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Wisconsin Point land transfer with Fond du Lac Band nears

The city of Superior is in the process of survey mapping for Wisconsin Point to create boundaries for the land and transfer it to the Band. It is expected to take roughly eight weeks to complete.

FILE: Wisconsin Point Indigenous burial grounds
A sign marks the burial ground on Wisconsin Point.
Jed Carlson / 2020 file / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR - The Wisconsin Point Committee received an update about transferring land to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and learned more about a proposed project to improve marsh bird habitat in Allouez Bay at its Tuesday, March 22, meeting.

The council's action directs city officials to work toward placing property in a federal trust for management by the descendants of Wisconsin Point inhabitants.

The movement to return three parcels of land in Superior to the Band is inching closer to the organizers' goal. The land, formerly held by the Army Corps of Engineers, includes Indigenous burial grounds on Wisconsin Point, as well as sites at St. Francis Cemetery.

“We are really, really close to seeing the light on these transfers,” said Superior City Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, who represents the 2nd District.

The city of Superior is in the process of survey mapping for Wisconsin Point, she said, to create boundaries for the land and transfer it to the Band. It is expected to take roughly eight weeks to complete.

“That work kind of triggers the federal process with moving it from a fee status to trust status, which is literally an act of Congress,” Van Sickle said. “But I’m working with the senators across Minnesota and Wisconsin, they’re all actively involved in petitioning the Secretary of the Department of Interior.”

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Committee members were appreciative of the work that’s been done, but questioned how it would affect the roadway on Wisconsin Point. Once the land is transferred, Van Sickle said, it’s up to city officials to work with the Band, just like they work with the county and other entities the city shares land with.

“As of right now, the road is not included, so the city is not in a position to ask for an easement. That could change,” Van Sickle said, and she would support any changes. “I just want us to be really clear: A road is asphalt and rocks, but we’re talking about a cemetery.”

She said the city is partnering with the Band to host a clean-up on Wisconsin Point for Earth Day, which takes place April 22.

For the birds

Committee members also got a look at a plan by Audubon Great Lakes to restore marsh bird habitat in Allouez Bay. Populations of marsh breeding birds have declined significantly over the last 30 years; some species have had overall declines of up to 80%.

Phase one of the plan would restore the natural dynamics of the area and return it to a hemi-marsh, which is defined as an equal mix of open water and wetland cover. That habitat is key for species in decline, including black tern, American bittern, and yellow-headed blackbird.

To restore the hemi-marsh, invasive species including narrow leaf cattail, phragmites and reed canary grass would be removed. The area would then be seeded or replanted with native species. Narrow leaf cattail has a foothold over 38 acres in the Allouez Bay area and reed canary grass is present on 13 acres, committee members were told.

“We’re looking at a combination of targeted application of mechanical and chemical treatments. That has been shown to be the most effective combination when you’re using multiple methods,” said David Grandmaison with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Work could begin later this year, according to the timeline presented.

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Committee members were supportive of the project, but concerned about the use of herbicides.

“To me, chemicals aren’t the cat’s meow and all this stuff. I’m fearful of them, quite honestly. That’s why Douglas County had the ordinance in place. You can have that immaculate, great looking lawn and all that crap goes in the water,” said county board Supervisor Keith Allen, who lives 1.5 miles from the bay. “That’s the perception, that’s the fear that I have and other constituents would have going out there.”

Allen, who represents the 13th District, said he agrees with the project, but would rather see mechanical removal of invasive species only.

“This summer I’ve seen massive mats of cattails floating around,” said committee member Nick Danz, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Narrow-leaf cattail is monoclonal and excludes other vegetation, while its structure makes it unsuitable for nesting birds to use.

“I’m very supportive of the project. I think there are places where you simply need to use pesticides to make a difference, and the risks in this case are small relative to the impact,” Danz said. “It’s always a risk-reward or cost-benefit kind of thing. The data for me is compelling that Roundup or whatever kind of glyphosate you want to use doesn’t have a lot of toxicity. It’s not bioavailable, which means that other organisms don’t take it up. The bacteria will break it down. It has pretty short shelf life in the water, in the soil and the cost in this case is low relative to the reward.”

The committee asked for more information on studies about the safety of the herbicide, glyphosate.

Linda Cadotte, the city's parks, recreation and forestry director, said she hasn’t seen any request for an herbicide treatment permit come through the city. Douglas County, however, has been tapped for their support.

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The Douglas County Land and Development Committee will consider a request from Audubon Great Lakes for an herbicide exemption on county-owned land at its Tuesday, March 29, meeting. It will be the second discussion the committee has had on the subject. The first time they discussed it, members asked Audubon Great Lakes to come back with additional information.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.