ANIMAL PEOPLE ONLINE » Maternal deprivation experiments on macaques in Madison recall Harry Harlow

 MADISON, Wisconsin––Maternal deprivation research appears to be again underway at the Harry Harlow Primate Psychology Laboratory on the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin. “The research in question is a new type of maternal deprivation research designed to study anxiety by creating adverse early rearing conditions and then exposing the maternally deprived young [male] monkeys to a snake and other frightening stimuli.

The monkeys will be killed after the experiment is over and their brains will be studied,” summarized Wesleyan University professor of philosophy, feminist, gender, sexuality, and environmental studies Lori Gruen in an October 2012 critique of the experiments. “I believe this experiment is unethical and I also think it violates the spirit, if not the regulations, of the Animal Welfare Act,” Gruen concluded, “which explicitly requires that the psychological well-being of primates be promoted, not intentionally destroyed.”

Wrote lead experimenter and University of Wisconsin at Madison psychiatry department chair Ned Kalin in the research protocol he submitted in 2011 to the UW Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee, “At birth, infants will be removed from their mother and placed immediately in an incubator with a surrogate stuffed animal, towels, and/or blankets. As shown by Harlow (1958), infants will form attachment bonds to these items, which provide contact comfort as early as one day of life.” Added Kalin, apparently trying to distance his work from Harlow’s, “Unlike isolated monkeys, infants in the nursery will have full auditory and visual access to other animals, human caretakers, and/or television or radio. When mature enough, these animals will be paired with a peer.”

“It has been two decades since anyone at UW-Madison has isolated baby monkeys to cause them psychological trauma,” responded Alliance for Animals director Rick Bogle in an online response prepared for a local newspaper but then not published. “The university’s spin on their resumption of this cruelty is the assertion that the baby monkeys Kalin is isolating aren’t really isolated because someone comes by to feed them and clean up their incubators. They claim that because Kalin’s methods are not as extreme as some of Harlow’s methods, that they are not extreme at all.”

Obtaining Kalin’s research protocol in August 2012 through a Freedom of Information Act request, Bogle sought to stop the project, but it might by then have already started. “To the degree that I can say with some certainty that anything is happening at the university, the project is underway,” Bogle told ANIMAL PEOPLE

“I’m unaware of any approved protocols that have not started up once approved. It remains to be seen, however, whether all 20 of the infant monkeys [whom Kalin plans to use] have been removed from their mothers. I suspect that the number of available incubators and male births might be a limiting factor.

“One point should be clarified,” Bogle added. “Harlow’s work was primarily an investigation into the effects of varying degrees of social and environmental deprivation and ways in which the effects could be accelerated. Kalin’s project is using the well understood effects of maternal deprivation, early isolation, and peer-rearing as a tool to create highly anxious baby monkeys.” Kalin has done maternal deprivation experiments derivative of Harlow’s work before, Bogle explained in his online commentary.

However, “When Kalin began publishing the details of his [earlier] cruel experiments on monkeys in 1983,” Bogle wrote, “the profound similarity of human and nonhuman primate cognition and emotion was less well known,” Bogle acknowledged. “The idea that other primates have cultures, a sense of self, use tools, can add and learn the meaning of abstract symbols, can reason, and are like us is so many other ways was dismissed as preposterous.” This has all changed, but “Not once in Kalin’s defense of his maternal deprivation and fear-inducing terminal experiments,” Bogle continued, “does he try to explain why it would be moral to harm and kill animals he believes experience fear and anxiety much like our own.”

Noted Bogle, “Kalin’s experiments on monkeys have been continuously supported by the National Institutes of Health since 1990. His grants have cost taxpayers over $5 million since 2000, without yielding discernible benefit to human patients.” Wrote Gruen, “There are many obvious ways to minimize the human suffering that results from anxiety disorders. In tough economic times, the provision of such services generally falls on charities that are already overburdened. Imagine how much real good the funds that UW researchers have used causing monkeys anxiety for 30 years could have done, directly serving those children who suffer so greatly.”

