WI: DNR decides to expand customer service hours

Madison – The DNR has announced that over-the-counter service hours at a number of service centers will expand. When the transition is complete later this winter, the changes will be phased in center by center as employees are trained and are ready to help customers, according to a Jan. 3 DNR press release.

Sportsmen still won't see full-time counter service in all areas, but hours will be increased by 40 percent statewide, according to the DNR.

"Excellent customer service is a top priority," DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said. "By making internal adjustments, we are able to improve our customer service, and make our knowledgeable, friendly staff more available to help (sportsmen)."

The change is welcomed by those who have been frustrated by the lack of customer support. As chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress Warm Water Committee, Joe Weiss, of Spooner, has occasion to need input from DNR staff members.

"What they plan on doing is a good start," Weiss said.

Some offices will be open five days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., remaining open during the lunch hour. The Rhinelander office began with new hours Jan. 3. Other service centers in Green Bay, Spooner, Fitchburg, Milwaukee, and Eau Claire are tentatively scheduled to implement the new hours Feb. 6.

A number of satellite service centers will be open during the noon hour, Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. These include Antigo, Black River Falls, Cumberland, La Crosse, Ladysmith, Madison, Park Falls, Peshtigo, Plymouth, Superior, Wausau, Wisconsin Rapids, and Woodruff. Those hours also began Jan. 3.

"The hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. were chosen because our customers told us they wanted us to be available during their lunch hours," said Diane Brookbank, DNR customer service director. "The new hours offer greater consistency in the hours open to the public, and we hope will allow DNR to maintain strong ties with local communities across the state."

Larry Bonde, of Kiel, is particularly pleased with the consistency offered by the Plymouth office that serves his area.

"People should get a sense of normalcy as a result of this," Bonde said. "People can get the sense that the department actually wants to do business with them."

Satellite service centers located in Ashland, Baldwin, Dodgeville, Hayward, Oshkosh, Sturgeon Bay, Sturtevant, and Waukesha are tentatively scheduled to begin the expanded noon-time hours Feb. 6.

The Janesville service center will continue to operate as it has in the past – two days per week. The DNR is working to partner with other state agencies to provide services in that area, but those plans have not been finalized, according to Bill Cosh, DNR communications officer. Two other sites, Poynette and Wautoma, no longer provide counter service.

As a district headquarters, the change in Spooner will relieve a big problem for himself and others, Weiss said.

"The best contact was the person at the front desk," he said. "In the past it's been frustrating because you couldn't talk to anyone in the building."

These changes were made possible by the addition of six permanent staff members and 10 limited-term employees working half-time, according to Cosh.

"The permanent positions were reallocations of existing positions that were vacant," he said.

The DNR was able to hire the part-time staff as a result of reductions in travel costs, he added.

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest Superintendent Steve Peterson, who works out of the Woodruff DNR office, said expanding the counter service isn't as simple as moving customer service specialists back to their former jobs.

When former DNR secretary Matt Frank cut back on customer service positions several years ago, many of those employees retired, moved to take jobs in other areas, or transferred into new jobs in their area.

"That means we have to do some training now," Peterson said.

Sportsmen may check with the DNR call center at (888) 936-7463 or on the DNR website to confirm when new hours will start.

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