We are the Driftless Defenders

We OPPOSE the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line

Here is a press release from ELPC, who submitted 40 pages of comments to RUS on Friday, September 22, 2023, on behalf of Driftless Area Land Conservancy, National Wildlife Refuge Association, and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

Conservation Groups Call on Federal Agencies to Deny Private Transmission Companies’ Request for Huge Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line to Cut Through Federally Protected Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

“We’re counting on the Federal agencies tasked with stewarding the Refuge to objectively consider whether the transmission line’s destructive intrusion is compatible with the Refuge’s mandated conservation goals”

Madison, WI – Three conservation groups – the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation – submitted comments today to the federal Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) draft Supplemental Environmental Assessment. The conservation groups call on the agency to protect vital public lands and reject the transmission line developers’ proposed land exchange that would result in the construction of up to 20-story towers through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

Rather than rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives as required by federal law – including non-wires alternatives and alternative routes that won’t cross the Refuge, RUS heavily relied on the transmission line developers’ view that the costly and environmentally destructive transmission line “needed” to be built through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the gem of the National Wildlife Refuge System in the Midwest. This Refuge “hosts more than 3.7 million annual visits for hunting, fishing, wildlife observations, and other recreation. The refuge is a Wetland of International Importance and a Globally Important Bird Area,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The federal agencies unfortunately constrained meaningful public participation by allowing the public only 14 days to comment on this issue of significant public importance which the Rural Utilities Service was required by law to prepare.

ATC, ITC Midwest, and Dairyland’s plan to run their huge high-voltage transmission line through the wildlife refuge is illegal. Constructing the huge transmission line through the protected Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge violates the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, violates the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s own regulations, and is inconsistent with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s own applicable Comprehensive Conservation Plan for this Refuge.

Jennifer Filipiak, Executive Director, Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), said:

“Driftless Area Land Conservancy believes there are better 21st century alternatives to this huge transmission line, including the use of battery storage, clean distributed energy generation, advancing energy efficiencies and small-scale “rooftop” solar. These technologies can provide a brighter future for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and for the Driftless region. We’re counting on the Federal agencies tasked with stewarding the Refuge to objectively review these alternatives and consider whether the transmission line’s destructive intrusion is compatible with the Refuge’s mandated conservation goals.”


Kevyn Quamme, President of Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF), said:

“The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge has been recognized nationally and internationally as having some of the finest and most critically important wildlife habitat in the Midwest and is heavily used annually by large multitudes of a wide variety of outdoor recreational users and there needs to be a full evaluation of the damages that the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line will cause before proceeding.”


Concerned Southwest Wisconsin residents submitted separate comments to the Rural Utilities Service.


Kerry Beheler, a WWF member and interested southwest Wisconsin resident, said: 

“I am incredibly concerned about the proposed construction of the CHC through the Refuge. The proposed line would have adverse environmental impacts, with significant bird mortality from collisions, habitat destruction, and damage throughout the ecosystem, including to mammals, birds, fish, insects, mussels, and vegetation. The proposed CHC would likely increase indirect mortality effects for all species.”


Chris Klopp, an interested Southwest Wisconsin resident, said:

“Federal agencies ignore environmental protection of one of the few remaining natural ecosystems and attempt to circumvent our legal protections, in order to facilitate construction of a project that is not needed, furthering utility interests over those of the public.”


The U.S. Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit has reached a decision (attached below)—which basically says a legal decision cannot be made until U.S. Fish and Wildlife makes its final decision about CHC crossing the Mississippi River through the National Wildlife Refuge.  Since this case is closed we opponents are basically back at the beginning, waiting on hold, until we can determine how to procede.
Howard Learner is quoted in a Wisconsin State Journal as follows:  “. . .Howard Learner, said the groups* were “disappointed” that they will have to wait to have the substance of their claims addressed and are considering next steps, but made clear that the decision “does not and cannot allow the transmission company to build their huge transmission line through the national wildlife refuge.”
The court’s decision is “mostly about timing,” he said, in that his clients will have to wait for federal agencies to make a final decision on the river crossing before taking any further steps to challenge the line. 
* “groups” = Driftless Area Land Conservancy, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife.
The court decision can be found here.
Judge Jacob Frost of Dane County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the Public Service Commission, deciding they did in fact follow proper procedures when they approved CHC.
This is a sad time for opponents of CHC.  We do not know if Frost’s ruling will be appealed and we are still awaiting a ruling from the federal appeals court in Chicago regarding crossing the Mississippi River through the National Wildlife Refuge.
The US Court of Appeals in Chicago learned that the public is indeed watching CHC, thanks to the 117 people who viewed online and the 6 people who attended court in person.
Here is a one hour recording if you were not able to attend. 
A panel of three judges heard one hour of oral arguments regarding the developers’ and federal agencies’ appeal to federal Judge Conley’s ruling that CHC cannot cross the Mississippi River through the National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  Without this crossing CHC would be a “line to nowhere” since the WI and IA portions could not be connected.  A final decision is expected in 3-6 months.