Committee for Research Accountability directors Rita Anderson and Barbara Millman announced in November 2003 that University of Colorado Health Sciences Center researcher Mark Laudenslager had ended his maternal deprivation research after 17 years. The line of experiments that began with Harlow was then believed to have ended. Harlow from 1930 to 1970 plunged generations of baby macaques and sometimes babies of other non-human primate species into stainless steel “pits of despair,” as he called them; subjected the babies to deliberately cruel robotic “mothers”; and allowed mother monkeys who had been driven insane by his experiments to abuse and kill their babies.

When Harlow semi-retired to a part-time post at the University of Arizona, other University of Wisconsin faculty including fellow maternal deprivation researchers Stephen J. Suomi and Gene Sackett immediately dismantled his lab. Suomi, now chief of the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, admitted to Deborah Blum, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Monkey Wars (1992) and Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection (2002) that the experiments gave him nightmares.

Sackett has attributed the subsequent rise of the animal rights movement in part to public revulsion at Harlow’s experiments, which by the early 1970s were already widely known and debated on university campuses. Seven years before the first action claimed by the “Animal Liberation Front,” a failed bombing at the University of Wisconsin Primate Research Center was at first believed to have been directed at stopping the maternal deprivation research, but was later found to have been a failed attempt by four anti-Vietnam War protesters to bomb the Army Mathematics Research Center across the street. The four succeeded on second try, killing post-doctorate math student Robert Fassnacht, who also opposed the war, and severely injuring three other students who had no involvement with the war. Harlow died in 1981, at age 76, a reputed drunk whose chief contribution to mainstream laboratory primatology was inventing the “rape rack,” a device for artificially inseminating primates.

But the University of Wisconsin primate lab was renamed in his honor, and has conducted many other controversial experiments. Bogle, then heading the Primate Freedom Project, moved to Madison in 2004 to renovate a building located between the National Primate Research Center at Madison and the Harry Harlow Primate Psychology Laboratory into a planned National Primate Research Center Exhibition Hall. Bogle expected it to become a rallying point for opposition to primate experiments. Retired California physician and animal advocate Richard McLellan had agreed to buy the building from bicycle shop owner Roger Charly. However, the university stalled the purchase through legal action and then reportedly paid Charly $1 million for it.

Merritt Clifton
Editor, ANIMAL PEOPLE
P.O. Box 960 | Clinton, WA 98236
Telephone: 360-579-2505
Cell: 360-969-0450
Fax: 360-579-2575
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ANIMAL PEOPLE ONLINE » Maternal deprivation experiments on macaques in Madison recall Harry Harlow.

Leslie A. Hamilton: Don’t fall for UW spin on experiments : Wsj

It is absolutely untrue that in 2009 the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals received “full access” to UW-Madison records on research involving cats.

As co-counsel for PETA in its open records lawsuit against the university, I take issue with last Saturday’s column, “Cat research, after all the drama,” by Eric Sandgren, director of the Research Animal Resources Center at UW-Madison.

UW did not, and has not to this day, released the so-called “proprietary” details of its experiments on the brains of living cats. And the records and photos that we finally obtained are far from complete.

The primary justification UW gave the court for its refusal to release either the written or photographic documents related to these “surgeries” came in an affidavit submitted to the court in 2011 by the primary researcher: “The surgical technique was developed by a non-UW researcher who shared the technique with me on the condition that I keep the technique confidential.”

Despite several requests for some evidence of this confidentiality agreement, and a promise by the UW to produce it, it was never provided to the court. UW even refused to name this “non-UW researcher” who allegedly extracted this confidentiality pledge.

After several months of digging through publicly available research papers, we found the “non-UW researcher,” and when we spoke with him directly, he stated there was no such confidentiality agreement. In fact, it appeared that the work of this “non-UW researcher” was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant that stipulated he make it freely and publicly available.

In August of 2011, we informed the court of our conversation with this “non-UW research,” and soon after UW expressed an interest in settling our open records case. In January and February of 2012, my client and I met several times with UW’s attorney for the purpose of reaching an agreement on how the photos and records would be blurred or redacted to hide the details the UW still argued were “proprietary.”

