WAUZEKA, Wis. — Crawford County officials will spend the next 10 months studying the environmental and health impacts of large-scale livestock facilities, following the enactment of a countywide moratorium.
Approved by the Crawford County Board of Supervisors in December, the ordinance prohibits for one year the creation, construction or expansion of any Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation within the county’s unincorporated areas. CAFOs are facilities that house more than 1,000 animal units — about 700 dairy cows, 1,000 beef cattle or 2,500 hogs.
The measure also instituted a temporary stay on the review of permit applications by county officials and staff.
Crawford County is home to only 1 CAFO, but area residents fear continued large-scale agricultural development in the Driftless area — a geologic region with fractured bedrock — will lead to groundwater contamination with nitrates and bacteria.
“We’re just now starting to get a handle on what the quality of our water is,” said Forest Jahnke, program coordinator of the Crawford Stewardship Project, an environmental advocacy and education group. “It’s a good time to take a step back, have a moratorium, see what laws are on the books that are helpful, see what might be revised. There has been a lot of talk about this on the state level and, so far, almost no action.”
The American Public Health Association in November called for a halt to CAFO construction nationwide along with the strengthening of environmental monitoring requirements until researchers can assess possible health risks.
The Crawford County Board of Supervisors also directed the creation of a special study committee that will analyze the environmental impacts of CAFOs and develop recommendations for regulations necessary to protect water and air quality and resident safety.
The committee will consist of several county department heads and a citizen representative.
Neither County Board Chairman Tom Cornford nor County Conservationist David Troester could be reached to provide comment for this story.
Crawford County’s sole CAFO, Roth Feeder Pig Inc., is owned by Howard Roth and located in Wauzeka. The swine operation is permitted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to house up to 1,679 animal units. Attempts to reach Roth to provide comment for this story were unsuccessful.
According to Jahnke, Roth sought to expand his CAFO, but the moratorium was enacted before he could file an application.
Adam Voskuil, staff attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, an environmental law center based in Madison, does not anticipate a successful legal challenge to the ordinance.
“We have seen a number of counties pass these moratoria within reasonable time limits,” he said.
County Board Member David Olson, who voted in favor of the moratorium, remains “torn” over the issue.
“I live on a farm,” he said. “If (operators) meet all the state standards and state requirements, that’s half the battle. … I’m still open for discussion or debate.”