Let Your Voice be Heard!

Federal Judge William Conley’s recent ruling BLOCKED CONSTRUCTION of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  Moreover, 114 federally-protected wetlands are temporarily OFF LIMITS under a temporary injunction.  Nevertheless, American Transmission Company, ITC Midwest, and Dairyland Power Cooperative continue to destroy and cause irreparable harm to the landscape of the Driftless Area.  Its time they stop this senseless destruction and waste of ratepayersmoney!

You Can Help! 

Please take a few minutes to

Call or Email Your Legislators and Governor

Tell Them:

  • Judge Conley’s  ruling makes it clear that completion of CHC is not inevitable
  • By continuing to build, the developers are not risking THEIR money; they are spending RATEPAYERS’ money – constituents of legislators and the governor pay the bill.
  • The Public Service Commission’s own staff has demonstrated that far less expensive, less environmentally damaging alternatives would deliver the same benefits as CHC.

Ask Them To:

  • Call on the developers to cease this irresponsible construction in the Driftless Area.
  • Publicly call for the transmission companies to pause, step back and reassess.

Legislator and Governor Contact Info.

Wis. State Senators

Jon Erpenbach          Sen. Dist. 27 (West Point/Middleton)     608-266-6670  Sen.Erpenbach@legis.wisconsin.gov

Howard Marklein         Sen. Dist.  17 (Spring Green)
608-266-0703   Sen.Marklein@legis.wi.gov

Wis. State Assembly Members

Rep. Dianne Hesselbein      Assembly Dis. 79 (Middleton)    608-266-5340 Rep.Hesselbein@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Todd Novak        Assembly Dist. 51 (Dodgeville)               608-266-7502 Rep.Novak@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Sondy Pope        Assembly Dist. 80 (Mt. Horeb)               608-266-3520 Rep.Pope@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Kelda Roys        Sen. Dist. 26 (Madison)
608-266-1627 Sen.Roys@legis.wisconsin.gov

Rep. Travis Tranel    Assembly Dist. 49 (Cuba City)                 608-266-1170 Rep.Tranel@legis.wisconsin.gov

U.S. Representatives

Congressman Ron Kind             Wis. 3rd Dist.
608-782-2558       https://kind.house.gov/contact/email

Congressman Mark Pocan         Wis. 2nd Dist.
608-258-9800   https://pocan.house.gov/contact

U.S. Senators

Senator Tammy Baldwin       608-264-5338


Senator Ron Johnson920-230-7250


Governor Tony Evers

Gov. Tony Evers            608-266-1212               https://evers.wi.gov/pages/connect.aspx

January 14, 2022:  Judge William Conley has ruled in our favor in the lawsuit against four federal agencies regarding the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife & Fish Refuge.
Judge Conley blocked the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line under construction in Iowa and Wisconsin from crossing the Mississippi River after finding the government’s environmental review was inadequate.  Judge William Conley’s ruling throws the fate of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line into question just months after utilities began construction on the $492 million project.  Conley sided with four conservation groups that sued two federal agencies over approvals of the contentious 102-mile line between Dubuque and Middleton.  Howard Learner, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, called the ruling “a tremendous win” for conservation groups that have been fighting the line for years.
We owe a great deal of thanks to Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, and Defenders of Wildlife for initiating this lawsuit.  And words cannot express the thanks and admiration that need to go to Howard Learner and his team at the Environmental Law and Policy Center for their never-ending hard work and determination to stop Cardinal-Hickory Creek.


Much to our dismay, on Thursday, September 26, 2019, all three Public Service Commissioners gave their final approval for Cardinal-Hickory Creek.  The decision is being appealed in Federal and State court by Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, represented by attorney Howard Learner, Executive Director of Environmental Law and Policy Center.  The decision is also being appealed by the Dane County Board, the Iowa County Board, and two municipalities.  More information can be found HERE.


