Friday, August 31, 2012

Comprehensive Conservation Plan Out For Review

Aerial view of Plum Island looking west.  
(Photographer unknown, thought to be a FOPPI file photo.)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) just released their long awaited draft of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), a plan that includes Plum, Pilot, Hog and Gravel Islands.

Of special interest to many people who enjoy natural history, geology, underwater and land archeology, and the encompassing maritime history of these islands, will be the plan pages that relate especially to Plum and Pilot Islands.  This is a very comprehensive document indeed, and it's not hard to understand the time it took to assemble this document and obtain various department approvals prior to public input.  Besides the islands mentioned above, this document is also a CCP for the many other islands in the upper Great Lakes area that also come under management of the  USFWS Regional Office in Minneapolis.

You may want to begin reading this as soon as possible, given its length.  Public comments on this document are due by September 23, 2012.   Written comments can be mailed to the USFWS address at:

    USFWS, 5600 American Blvd. West, Suite 990, Bloomington, MN  55437-1458

Or, you may email comments to:    (put "Great Lakes Island CCP Comment" in the subject line.)

The actual document can be viewed at:

Plum Island boat house (exterior refinished) - FOPPI photo
Highlights and pleasant surprises

Plan highlights regarding the future of Plum and Pilot have indeed included the prospect for visitation on Plum Island, with the creation of nature trails, the planning for an interpretive center, the continued restoration of buildings there, and the acknowledgement of the need for more work on the part of volunteers. The extensive work list now being tackled by the many members of the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands (FOPPI) may seem almost without end.  Work already accomplished is a good start, but it's only the very beginning.  That's when people like Tim Sweet, FOPPI President, with his leadership and vision, can instill energy and enthusiasm in others, and present an orderly, longterm process, the results of which older citizens and members of FOPPI might never see.

But we need to start somewhere and the USFWS, by and large, with this plan draft has recognized both natural and human (cultural) benefits these islands have to offer.  This ongoing project is important, we think, for future generations of children who might ask: "What are cormorants?"  "What's a lighthouse?"  ... not to mention the future appreciation and understanding for the century or more of commercial shipping propelled with canvass and steam that sailed through this passage between bay and lake.  (I was reminded how quickly dated design and technology can become when my grandson pointed to the window crank on the 1985 Jeep Cherokee I was driving and asked, "What's that?"  Of course, in his  nine years he had only known electric window buttons and door locks.)

In order to read the most pertinent information for Plum and Pilot Islands you can fast-forward using the table of contents as your guide.  Much of the information I read is concentrated between pages 49 thru 55.   There, Cultural Identity, Objectives and Strategies are outlined.   But I think you will also want to read or at least skim the other pages, too, for interesting background information on surveys of plant types, birds and animals found on these islands.  It adds to the depth of our understanding, and greater appreciation for the job of the USFWS staff.

Pilot Island with dead cedar trees  (photographer unknown)

If there is one facet of this plan I found still disappointing, it was the passive approach to cormorant nesting on Pilot Island, and comment indicating that these birds may no longer actively nest there.  Not so, from what we've seen and heard from others.  If ongoing study of these birds is of such great importance, then let us in on the study parameters and objectives.   If counting of these birds is the extent of study, what has been the historical tally of nests and of birds found there, and how will letting this island be a bird island exclusively - an an extremely important protrusion of rock with maritime buildings, from an historical point of view - how will this further enhance our knowledge of those birds?  Are there not other suitable island locations nearby from which they also have opportunity to eat fish and reproduce, but which have had no similar human historical footprint?

Nesting cormorants dictated Pilot Island's
recent past, and perhaps they will dictate its future.
Well, those are my comments in a nutshell at first reading, but I will take a second and third look before committing pen to paper.  In the meantime, there is a USFWS Open House - a listening and conversation session - scheduled for the Island Community Center's Rutledge Room, Monday, Sept. 10th, between 5 pm and 8 pm.  This will be an opportunity to ask questions of USFWS refuge staff, and to submit comments if you wish.  Comment forms will be available there, so that written comments can be submitted there, or mailed in later.

This draft CCP is an important document that should receive attention from every citizen with an interest in the islands, their environment and local maritime history.

-  Dick Purinton

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