Wisconsin DNR personnel still testifying ‘for information only’ at legislative hearings
With a new secretary of the Wisconsin DNR, there is hope that the DNR will return to a solid base of science and actively advocate on behalf of the state’s natural resources.
Secretary designee Preston Cole has yet to be confirmed by the State Senate, and it’s possible he is waiting for that approval before he makes major changes in how the DNR operates.
Many anticipated that the new secretary would bring a major shift in how DNR personnel testify on proposed legislation during public hearings. For the past eight years, while Cathy Stepp and Dan Meyer occupied the secretary’s position, DNR personnel were allowed to testify for information only – they were not allowed to offer an opinion on how proposed legislation might impact natural resources or natural resource management.
Natural resources often played “second fiddle” during Gov. Scott Walker’s tenure and most attempts to install restrictions on pollution or land use were stalled, watered down or never saw the light of day.
Previously when the DNR appeared in front of a legislative committee on a natural resource bill, the DNR took a position for or against the bill or was neutral when it saw no major positive or negative effects.
Many expected that to change with Cole in charge of the DNR and Gov. Tony Evers pledging to return science-based management to the DNR. But when Assembly Bill 39 came up for a hearing in the Committee on Forestry, Parks and Outdoor Recreation on April 2, the DNR testified for information only.
Todd Schaller, DNR chief conservation warden, testified on the bill that would have increased the surcharge on poachers who shot deer illegally. It should have been a “no-brainer” for the DNR – the agency’s mission is to protect the resources of the state for future generations – to support that bill.
When Schaller was asked if he could have taken a position on the bill, he said, “No.”
Maybe the new secretary is waiting for Senate confirmation before taking the gloves off to take a major leadership role on behalf of the state’s natural resources and citizens. But how much later is “too late” before Wisconsin’s resources go further downhill?