.

You can view the particulars of this take permit by clicking here.

I encourage everyone to immediately contact Rori Paloski or Lisie Kitchel of the DNR.  Demand the DNR deny BNSF a permit for an "incidental taking" and refrain from construction in the Marsh until July 31st when the nesting season for the Black Tern ends.  

Email Contacts:
Rori Paloski: or 608-264-6040
Lisie Kitchel: or 608-266-5248

Department of Natural Resources
Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation
ER Review Program
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707-7921

In conclusion, one must wonder if the DNR would grant this take permit to a smaller entity such as a land owner. It shouldn't matter, but you have to believe that the clout of BNSF has played a role in this fiasco as BNSF contributes to Wisconsin's political elite.

Wisconsin's DNR and BNSF Railroad should both be held accountable for this atrocity. Don't let them off the hook. Write a letter to them before May 16th and if you live in Wisconsin, be sure to write your legislators too. Enough is enough!

Shame on BNSF. Shame on Wisconsin's DNR.

—Alan Stankevitz

black tern chick
Black Tern Chick


Web design © 2007-2015, Alan Stankevitz
All photographs © 2002-2015, Alan Stankevitz

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