In the interest of getting this information to the public as soon as possible, PETA signed a restrictive confidentiality agreement governing the release of the photos and records. In June of 2012, PETA finally obtained the records and photos, still heavily redacted.

Contrary to Sandgren’s claim, even in settlement, PETA was not provided with access to “the complete description of all procedures and medical interventions.”

Sandgren claims he cannot understand why PETA waited until it obtained the dramatic post-surgical photos of the UW’s cats before it publicized its find.

Months of work went into obtaining these records and photos, and as the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is especially true when 990 of those words are redacted!

Leslie A. Hamilton is a Madison attorney.

Leslie A. Hamilton: Don’t fall for UW spin on experiments : Wsj.

Lucky vegans: Five divine dishes at Madison restaurants that are also animal-free – Isthmus | The Daily Page

It’s a great time to be a vegan in Madison, especially for those who enjoy dining out. Local chefs and restaurateurs are making an effort to welcome vegans to their establishments by clearly identifying vegan choices on their menus and going beyond the ubiquitous hummus wrap to offer tasty, satisfying meals that also happen to include no meat, dairy products, eggs or other animal-derived ingredients.

In my experience, many Madison chefs will gladly create an off-menu meal for vegans or other patrons with special dietary needs. But here, I’ll focus on locally owned restaurants that have vegan choices on their everyday menus.  Read the full, delicious article here: Lucky vegans: Five divine dishes at Madison restaurants that are also animal-free – Isthmus | The Daily Page.

Jeremy Beckham: UW researcher distorts, dismisses cruelty to cats : Wsj

1500-double-trouble-10Regarding Saturday’s guest column, “Cat research, after all the drama,” by UW-Madison research director Eric Sandgren:

UW’s response to criticism about its barbaric taxpayer-funded experiments on cats has been to distort, deny and dismiss the well-documented cruelty and to silence dissent. But the truth is out.

According to records written in UW staff and faculty’s own hands, and captured with their own camera, cats at UW had their heads cut open, steel rods screwed to their skulls, electrodes implanted in their brains, and metal coils placed in their eyes. Some were deafened and had cochlear devices implanted into their ears. They suffered from infections and pain. That the government didn’t cite UW for this abuse speaks to weaknesses of animal protection laws, not morality or science.

This isn’t helping people. None of this laboratory’s cochlear implant experiments on cats has ever been published in a scientific journal. Records show some couldn’t even be completed because the mutilated cats became too sick and were killed.

UW’s approach to dealing with peoples’ objections has been to block emails from the public, to delete messages from its Facebook page, and to remove Board of Regents members’ contact information from its website.

Despite UW’s shenanigans, hundreds of thousands of people have protested. The photos that show why are available for all to see at PETA.org/DoubleTrouble.

— Jeremy Beckham, Salt Lake City, research project manager, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Jeremy Beckham: UW researcher distorts, dismisses cruelty to cats : Wsj.

Wiley the coyote: A Wisconsin hunter’s story of love and transformation « Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic-Vote Our Wildlife

“I cannot tell you how this coyote has turned me upside down.  Wiley is a member of our family.  I feel like I am fighting for the life of my relative!” ~ Rick Hanestad, Dunn County, Wisconsin

It is not often that a hunter calls me, asking for help.  In November, I found an urgent message on my answer machine.  I returned the call immediately.  Rick Hanestad, Nascar All American Series driver, life-long hunter/trapper and hound hunter, was calling me to help him save the life of a coyote.

Rick launched into his story.  His father and uncle farm over 1000 acres in western Dunn County.  In March, 2011, his uncle allowed a neighbor to hunt turkeys on his land.  The DNR promotes coyote killing 24/7 year-round, so that hunter killed a lactating female coyote.  Rick said, “Patricia, I don’t like that.  When I heard a female was shot in the spring, it made me sick to my stomach.”  He and his then 7 year-old daughter and 14 year-old son went looking for her pups.  Three days later they found five crying puppies, their eyes not yet open.  But he was “so scared of the DNR” that he just raked around the den to make sure it was the den of the coyote killed.  When he checked again, then the fifth day since the coyote had been shot, only one pup remained alive, dehydrated and weak.   Rick and his family spent the night dripping fluids down his throat.  They named him Wiley.

