Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Wisconsin’s conservation hero, Herb Behnke, passes away at age 88

Herb Behnke passed away at the age of 88. He worked on behalf of common outdoors people throughout the state for many years. Photo by Tim EiseleEveryone who enjoys Wisconsin’s natural resources lost a friend when Herb Behnke, of Shawano, passed away Dec. 8.

The 88-year-old Behnke was the longest serving member of the Natural Resources Board (NRB), having first served on its predecessor then Wisconsin Conservation Commission and then the NRB for a total of 21 years.  He resigned from the board in 2006.

As a board member he helped to set policy for the DNR, but he also looked out for the common man and woman and their enjoyment of natural resources.

He was a passionate supporter of the Knowles/Nelson Stewardship program which sells bonds to buy public land for use by citizens now and future generations. Behnke knew that the average person relies on public land to recreate and enjoy natural resources.  

He knew that the state needed to buy as much good land as it could when it became available.

He was also a staunch supporter of the citizen board concept, which came about through the insight of Aldo Leopold in the 1920s.  With the citizen board, now called the Natural Resources Board, board members normally come together and regardless of political backgrounds make decisions that are best for Wisconsin’s natural resources now and in the future.

Behnke stood for principles.  When Gov. Tommy Thompson made efforts to undermine the board and change the selection of the DNR secretary from the board to the governor, Behnke had the guts to speak up at legislative hearings and take a stand against Thompson – despite the fact that they were good friends – and for the board concept.  That didn’t win him any favors with Thompson.

Likewise, when Gov. Jim Doyle came into office, Doyle had the DNR secretary visit Behnke and threaten to have him replaced on the board because Doyle wanted his appointees on the board.  Behnke stood up to Doyle and continued serving on the board.

It was appropriate that the NRB meeting in Madison on Dec. 10-11, began with a moment of silence in honor of Behnke and ended by passing a resolution that noted “Behnke’s lifelong contributions to Wisconsin and lasting legacy of protection and enhancement of the state’s natural resources.”

I can think of no better way for anyone who enjoys this state’s natural resources and wants to honor Herb Behnke than to:

• First, donate to the Herb and Lenore Behnke Scholarship for UW-Stevens Point students majoring in natural resources law enforcement.  To do that, either mail a check to the UW-Stevens Point Foundation, and reference the Behnke Scholarship, or simply go to  Click the “Give Now” link, add your credit card number, and designate the gift to  College of Natural Resources  and indicate  Herb and Lenore Behnke Scholarship  in the instructions box.

• And, second, take an active interest in returning full control of natural resources to its citizen board, and tell your elected representatives that the DNR needs to return to preserving natural resources as its major priority rather than being the governor’s lapdog.

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