We are urging everyone to reach out to your County Supervisors. We believe there are better ways to address the needs of the poor. See the message below from Brian Russart, who is the supervisor for Milwaukee County Parks Natural Resources.
Hello Parks Conservation Partners,
I just wanted to make you aware of a potential County ordinance amendment (attached) that Supervisor Clancy has drafted and submitted to the other County Board members for review. Because this amendment would alter the existing county ordinance (#47.08) that protects natural areas within the park system I thought you may be interested in the potential ramifications to natural areas and the species protected within them given your past efforts restoring and protecting the park system’s natural places.
The current ordinance (#47.08) does not allow the public to collect, damage, or harass any native species of plant, wildlife, or fungi within the park system. Supervisor Clancy's potential ordinance amendment would allow foraging for fruits, nuts, and fungi as acceptable activities within the park system’s natural areas. Parks did reach out to Supervisor Clancy stating its concerns during the draft amendment phase and a portion of those concerns were addressed in the final draft, which Parks appreciates, however several significant concerns were not addressed such as:
The amendment gives Parks the authority to designate known contaminated sites as “non-collection sites.” Parks advocated for this addition due to public health concerns.
However, Parks also advocated for the ability to designate natural areas that SEWRPC (Regional Planning Commission) has designate as Natural Areas of Regional and/or Local Significance within the park system. Parks was not granted that authority, and those important natural areas have no protection from foraging in this amendment. Parks made the Supervisor aware that the DNR reserves the right to classify any state-owned site a 'non-collection" site. Parks felt this was an important point because the DNR regulations are being used as one of the models for this proposed ordinance amendment.
Basically, this amendment would allow Parks to classify what are typically the lowest quality natural areas in the park system as non-collection sites, but Parks is not allowed to classify our highest quality natural areas as non-collection sites.
From the amendment "the Director, DPRC, shall be permitted to exclude certain species of nut and fruit producing trees (as listed by the state of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources), that are extremely rare, from the permissible foraging activities". This only protects the two state-listed forageable species in the park system and does not protect many other native species that are locally rare in Milwaukee County. Parks had asked for the ability to determine the forageable species list in order to protect vulnerable species, but was denied that opportunity.
From the amendment "foraging shall be limited to collection of fruits, nuts, and mushrooms that are in abundance". Parks expressed concern with this language because as written this allows the public to decide what is "in abundance". Parks made the Supervisor aware that our internal surveys of native plant species are incomplete and that we haven’t done any surveys for fungi. If Parks can’t fully answer the question of what is abundant or rare then how can the public possibly make that judgement call in the field while foraging? Parks asked for more time and resources to conduct the necessary biological surveys, but was denied that opportunity.
From the amendment "Milwaukee County should permit ethical foraging for personal use." Parks questioned this language because there is no way to determine or measure “ethical personal use”. There's also no way to regulate it. Parks is concerned that this amendment waters down the main County ordinance that protects nature in the park system by giving the general public the right to decide what they should or shouldn't forage based on their personal ethics. Everyone's ethics will be different. Parks recommended that ordinances should be written or amended in a way that provides clear guidance.
The repeated reference in the amendment for the need for Milwaukee County's foraging policy to be more like Waukesha's, Dane's, or the State's foraging policies isn't an adequate comparison. Neither Waukesha or Dane counties, nor the communities adjacent to state properties, have the dense urban populations that are found in Milwaukee County. The potential foraging pressure in Milwaukee County is immensely higher than anywhere else in the state and would be more comparable to Chicago and its collar counties. A fairer assessment would be to review the Chicago area Forest Preserves, Park Districts, and Conservation District to see if they allow foraging and inquire as to foraging's impacts on their urban natural areas. Parks has offered to make this assessment if allowed.
In the 13 years that I've worked for Parks I've always felt we try to be a practical organization when it comes to public use of natural areas. Parks has never stopped anyone from eating raspberries as they walk through our natural areas, has never stopped citizens from eating apples from one of our orchards, has never stopped citizens from collecting asparagus (it's a non-native species). Nor is Parks ever likely to tell citizens not to do these select activities. This potential amendment removes that decision making process from Parks staff trained to make those decisions, and places it in the hands of foragers. We've all seen "personal ethics" on display when we've stopped individuals with large gunny sacks of wild leeks/ramps leaving the park system's natural areas. While this particular amendment doesn't impact protections for herbaceous species like wild leeks/ramps it does set precedent for removing those protections down the road. In the last 200 years Milwaukee County has lost over 95% of its original natural areas and likely hundreds of species have going extinct in the county because of it. Do we really need to exploit what little is left for personal gain?
I know you are all passionate about conservation, and Parks is incredibly fortunate to have you as conservation partners breathing life back into our natural areas. If you have concerns with this amendment, please consider reaching out to your elected Milwaukee County officials and share your or your organization's conservation perspective in a thoughtful meaningful way.
Have an excellent day
Natural Areas Supervisor
Milwaukee County Parks
T: 414-257-6521 / 414-378-5521