Gard renews talk of DNR split

Stevens Point, Wis. Rep. John Gard (R-Peshtigo) made new DNR
secretary Darrell Bazzell’s first days on the job even more
challenging by announcing that he will offer a budget amendment
seeking to split the resource agency.

Gard wants to see a Department of Parks, Forestry and Recreation
(including fisheries and wildlife) and a separate Department of
Environmental Quality.

“I believe this action will increase accountability and promote
new opportunities for Wisconsin’s parks and forests,” said Gard,
who is the Assembly chairman of the Joint Finance Committee.

Under Gard’s plan, the governor would continue to appoint the
secretary of the Department of Parks, Forestry and Recreation. That
department would take care of state forests, state parks, state
trails and would include the existing Division of Land, Division of
Forestry and Bureau of Fisheries and Habitat.

The Department of Environmental Quality would be responsible for
handling the state’s air, water and solid waste issues. The DNR’s
current Division of Water would go to this new department, minus
the Bureau of Fisheries and Habitat, and the Mississippi River/St.
Croix River Unit.

Gard said the environmental quality department should be run by
a board-appointed secretary.

Gard said the narrow focus of each department would improve the
public’s access to state government.

“State government will more likely be smaller and better focused
after the split,” he said.

Skeptics say that’s not necessarily true. Michigan split its DNR
in a similar fashion about five years ago. Splitting that
department meant Michigan had to hire more administrators and
duplicate some services. Michigan estimated the change cost the
state $4 million.

A least two conservation leaders doubt Gard’s attempt will be
successful.

“It’s been tried before,” said Herb Behnke of Shawano, a member
of the Natural Resources Board.

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