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As conservatives say, actions have consequences...

by Tomah Journal Tuesday, Jul. 27, 2004 at 11:09 PM

"We're seeing lake after lake where there aren't any fish. It seems to be a plague that has escalated."

Conservatives often argue that actions have consequences. They claim, with considerable merit, that promiscuous sex, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, etc., lead to broad, negative outcomes that impact everyone. The same is true with the environment. Actions have consequences, and Lake Tomah is a good example.

Monday's La Crosse Tribune publicized the plight of Lake Tomah to a broader audience. What's significant about the article isn't the information on Lake Tomah -- that's old news to Tomah residents -- it's that Lake Tomah isn't an isolated story. Steven Kallenbach of Kallenbach Fisheries in Stoddard said, "We're seeing lake after lake where there aren't any fish. It seems to be a plague that has escalated."

Why. First is the sheer amount of chemicals that find their way into rivers and lakes. Phosphorus, used by rural residents to grow crops and city residents to maintain lush, green lawns, runs into waterways and creates algae blooms. Second is the explosion of developed lakeshore property. The old rustic cabins that existed on lakes are being replaced by 0,000 mansions, complete with paved driveways and manicured lawns. The increasing amount of impervious surface increases runoff and degrades lake quality. Third is construction runoff. Even if runoff from construction sites doesn't pick up chemicals along the way, it still muddies lakes and rivers, which is good for bullhead and carp but bad for bass, walleye and northern pike.

The recently passed Job Creation Act makes things worse. Its presumptive permitting process, combined with cutbacks at the Department of Natural Resources, makes it nearly impossible to regulate construction projects that impact lake quality. If the development boom continues, only lakes bordered mostly by public land may be worth fishing.

There is a libertarian argument that people should be able to do anything they want with their private property. It's a legitimate philosophical argument, but there's little evidence that the libertarian approach is successful in protecting resources for the long term. Like it nor not, protecting resources often involves a government regulator telling a private landowner he or she can't do something. After all, as conservatives say, actions have consequences, and the evidence is Wisconsin's dying lakes.

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