Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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DNR eases WWF out of MacKenzie with award

Pembine, Wis. — The DNR presented a plaque to George Meyer and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation in appreciation for all the WWF did during the past 10 years to build up the conservation education program at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center in Poynette.

The DNR announced last December that it was abruptly ending the contract with WWF to provide environmental education to school groups at the MacKenzie site. The DNR asked for other groups to bid on providing environmental ed while also starting up a new outdoor skills center.

The only group to bid on the project was WWF, but the DNR recently turned down the group’s bid because it would not have provided everything the agency wanted. Instead, the DNR announced it would take over the center once again and build its own programs.

At the Natural Resources Board meeting in Pembine on Sept. 25, Kurt Thiede, the DNR’s Land Division administrator, told the board the DNR wanted to say thanks to WWF and the Friends of the MacKenzie Environmental Center for their past work.

He called attention to what those two groups accomplished when “the DNR did not have a clear vision about the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center.”

Matt Maroney, DNR deputy secretary, commended WWF for everything that it did.

“The DNR was faced with tight budgets and they stepped up to the plate and continued programming, and have been great continuing to work with our staff,” Maroney said.

(DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp was attending a meeting with Gov. Scott Walker on economic development and was not at the NRB meeting.)

Meyer told the board he was surprised to receive the award.

“There was a need and we stepped up for the same reason that you do your business: for the kids,” Meyer said. “We have a lot of other things to spend time on and this will now free up some resources. We think we leave it in very good shape.”

Meyer said the DNR chose an excellent person in J.D. Smith to coordinate the center, and the big issue now is that WWF has employees – who taught the education programs at MacKenzie – who are now in transition. Meyer hopes that some of those teachers will be placed within the DNR.

He also thanked the NRB for its leadership and giving any other group a chance to take on the environmental education responsibilities, which the WWF took on.

Thiede said that as they move forward, one of the main decisions is whether to continue with the vision that the DNR asked for in the request for proposals last year.

He said the department wanted to continue moving forward and appointed Smith, who was in charge of DNR education staff and internet enhancements.

“I can’t thank the staff at MacKenzie enough. Their hearts are in the right place, looking out for the kids,” Thiede said.

The DNR plans to build educational programming and will gather a teachers roundtable to find out their needs and build the environmental education structure.

Smith also has been in touch with many of the people who testified in support of WWF’s program last year when it looked like the DNR would dump environmental education. He wants to learn what they want to see and reassure them of DNR’s commitment.

“The other aspect of our vision,” Thiede said, “is a one-of-its-kind program to engage young and old in hunting and trapping and making sure they stay interested.”

He said one thing they need is to put “metrics” in place to see if they are reaching their goal. They also need to measure themselves in efficiencies.

Thiede’s report was just informational and required no action by the board.

Sporting Heritage grant

Maroney addressed the recent controversy over the $500,000 Sporting Heritage grant that the DNR awarded to the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation prior to when it came to light that some of the information the group provided was not correct.

The grant later was cancelled by Gov. Scott Walker.

Maroney said the DNR, in the future, is going to look at tightening up background research on groups. The DNR plans to give a report to the board at the December board meeting.

Secondly, there was discussion about $28 million that the state receives in Pittman-Robertson funds that could have been in jeopardy had the state used PR money in the Sporting Heritage grant. Walker removed the PR funding from the grant and replaced it with state general purpose revenue before eventually canceling the grant completely.

“Practically, they were never in jeopardy, which is why we asked for a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We were committed to make sure that the language was right so it was not in jeopardy,” Maroney said.

Board resolution

The NRB had heard that the Legislature might consider a law that would allow someone who takes a fawn from the wild to keep it if they pay a fine and have the animal checked out by a veterinarian.

The board was concerned, including Christine Thomas, board member from Stevens Point and UW-Stevens Point dean of the College of Natural Resources. Thomas said that move flies in the face of the North American Model of Wildlife Management, where the state holds wildlife in trust for all citizens.

In previous years the DNR could approach the Legislature with its thoughts against such a proposal, but under Stepp, the DNR no longer testifies for or against proposed legislation. Stepp has said in the past that the DNR should give its testimony in a neutral fashion, and it is the Legislature’s duty to pass or reject new laws.

However, Thomas noted that the board can take a stand on such issues and she offered the following resolution: “Whereas the state Legislature may be discussing proposed legislation to address the illegal possession of live deer taken from the wild and held by private citizens in Wisconsin; and

“Whereas one alternative that may be considered allows citizens to keep an unlawfully obtained deer after the citizen has paid a prescribed penalty and shown that they have adequate facilities to possess a live deer in a humane manner that does not facilitate the spread of disease to the wild deer herd; and “Whereas the North American Model of Wildlife Management is based on the premise that the wildlife resource is a non-commercial public resource managed in trust by the states for benefit for the citizens; now

“Therefore be it resolved that the Natural Resources Board at its meeting Sept. 25, 2013, adopt this resolution going on record opposing any legislation that would allow a private citizen to retain an unlawfully taken live wild deer or cervid as this constitutes privatization and commercialization of the state’s free-roaming wild deer.”

Bill Bruins, a board member from Waupun and a farmer, said he would oppose the resolution because the board was offering the Legislature something that won’t solve the basic problem. He moved to table the resolution, but his motion failed for lack of a second. The board then voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution.

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