The Dunes vs. the Billionaires: Wiscoland is Making a Documentary

It may not be the best time to announce a venture (even one that’s been in progress for more than a year), what with yet another of the most important elections in our lifetime happening in a matter of days, but Wiscoland has expanded into a production company.

On the other hand, now may be the appropriate time, because the connection between elections and activism has never been clearer.

Since 2017, Wiscoland has covered issues from the Big Stink in Franklin (and no, it’s not the Strauss Brands meat-packing plant) to the attempted land grab at Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs – which, incidentally, was averted by Governor Tony Evers, who saved the Bluffs from being turned into a condo development with a timely infusion of public funds. The anonymous donor whose efforts to develop Cedar Gorge were supported by Republicans on the legislature’s finance committee made a lame argument comparing spending on public works to buying a puppy – you’re always going to be spending money on it rather than reaping revenue from it, in the form of tax dollars. But knowing how good large businesses are at making deals to avoid paying taxes makes that argument especially specious. As it stands, the Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust has made the purchase, and the Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs will expand the prime hiking area at the Lion’s Den in Ozaukee County, a move the public enthusiastically supported.

Take a moment to consider what Tim Michels would have done in the same circumstances, and don’t forget to vote.

But the issue that’s been perhaps most dear to my heart is Kohler-Andrae Lakeshore, the single ecosystem, consisting of Kohler-Andrae State Park and the approximately 247 acres to the north belonging to Kohler Company, the company that wants to clear cut an old growth forest, bulldoze rare, interdunal wetlands, and build a 4-lane road plus a rotary and a 22,000 square foot maintenance facility in our state park, all in service of its fifth championship golf course.

The proposed development is the subject of The Dunes vs. the Billionaires, the documentary being directed and filmed by Jenny Plevin and produced by me. The state supreme court has yet to weigh in on Kohler’s flimsy wetlands mitigation permit, but we don’t want to take a chance that the decision of the conservative-dominated court will be the correct one. Kohler is a company that touts its reputation for “sustainability” and has donated large sums to the Nature Conservancy. That, in the public’s mind, makes it one of the good guys, a pro-environment company. But there is plenty of evidence that Kohler behaves much like any other business when it comes to manufacturing waste, and it has acted with arrogant indifference to the precious wildlife and wetlands at Kohler-Andrae Lakeshore. We hope that our documentary can help create the public pressure that will cause Kohler to preserve the land and permanently set aside its predatory designs on our state park.

You hear a lot these days about how we live in a divided America, but increasingly it seems that that division is caused not by love of Trump, but by a business community with no sense of responsibility – not to people, not to the land, not to the creatures we share it with – in fact, to anything other than its own financial interests. You never get the sense, with American business, that we live in a society of competing interests and need to make rational choices among them for the good of all.

Old growth trees like the ones on the Kohler land are important to slowing climate change and to providing stopover sites for 10,000 migratory birds and habitat for the threatened and endangered species that call it home. And in fact, if we don’t start basing decisions about our forests on something besides their dollar value, our own survival as a species is in doubt. That is why Jenny Plevin and I, in partnership with Sierra Club and Friends of the Black River Forest, are making this documentary.

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