Asked what he thought would happen, Rick said, “I figured that at about 6 months he would be so vicious, I would either let him go, or shoot him.”  Did he ever show any aggression to their old male lab, their children, or their horses – to anyone?  “Never. He is such a sweet animal. I trust him absolutely with my 8 year-old daughter.  He is best friends with our dog.”

In November, 2012, a policeman was called out to neighboring land on a deer-stand dispute. Seeing the coyote outside in a pen, the policeman informed Rick’s wife that “the DNR will be out to pick up your coyote.”  (to kill him )

Rick dedicated himself, full-time, to save their family pet.  He called the local warden, the town supervisor, his legislators, and an outdoor radio host in Minnesota.  Hanestad wrote Representative Mursau’s aide,” In our state we have numerous coyotes, but without hunting dogs, who ever sees one?  I would love to take him to things like a biology class at schools or other situations where his extraordinary kindness around people could be shared.”

He continued, “I also found out about an individual that lives about an hour from our home in Ladysmith, WI.  This person (owns) a place that people take their hunting hounds to chase coyotes in an enclosed pen.  Talking with one person that uses the pen I was told that coyotes are chased and, on occasion, tore to pieces by hounds while people watch.  This guy does have a license legal by our state.  I can’t believe it! “   A neighbor’s son had seen a coyote killed by a pack of dogs in that enclosure, with people enjoying the “sport”.

Wisconsin coyotes have been taken legally from our state, for this legalized fenced torture, and required reports have not been made for 10 years.  There has been no DNR oversight.  Former DNR head of special investigations, Tom Solin, told me, a decade ago, that the DNR should not allow coyotes to be used in these enclosures because they cannot climb trees or hide from the dogs.  They get ripped apart on the ground.

Hanestad was looking for a way to get his coyote’s story to the public.  Someone at the DNR gave him my name.   He told me, “They might as well send 5 police officers, because they will not be taking our coyote, they will be taking me.”

All this required is a commonly DNR- issued captive wildlife license.  I made a few calls targeted to captive wildlife DNR personnel, asking if Hanestad has to promise to have this coyote ripped apart by dogs to get the appropriate license.  The next day, Rick called me, joyfully:  “The DNR will sell me Wiley for $24.00, and the cost of the state license, no fine, and I just have to build him a 144 square foot pen.  He would be standing in his own feces.  I am building him an acre.  He is ours!”

Rick says Wiley is the star of his hunting community.  People come to sit in the living room and hear him sing a thousand different songs. “Patricia, the different vocalizations amaze me on a nightly basis.  I’ve heard coyotes numerous times in the wild, but no one can possibly appreciate how beautiful they sound.  My family gets to hear different songs every night.”

Hanestad describes himself as having a deep lineage in hunting. His uncle taught him hunting and trapping from the age of five.  All his teen years he trapped, on average, setting 100 traps on a trap-line.  His average take was “130 coons, 40-50 red foxes, and 15-20 coyotes per season”.  He told me, “I always heard ‘the only good coyote is a dead coyote’.  The coyotes would be snarling in a foothold trap, and I would beat them to death with a stick.  I have killed hundreds of them.  I never thought about it.  I thought of it just like getting rid of weeds.”

And now?  “It makes me sick to my stomach when I think of what I did in the past.”

Does he think other coyotes are just like Wiley?  “Absolutely – they don’t do a thing to harm anybody.”  Why does he think they are so hated?  “Ignorance – it is just ignorance.”  Does it make him rethink all of his assumptions about animals?

“Absolutely.”

Hanestad emailed me, “When the warden and the state wildlife biologist came to visit him, Wiley fell to his back and the biologist scratched his belly.  The biologist stated ‘oh my god; he’s just like a dog’.  That to me was worth its weight in gold because on the spot I changed his opinion of coyotes.”

