Legislators are Eviscerating Wisconsin’s DNR

The saying is, “If you don’t remember your history, it is bound to repeat itself.”
That’s often true and for those of us concerned about Wisconsin’s natural resources we are seeing history repeat itself.
In the early 1900s, politicians passed laws involving natural resources, while they had no advanced education or knowledge of what should be done to manage the resources.
They went by the seat of their pants or by what their friends and financial supporters thought should be done.
Realizing that they needed a more “knowledgeable and unbiased” way of having the state’s natural resources managed, they established commissions to hire people with knowledge to run programs.
There was a three-man fish commission established in 1874, a three-man forestry commission in 1897, and a Conservation Commission in 1908 which was reauthorized in 1911.
The result was that the Wisconsin Conservation Department, with backing of conservationists, was created in 1927, to provide management with science-based knowledge.
The same exasperation with politicians meddling in natural resources was responsible for the establishment of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
According to George Meyer, past executive director, The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF) was formed in 1949, after the then-governor Oscar Rennebohm rejected the deer hunting season that had been adopted by the Wisconsin Conservation Commission.
“He had a wealthy donor who thought he knew better how to manage the deer herd,” Meyer said.
The governor demanded that the Commission set the season the way his donor wanted, and sportsmen of the state were fed up and decided to get all of the various clubs together to have a voice.
“It was a rebellion against the political establishment,” Meyer said, noting that politics in natural resources never goes away.
The point was to have natural resources management decisions made by an organization that hired people who were trained in the natural sciences.
Again today, legislators have become upset that they don’t have more control over how natural resources are managed, and they have been chipping away at authority the DNR used to have.
They’re clawing back any authority that used to be held by the DNR.
Opening dates of gun deer, fishing, and elk seasons? Now established by the legislature.
Regulations such as feeding and baiting of deer? Now established by the legislature.
Use of dogs for training to hunt bears? Now in statute by the legislature.
Apostle Island muzzleloader hunt? Set by the legislature.
A year-round open season on woodchucks? Set by the legislature.
Opening of the wolf hunt? The legislature set the original wolf hunting season to start Oct. 15, when pelts were not prime. They then had to correct the season to start Nov. 1.
Another case in point: Wisconsin has had
the Gaylord Nelson/Warren Knowles Stewardship program that allows the state to purchase available land for public recreation. That land could otherwise be sold and available to only the landowner, rather than available to everyone to hunt, fish, trap, cross country ski or hike.
But legislators, especially those in the north, are unhappy that land that could be owned by private landowners, and on the tax rolls, is now public land. They forget that the State makes payments-in-lieu-of- taxes to local units of government for land taken off the tax rolls.
They also forget that public land, much of which is located up north, also draws people from southern Wisconsin adding to the local economies.
The Stewardship Program used to be a 10-year program, and would have been as proposed by Governor Evers in his initial budget, but legislators discarded that and only passed a program good for four years.
They also put on additional restrictions, so that when the state does come to an agreement on land it still has to be approved by legislators, and if some isolated legislator decides to pull the rug out it stops the purchase cold.
And, yet on things that the legislature is supposed to be doing, such as confirming appointments to boards and departments, the legislature sits on its hands.
We have a state transportation secretary who is serving unconfirmed.
We had a state tourism secretary who served for more than a year unconfirmed.
We have a very big controversy over the Natural Resources Board chair who is serving because the State Senate can’t take the time to hold a confirmation hearing.
Legislators give as the excuse they’ve been working on the budget all year and can’t take up the confirmation process.
Yet, the group who makes the budget is the 16-member Joint Finance Committee which means that the remaining 116 legislators who are drawing $53,000 per year couldn’t take the time to hold confirmation hearings.
Give me a break!
Of course, Governor Tony Evers waited until the last minute to nominate a board replacement, who could have been nominated a month earlier giving legislators a month to hold hearings, since it’s well known that board member terms end May 1.
Politicians like to take their whacks at the DNR, and seem to enjoy picking apart the DNR to neuter its power. Past Gov. Scott Walker did that whenever he could, as he and then Sen. Tom Tiffany saw to it that the DNR science services section was emasculated.
And it’s not just Republicans who have pulled the rug out from under the DNR, as then Gov. Jim Doyle ran on a platform of returning the appointment of the Secretary of the DNR to the NRB, saying often: “Send me the bill and I’ll sign it.”
When the legislature did indeed send him the very bill he’d promised to sign, he vetoed it.
In the end we are seeing where biological knowledge and professional background of natural resource employees are not only ignored, but politicians are taking matters into their own hands.
We need to return management of natural resources to the DNR and really base it on science.
The past has become our future.

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