When the new state budget eventually passes, change will certainly be in the air for the DNR, and possibly for the agency’s leader, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.
Most Wisconsin residents probably won’t realize it, but the forestry mill tax has been eliminated, the chief state forester has been moved from Madison to northern Wisconsin, and, sure, the Natural Resources magazine has been saved, in a sense, but it’s been reduced to four issues a year.
That’s just a few of the changes that we know are coming from this next budget. There are rumors of more changes. Word has it that there could be another big change coming in the secretary’s office sometime after the budget passes.
Stepp was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 and has carried his water, refusing to take on the Legislature as it trashes natural resources.
Stepp is often gone from the office, and has missed the last two Natural Resources Board meetings. Previous secretaries, such as Les Voigt and Buzz Besadny, would never miss a meeting of the Natural Resources Board.
Stepp, a home builder with no academic natural resources education, is building a retirement home in the Ozarks of Missouri. Once the budget passes, I expect her to resign as secretary of the DNR.
Stepp has reduced the DNR presence at the state fair, has clamped down on the ability of DNR employees to speak to the news media and testify at legislative hearings, saying that it was up to the Legislature to establish policy.
Previous DNR administrators advocated for natural resources and testified on proposed bills, bringing to the attention of legislators the merits or potential damages of a bill.
Stepp parrots the Republican mantra, “We can have a clean environment and promote businesses,” all the while watching as environmental regulations are torn apart piece by piece and DNR science positions are eliminated without so much as a whimper.
Stepp has more in common with Wisconsin Manufacturer’s and Commerce than DNR, and no academic or paid work experience in natural resources.
This is possible because then-Gov. Tommy Thompson eliminated the Natural Resources Board’s ability to choose the DNR secretary. And, lest you think the blame is just with Republicans on that point, then-Gov. Jim Doyle campaigned on the promise to bring that appointment back to the NRB. When he had the opportunity, he vetoed the bill.
Doyle proved that politicians are adept at telling non-truths.
We assume Scott Walker will appoint another non-conservation person if Stepp leaves, one who will walk to the governor’s drumbeat while allowing legislative vultures to pick apart the DNR’s anatomy.
Does that mean we can then look forward to Joel Kleefisch or Tom Tiffany as the new DNR secretary?