I asked him how many hard core hunters he thought would be changed by meeting Wiley.  Hanestad replied “20% the first ten minutes – and 100% if they had experienced a week of what I have.  How could they not be changed?”  But he cautioned, “Some people choose to remain ignorant.”

Wiley Coyote, Trickster, power animal, has come to Wisconsin. Wisconsin citizens can no longer tolerate a legislature and DNR who choose ignorance.

 

The Natural Resources Board meets Feb. 26 in Madison to take comments on permanent rules to use packs of dogs to hunt wolves.  The deadline to register to comment is February 19 at Laurie.Ross@Wisconsin.gov.  Written comments can be made through February 22.

 

Patricia Randolph of Portage is a longtime activist for wildlife. madravenspeak@gmail.com or www.wiwildlifeethic.org
Here are more photographs of Wiley and his adopted family:

Wiley the coyote: A Wisconsin hunter’s story of love and transformation « Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic-Vote Our Wildlife.

The Badger Herald · Research cruelty well documented

In response to actor James Cromwell’s protest at a Board of Regents meeting, the University of Wisconsin claimed the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ allegations of the mistreatment of even more cats in one of its laboratories were “unsubstantiated.” Yet the troubling allegations in the complaint to the regents were based directly on UW’s own internal records chronicling sick and dying cats and on horribly upsetting photos UW faculty took of their own experiments and expected no one to see.

How about some honesty, for a change, from our administration? The issue here is not that the extensively documented, troubling allegations are “unsubstantiated.” They are very true. The regents just don’t care.

Gina Stuessy (gstuessy@gmail.com) is a Madison resident who graduated from UW with a degree in biomedical engineering in 2008.

The Badger Herald · Research cruelty well documented.

Welcome to the Zor Shrine Circus!

Last evening I attended the Zor Shrine Circus in Madison, Wisconsin.  It was the first performance of the 2013 Madison circus weekend.  Elephants, ponies, camels, dogs, and tigers are scheduled to appear and perform for a total of six 3-hour shows over the weekend.

These forced “performers” are trucked from city to city, and some of them are forced to  spend their days/weeks/months/lives confined in small enclosures while not performing. The elephants usually remain shackled in place.

I attended the event with two friends, who are also Alliance for Animals (AFA)  Board members.  We purchased our tickets online, paid for reserved seating, plus a service fee, and also paid for parking. We shelled out $75 to be there.  Our tickets were not paid by AFA – and no one was compensated for attending the circus.

Our intent for attending was to observe and document the treatment of the elephants and other animals at the Zor Shrine Circus.  We were simply being witnesses.  After three years of attending the Zor Shrine Circus and observing and documenting the elephants’ health and treatment, we are familiar with several of them and have concerns about their welfare.

zor_camera-in-faceWhile taking pictures during the intermission I noticed Mark Severson, Assistant Circus Chairman standing very close to me. I turned to see a camera in my face.  I reacted by snapping a picture of him as he was taking my picture and asked, “Why are you taking my picture?”

“I’m taking pictures of everyone,” he said.

I walked away from Severson  and watched other Zor Shriner’s encircle my friends, bumping into one repeatedly and apparently trying to make us all feel uncomfortable.  Much of this is on video.

If this is how Zor Shriners act when they’re sober, I’d hate to see them drunk. Childish, laughing, and basically annoying, they followed us around for awhile.

When one of us was photographing the elephants, Andy Klausman, another  Zor Shriner, told her to aim her camera higher, that she was not allowed to take pictures of the elephants’ feet.

Al Matano, Dane County Board Supervisor and sponsor of the elephant ban ordinance, who was also in attendance inquired about this prohibition with Alliant Energy Center director Mark Clarke.  “Why can’t we take photos of the elephants’ feet?” he asked.

Director Clarke said, “You can take photos of any part of the elephant you want as long as you are in the photography area.” We informed him that we were told not to do that and  pointed out Klausman, who made the demand.

