Hog farm (copy)

Iowa has more than seven hogs per person.

STEVENS POINT — What would you think if someone proposed plunking a huge industrial hog operation in the watershed of the Upper St. Croix River, one of the first National Wild and Scenic Rivers in the country? How about atop a ridge in Wisconsin’s iconic Driftless region?

Inconceivable, right? Wrong. It’s happening in both cases, and Wisconsin’s lenient Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rules give the upper hand to the operators of industrial farming operations and provide little room for local control.

So, residents of Burnett County in northwestern Wisconsin are grappling with a proposed hog farrowing operation that could confine up to 26,000 animals in the town of Trade Lake. While the operation isn’t on top of the river, it is close to a state wildlife area and a tributary of the St. Croix.

In Crawford County, meanwhile, residents of the town of Marietta were surprised to learn of plans for a 10,000-hog operation on fragile karst topography overlooking the Kickapoo River. They probably shouldn’t have been. Hog CAFOs are creeping across the border from Iowa and other states. We are home to 14 hog CAFOs, and more are likely on the way. Iowa is saturated. It has 10,000 hog feeding operations. One county has 200.

Iowa’s water quality woes are well-documented, and a new report says it could take the state hundreds, maybe thousands of years to fix the nutrient loads that plague the state’s waterways. The Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine says swine manure can generate toxic chemicals, including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane.

No one wants to live near them. They stink to high heaven. Quality of life plunges, as do property values. Let’s also acknowledge that those of us who chomp on pork without considering its source are central to the problem.

Crawford and Burnett counties are both sparsely populated, so they’re likely candidates for CAFOs, which seek the course of least resistance. More rural counties are likely targets. So, give up and shut up as CAFOs invade from Iowa, right? Not necessarily. In both counties, residents are up in arms. And, using one of the few tools available to local government, the Burnett County Board last week voted to adopt a moratorium on livestock facilities until it can study, review, consider and determine whether amendments to its current ordinances or creation of a livestock facilities zoning ordinance are necessary. The moratorium is for a year, with a possible six-month extension.

“This is really a terrific first round victory. I am so happy common sense still has a place in local government,” said Deb Ryun, executive director of the St. Croix River Association.

Ryun knows a lot about CAFOs. She spent much of her life as a conservation professional in Iowa. The Burnett County CAFO, a farrowing operation, has Iowa connections.

“Human health is an area we can focus on and where we need to look at, whether air or water quality,” she said.

Ryun sees these as among the first of what could be a steady stream.

“It is Iowa producers moving out of Iowa because of (animal) disease concerns. There are so many negative ways that a CAFO operation affects the local environment that it's hard to know where to begin,” she said.

“What is Wisconsin doing to prepare itself for an influx of hogs?” Ryun wondered.

It’s a good question, but so far, the state has shown little inclination to prevent CAFOs from pretty much having their way.

Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. billnick@charter.net

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