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New leader for the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board

Posted on February 8, 2013

Tim EiseleThe process of government may be slow and frustrating to some people, but it is also fascinating.

Here in Wisconsin, the Natural Resources Board (which sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources and must approve new hunting, fishing and environmental rules) has a new leader.  He is Preston Cole, board member from Milwaukee who was appointed to the board by then-Gov. Jim Doyle in 2007.

Cole is the first African American to serve on the NRB and he has a diverse background in natural resources.

Most recently Cole has been the director of operations of the city of Milwaukee Department of Public Works, managing the city’s forestry operations and sanitation operations. He also serves on the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, providing financial and policy direction for Wisconsin’s largest waste water treatment plant.

Previously he worked for the Missouri Conservation Department as a resource forester and then parks superintendent for the city of St. Louis Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.

He had one season of experience as a firefighter in the Stanislas National Forest in northern California, on loan from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

He came to Wisconsin in 1991 and managed the forestry program for a city that has the reputation of having the best urban forestry program in the country and then was named superintendent of environmental services, where he is responsible for a $60 million budget, 50 managers and 600 employees.

Cole succeeds Dave Clausen as chair of the NRB and will direct his first meeting of the NRB on Feb. 27.  He has long been a board member who asked questions and made suggestions for improving the process of government.

“What interests me most is that the organization continues to evolve to be responsive to the public,” Cole told this reporter.

“As a regulator we have to provide certainty to the community that we regulate.  And, issues around responsiveness to the general public, whether they are wildlife, hunting, fishing rules, we have to create a system so that we are adaptable to change quickly.”

Cole was elected at the Jan. 23 meeting of the NRB.  At the same time, two appointees of Gov. Scott Walker were elected as NRB officers for the first time.  They are Terry Hilgenberg, of Shawano, who will become vice-chair, and Greg Kazmierski, of Pewaukee, who will be secretary.

The interesting thing is that Cole’s term ends in May and any observer of the political process would expect Walker to appoint a known Republican to replace Cole.

If that happens, then Hilgenberg would presumably take over the chairmanship.  Also in May the term of Dave Clausen, also an appointee of Doyle, will expire and Walker will have an opportunity to replace him.

If Walker does not reappoint Clausen, then Walker appointees will be in the majority. They have consistently questioned land buying by the state, especially if it includes agricultural land that the DNR hopes to turn into grasslands for nesting habitat or includes new areas that DNR staff will have the extra burden of managing.

These board members put a larger emphasis at a proposal’s impact on jobs, whereas past board members have primarily looked at the impact on natural resources.

In fact, the DNR is looking at all public lands that it currently owns and is questioning if all are necessary.  DNR may be dragging its heels on the process in a desire to bring it to the board once Walker appointees are in the majority in hopes that the state will sell off land that conservatives no longer consider necessary for conservation purposes.

People interested in conservation and future public recreational opportunities should stay tuned.