Governor, DNR secretary slowly dismantling conservation agency

Decisions on the DNR magazine, forestry mill tax and the DNR's presence – or lack thereof – at the state fair are the latest examples of Gov. Scott Walker’s intent. (Photo by Tim Eisele)

The dismantling and retrenching of the Wisconsin DNR continues full steam ahead under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker and DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.

As this is written, the new state budget has not yet been passed, but it will include the beginning of the end of the DNR’s Natural Resources magazine. The Joint Finance Committee, in laying out the next budget, cut the magazine from six issues a year to four issues a year, even though the magazine is self-staining.

It will eliminate the state’s forestry mill tax, which a conservation-minded legislature and citizenry enacted in the early 1900s. Legislators want to replace that tax with general purpose revenues.

Wisconsin can expect to see less money and less assistance for forestry in the future, and turning more work over to private consultants charging larger fees. As that happens, we will see less habitat to support wildlife species.

The handwriting was on the wall when the DNR hired a chief state forester with an industrial background who lived in Wisconsin Rapids, prior to the governor introducing his budget that called for the position to be located in northern Wisconsin. The DNR is now closing forestry offices in Lancaster and Prairie du Chien.

Also, the DNR recently announced it is reducing its presence at the Wisconsin State Fair. Retired employees who volunteered at the state fair were notified abruptly that their services were no longer needed to help reach the 250,000 or more people who attended the fair and often stopped at the DNR pavilion.

Last year, 18 positions in DNR Bureau of Science Services were eliminated, along with educators. This year, the DNR is completely eliminating the Bureau of Science Services.

The state has loosened minimum standards for shoreland zoning, said that the DNR cannot consider cumulative impacts when giving out high-capacity well permits, and loosened regulations that would have restricted the amount of phosphorous allowed in waterways.

Even though the DNR faced a $4 million gap in its Fish and Wildlife Account, and 14 Wisconsin conservation groups voluntarily requested a targeted increase in several of their own license and stamp fees to help offset the shortfall, the governor and Republican legislators ignored the request.

So this is the Republican manifest that is running the state while dancing to the tune of several northern legislators who have very little interest in science and are determined to reduce state government and regulations – going even so far as to eliminate carcass tags and tagging requirements for deer, turkeys, and Canada geese.

Is this really working?

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