Clarke then approached Klausman who apologized.

It is no secret that we disapprove of the elephants at the circus. Our goal is to document any negligence or abuse and to report this abuse and any violation of the Animal Welfare Act to the USDA in the hope that the county can enforce its ban on the exhibition of elephants sooner rather than later.

In 2012 the Dane County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance amendment banning the exhibition of elephants for amusement or entertainment by a vote of 23 to 9.  This means that no new elephant acts shall be allowed at the county’s auditorium. Unfortunately, the current contract with the Zor Shriners will be honored until it runs out in 2020.  The County’s attorney expressed the opinion that the Zors might be able to win a lawsuit against the County if the County banned the elephants immediately. This worried enough of the County Supervisors that they allowed the Zor’s temporary exemption.

Our presence at the Zor Shrine Circus was not intended to disrupt the event or even to protest. Our presence did not hinder the performance, nor did we harass any audience members or staff.  We were harassed by the Shriners as they attempted to intimidate us.

Shame on the Zor Shriners.  They know that the George Carden Circus has been cited by the USDA for its improper care of these elephants; and they know that the elephants are abused throughout their training and are  intimidated throughout their life,  yet they elected to try and make it harder to document any evidence of mistreatment or ill health. This puts them clearly and squarely on the side of the perpetrators of cruelty. They should be ashamed.

Lynn Pauly, Co Director, Alliance for Animals, Madison WI

Charles Talbert: Who defines ‘outdoor skills’? : Wsj

As reported in Thursday’s State Journal, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress — made up mostly of hunters and trappers — wants to turn the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center into a training facility for hunters and trappers.

This is understandable. Their shrinking numbers desire institutional legitimacy for their self-described “outdoor skills.” By recruiting school children, they want to counter the public’s growing realization that what in frontier days was a violent necessity is today just a cruel pastime.

Less clear is why the Department of Natural Resources promotes this distorted view of what constitutes “outdoor skills.” Most Wisconsinites, including the taxpayers who support the DNR, do not need to spill blood on wildlife lands to enjoy them.

Charles Talbert, Monona

Charles Talbert: Who defines ‘outdoor skills’? : Wsj.

Friends of Mackenzie and WWF Oppose DNR Killing School

Friends of MacKenzie and the WWF Oppose DNR Decision to End Environmental Education for School Children at MacKenzie

Poynette: Today the Friends of MacKenzie and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation sent a letter to DNR Secretary Stepp, requesting DNR halt DNR plans to end school-based Environmental Education at the MacKenzie Environmental Center in Poynette, Wisconsin. The Center has provided Environmental Education to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin school children since it was opened in the mid-1970s. Since 2006, the Center has been run by the WWF and the Friends under a contract from the DNR.   The Center provides environmental education opportunities to 16,000 students a year, the highest number of any of the Environmental Education Centers owned by the DNR and at the lowest per student cost of any of the DNR centers. The net cost for DNR to have the WWF and the Friends operate MacKenzie annually is $185,000 a year out of DNR’s annual budget of five hundred million dollars. The Center is being operated under a no-cost increase ten year contract.   The DNR is proposing to use MacKenzie as a training center for hunting, fishing and trapping skills for youth and novice hunters, anglers and trappers. The Friends and the WWF support the use of MacKenzie for these purposes but have indicated that the school-based environmental education programs being offered at MacKenzie take place when the facility would not be used for hunting, fishing and trapping based skills training. MacKenzie could be optimized for educational purposes by having both environmental education and skills based training taking place at the facility.   Besides this major change in use, DNR has informed the Friends and WWF that there will be major changes in buildings and structures at MacKenzie including the construction of a shooting range. Under DNR regulations and policies, such dramatic changes necessitate the development of a Master Plan for the property including significant public involvement including public hearings in the community. DNR has not done a Master Plan for MacKenzie and has had no public input for the proposed changes. The Friends and the WWF have called on DNR to at least continue school-based Environmental Education at MacKenzie until the results of the Master Plan are completed.