Please sign our petition

Help stop CHC from being built through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  Sign our petition that supports the Federal lawsuits trying to stop CHC.  This is the clearcutting already done in Iowa as ITC approaches the Mississippi River.  Please post on social media and ask your friends to sign, too.  Every signature helps!
Driftless Defenders focuses on stopping Cardinal-Hickory Creek.  At the same time, we want to alert you to a number of industrial size wind and solar farms being proposed for the Driftless Area in Southwest Wisconsin. To begin, if you are interested in learning more about the proposed Uplands Wind Farm and their massive wind turbines visit no-uplands.com.  If you have questions or want to join the opposition to this project contact info@SOULWisconsin.org.




If CHC will cross your property, we have posted information about Right-of-Ways & Easements on our PSC UPDATES page HERE


American Transmission Company (ATC), ITC Midwest, and Dairyland Power Co-op propose to build massive steel towers and 345 kilovolt transmission lines through 125 miles of our rural towns and scenic countryside. Their project, called “Cardinal-Hickory Creek” (CHC), will not provide for the greater good of the public; rather it is designed to make money for ATC, a private corporation, and its shareholders. They are guaranteed a 10.2% rate of return simply for “putting steel in the ground.”  There are better, less expensive alternatives for meeting our energy demand.  Watch our video and read below to understand our reasons for opposition.  To see where the CHC line will be built, view the interactive route map.

Driftless Defenders is a grassroots coalition of citizens dedicated to preventing the construction of high voltage transmission lines through the geologically unique Driftless Area of Wisconsin.


For ongoing ways to help Driftless Defenders maintain public pressure and keep the CHC issue in the public eye, visit our Get Involved page.

Why we oppose the transmission lines:

Not Needed and Outmoded

  • Demand for electricity has been flat or declining in Wisconsin and adjacent states.
  • Wisconsin ranks in top ten states for grid reliability.
  • Our energy needs can be better met with locally-produced, cost-effective, and up-to-date 21st century alternatives that do not require massive and obtrusive transmission lines.

Exorbitant Cost — Paid by Us

  • Construction alone is estimated at $500-$700 million. Other expenses raise cost to over $1 billion.
  • For 40 years we will be forced to pay for this project on our electric bills, which already are among the highest in the Midwest.
  • Meanwhile, ATC investors will receive a 10.2% guaranteed annual rate of return!

Serious Economic Impact

  • Tourism businesses will suffer when the area loses its scenic appeal.
  • Real estate values will drop by as much as 40% on and near the routes of the transmission lines.
  • Property will be difficult to sell.
  • Farm operations will be compromised.

Destruction of Our Environment

  • The scenic beauty and serenity of our unique Driftless landscape and the character of our rural area will be radically and permanently altered by the presence of massive, industrial-style steel towers with their buzzing and popping wires.
  • Native plants and wildlife will be impacted.
  • Clear cutting and herbicide treatments will be used regularly to maintain a corridor under the lines measuring 150 feet wide by 125 miles long.

More About Us

Driftless Defenders is a non-partisan, all volunteer group. It began with five friends living in Dodgeville Township. Everyone along the proposed route received a letter from ATC informing them of the CHC proposal to build 170-ft tall high-voltage transmission towers across the Driftless region from Dubuque, Iowa to Middleton, Wisconsin (125 miles) via towns, farmland, nature conservancy, prairie restoration, and woodlands. These five residents sent an invitation to their neighbors to meet and discuss the situation.

To their surprise, more than 70 people from four townships gathered in a neighbor’s barn to discuss the transmission line, its economic and environmental implications, and what they could do to stop it. We named ourselves the Driftless Defenders.

From that first meeting we have grown from a tiny grassroots organization to one that reaches thousands of people dedicated to preserving the unique Driftless area and opposing the construction of unnecessary transmission lines.

Farmers, landowners, business owners, conservationists, tourists, and many others living and visiting the Driftless region, understand quite well that the construction of this high-voltage line will permanently mar a landscape that supports a thriving rural sector and a broad range of protected and endangered plant and animal species. Driftless Defenders is helping to spread the word that there is no demonstrated need for this high-capacity transmission line. There is no justification for the negative impact such a line would have on rural development, tourism, local property values, taxes, electric bills, and the environment.

Driftless Defenders is a strong proponent of meeting the energy demands of Wisconsin and its adjoining states through improvements in energy efficiency, conservation, non-transmission alternatives, and local renewables.

NOTE:  Driftless Defenders is a 501(c) (4) non-profit organization.  Donations to us are not tax exempt.

If you wish to donate to support this fight please go to our donation page.