Sportsmen and women, Natural Resources Board (NRB) members, DNR employees, and many other people were caught off guard when Gov. Scott Walker decided in his proposed budget to demote the NRB to advisory status only. So, instead of setting DNR policy as it has in the past, the NRB would advise the DNR secretary and the secretary would then make policy decisions.
But a motion by State Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, recently passed the Joint Finance Committee that will get things pretty much back to normal, meaning, the NRB will have regained it’s power.
“I wanted to do this because I had a lot of conservation groups and concerned outdoor enthusiasts contact me about reducing the NRB to an advisory status,” Kleefisch said. “People weren’t happy about it.
Members of Ducks Unlimited, the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, and many, many others were very concerned about why could happen if the NRB lost its power to make policy about things pertaining to hunting and fishing.”
Walker’s camp said that Walker’s proposed NRB change – which has been tied to Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst and Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma – would be a way of streamlining government, but Walker never really explained why the change was taking place. The move was also surprising because because Walker had named four of the seven NRB members and will soon appoint two more board members.
The terms of NRB members Christine Thomas and Jane Wiley ended after the board’s April meeting.
The move also didn’t make sense from a financial standpoint. NRB members are not paid. They volunteer, so thee would have been a very limited savings – if any – with the proposed change.
“The amendment restores all of the power back to the NRB for things pertaining to hunting and fishing, just as it was before the budget proposal came through,” Kleefisch said.
One area of authority that was not restored? The power of the NRB to change policy when it comes to air and water quality.
Some people would think that move would make it easier for an iron ore mine to return to Wisconsin’s radar screen, but Kleefisch does not think so.
“I think the mining thing is a dead issue,” he said. “And that would be something the EPA would govern more than the NRB.”
What Kleefisch did not address is how this change might effect sand mining in Wisconsin. Those watching the Capitol believe the sand mining industry could cause just as much environmental damage as an iron ore mine, and that industry already has a strong foot-hold in the state.
Kleefisch had originally proposed that all of the powers be given back to the NRB, but in order to get the measure passed, he felt he needed to make a concession.
“I spoke with a bunch of people from various outdoor groups and they all felt like they were fine with making the one concession so long as the NRB still had the power to make policy when it came to hunting and fishing. The members of the Conservation Congress I spoke with were on board, too.”
Kleefisch says he is an avid sportsman. He has a television show called :Kill It, Clean It, Cook It.”
“The NRB has played an integral part in protecting the rights of hunters and anglers in our state,” he said. “They have done a wonderful job and that should continue.”
This looks to be a good start. Nothing is a done deal, but it is nice to see a Republican not roll over and take Walker’s budget carte blanche. Kleefisch encouraged people to contact their local state representative if they do indeed want the NRB to retain the power they have.