Group Leader Resources / MacKenzie Environmental Education Center.

DNR plans to turn wildlife field trip destination into hunting and fishing training center : Wsj

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wants to transform an environmental education center in Poynette into a hunting and fishing training center, complete with shooting range, the agency announced this week.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, which runs the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center with the DNR, said the changes would mean an end to the popular field trip destination known for its native Wisconsin animal exhibit, annual maple sugar festival and environmental education programs that drew about 16,000 Wisconsin students last year.

George Meyer, the federation’s executive director, said he learned Monday the DNR will end the group’s contract in August. Instead the agency will ask nonprofit and commercial groups to apply to manage the property and run hunting, fishing and trapping education programs there. Groups would have to fund the programming without state money and build a small shooting range for training.

“As we take a look at our statewide education plan, one of the things that was noticeably missing was the outdoors skills education center,” said Kurt Thiede, DNR land division administrator.

The change at MacKenzie, according to DNR officials, would be a way to reduce costs and create what the agency called a “first-of-its-kind” outdoor skills recruitment and retention center. Thiede said the state has been paying about $280,000 annually to run the center.

“We don’t see this as a big change other than the fact that we’re adding to the offerings at MacKenzie and we’re trying to do it in a sustainable way,” Thiede said.

Thiede said that any group chosen to run the center would have to offer environmental education as well as hunting education.

“It is that the primary focus would now be on promoting outdoor skills,” Thiede said.

Popular for school field trips

MacKenzie, which opened in the mid-1970s, has been a popular and low-cost field trip destination for area schools and is designed as a self-guided facility. Teachers are given literature before they arrive and can guide their class through the museum and trails. Dorms allow students to stay overnight.

“We would be devastated if .. the education and overnight opportunity disappeared,” said Mark Smith, seventh-grade teacher at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie. “(Students) get to have this amazing sleepover that’s basically integrated with all these learning opportunities outside. We have students who have never made a s’more before.”

For the past six years, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a friends group have run the center, where 22 species of live native Wisconsin animals are on exhibit.

“It’s one of two native live animal exhibits in the state of Wisconsin,” Meyer said. “That’s what makes it really unique.”

Meyer said the federation supports the outdoor skills training and would be willing to work with the state on a program held on weekends and during the summer, because it wouldn’t interfere with the current school-based environmental programming during the school year.

In a letter to the DNR this week, the federation and Friends of MacKenzie organization requested the agency reinstate the contract to operate the center until “a completed planning process with a robust community, school and stakeholder public input process and the education aspects of that new plan are up and running at MacKenzie.”

Thiede encouraged the federation to submit their own proposal for the outdoor skills center to be considered for a new contract.

From hidden gem to destination spot?

The DNR has struggled for years on how to best fund the center, Thiede said.

And while visitation has been good at MacKenzie, “we haven’t seen a great increase over time,” Thiede said.

“While hidden gems are great, what we really want to try to focus on is making MacKenzie a destination,” Thiede said, adding he hopes programs like the popular Maple Sugar Festival, which features a pancake breakfast and provides a history of maple sugaring in Wisconsin, continue.

Neil Bishop, president of the Friends of MacKenzie group that helps the wildlife federation run the center, worries what will happen if the DNR changes its focus from environmental education. He envisions the Maple Sugar Festival disappearing.

“We’re all extremely disappointed that they’ve decided to take this action,” he said.

Bishop also is concerned about what will happen to the wildlife exhibits, which include a mountain lion, grey wolf and bald eagle.

Thiede said the animals would be “cared for” however what that would mean — be it care at the current facility or somewhere else — is uncertain.

Rob Bohmann, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, supports the change at MacKenzie.

“The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation has done an outstanding job promoting general outdoor education at the MacKenzie Center over the years, but we see a tremendous amount of value for conservation in this new opportunity to concentrate educational efforts on outdoor skills related to hunting, fishing and trapping,” he said in a news release.

DNR plans to turn wildlife field trip destination into hunting and fishing training center : Wsj.