Secretary of the Interior unveils Hackmatack
After many years of planning and discussion, the Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge was announced as the 557th refuge in the nation. The area won’t officially become a refuge until the federal government acquires some land within the designated area.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the designation Aug. 15 at the Lost Valley Visitor Center at Glacial Park, which is located within the boundaries of the refuge. The refuge includes parts of McHenry County and Walworth County, Wis., including portions of Wonder Lake and unincorporated McHenry County near Woodstock.
The idea for the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge began in 2006 with discussions among conservation-minded citizens.
“This was not invented in Washington, D.C.,” Salazar said. “This was really a locally-driven effort.”
In April 2010, a federal recommendation for a feasibility study was announced. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed an environmental assessment of a larger study area before recommending the 11,000-acre area.
As a refuge, private landowners will not be subject to any additional restrictions. The USFWS only buys land from willing sellers. Local zoning continues to apply in all cases, and development can continue to occur on property located within the refuge boundaries. Transfer of ownership also can take place unimpeded, without a change to land use.
The establishment of a refuge would not be an additional cost to taxpayers, proponents have said, with current conservation agencies continuing to operate their land and organizations as they always have. A refuge, however, could bring federal dollars to the area through the National Federal Refuge Fund, which is managed by USFWS. The fund is used to purchase land in the refuge from willing sellers over a long period of time with the goal of preserving the land and providing increased recreational opportunities in the area.
“We should never forget the connection … between what we do with recreation and the economics,” Salazar said, noting that the refuge should draw additional visitors to the area. It is the only national wildlife refuge located within 120 miles of Chicago.
Joining Salazar in making the announcement was U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who said protecting the environment is a top priority even with a struggling economy.
“It is the right time,” he said. “It’s always the right time to preserve and protect [natural resources] for the future generations.”
Durbin said the coordination and efforts to establish Hackmatack have been bipartisan, something he has been encouraged about through the process.
Lenore Beyer-Clow, a Woodstock resident and policy director for Openlands, became involved with Hackmatack as a citizen long before Openlands announced support of the refuge.
“This is truly a group effort,” Beyer-Clow said. “These areas are so rich in organizations who have brought us this far … This is about people [as much as conservation].”