Student Senate task force fights to preserve Wakarusa Wetlands
- Mar. 27, 2013
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Student Senate finalized the task force that will work to suspend the construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway in order to preserve the Wakarusa Wetlands.
The task force consists of representatives of KU Environs, First Nations student organization, Haskell Wetlands Preservation, KU faculty and administration, student senators and the student body president.
Kansas Department of Transportation plans to construct the South Lawrence Trafficway in the fall and the route it has chosen runs directly through the Wetlands. Student Senate chose the task force to further investigate the issue and create a final proposal to send to the University administration.
Student Body President Hannah Bolton said the task force will be the student voice. The task force will make a statement that people should care more about the Wetlands rather than let them disappear. She said that preserving the Wetlands is important for research and for students who have ties to the actual ground.
“It has an incredible educational value, and that is important to keep in mind,” Bolton said. “Creating awareness can get more people interested in advocating for it,” Bolton said.
Haskell Indian Nations University had sole rights to the Wetlands until the Indian Termination period in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, the University, along with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and Baker University share the rights to the land. The Wetlands cover more than 640 acres. Baker owns 573 acres, Haskell owns 27 acres, theUniversity owns 20 acres and KDWPT also owns 20 acres.
The South Lawrence Trafficway will run through the Wetlands owned by the University, Baker and KDWPT, next to Haskell’s portion.
Brian Sultana, a senior from Manhattan, has worked with other University and Haskell students and members of the community to stop the construction. He said if the University gives its share of the Wetlands back to Haskell, the construction would end.
“My hope is that it brings together KU administration, KU students, Haskell administration and students and maybe even Baker administration and students,” Sultana said.
Sultana said everyone has a stake in this issue and the task force is a way to bring in student input.
Sarah Kraus, a junior from Allen, Texas, is a member of KU Environs and Ecojustice. She said they have worked with the Wetlands Preservation Organization to raise awareness by attending Lawrence City Council meetings and speaking out against the construction. They have also hosted fundraising projects such as Swampfest in February.
Kraus said aside from the environmental issues with the construction, the critical ecosystems in the Wetlands service the community by providing biodiversity.
Haskell has a special connection with the Wetlands.
When Haskell was a boarding school, students were not allowed to contact their families. Kraus said students used the Wetlands as a safe haven to talk with their families and for spiritual purposes. Because some of the students died in theWetlands, Kraus said that the destruction of the Wetlands would destroy sacred grounds.
The task force plans to meet for the first time April 5. It will meet three times before May 1 to finalize a proposal to send to administration.
Hannah Barling is a junior from Arkansas majoring in journalism. Read more from Hannah Barling.