It’s NOT about Dr. Prehn.
The controversy over Dr. Frederick Prehn and his position on the Natural Resources Board is not about Dr. Prehn. It IS about the system.
The system is broken in Wisconsin, we know that, and what was supposed to be a system of checks and balances to keep politicians out of natural resource management is now controlled by partisan politicians.
Don’t be confused, Dr. Prehn is an avid hunter, fisherman, and has a long family history of hunting.
He directed the DNR to put more emphasis on the future of big game in this state, and re-start the dormant prairie chicken management plan.
The problem is that he continues serving in a position on the NRB which expired in May, 2021 and he has not been re-appointed to that position.
Now that Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has ruled that he can stay in that expired NRB seat until the State Senate confirms his replacement, he has proven his point.
Granted, it’s hard for an outside observer to understand how a Supreme Court justice can question whether the position actually expired when Prehn’s appointment specifically ended May 1, 2021.
Someone needs to tell the court that, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck.. . It’s a duck.”
The State Supreme Court, similar to the U.S. Supreme Court in its recent West Virginia vs. EPA decision, is playing with fire trying to decide what power lies with the legislative branch and what is the responsibility of the executive branch.
Powers are supposedly co-equal, but it appears the courts are turning away from science.
The System is undermined by politics
What has happened is that ugly hard-ball politics are pulling the strings behind the curtain.
The State Senate, which had 14 months to interview Prehn’s replacement and confirm a new person, has not done its job.
An isolated instance? Not hardly. The Senate has also not confirmed Gov. Evers appointments to the Board of Regents, and according to the Governor’s Office, more than 100 other appointments to positions and boards are unconfirmed.
There is no doubt that the Republicans in control of the legislature are ignoring their responsibility and not confirming appointments in hopes Governor Evers will be defeated in November, and a new Republican governor will then appoint conservative board members which the legislature will quickly confirm.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that documents show past Republican governor Scott Walker wrote to Dr. Prehn encouraging him to “stay on.”
This stinks to high heaven, and pulls the rug out from under the original concept of the Conservation Commission/Natural Resources Board where different governors appoint different citizens to boards providing a balanced look at natural resources.
Some of the symptoms that are emerging include:
- The Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which used to carry out direction by the Natural Resources Board, now takes those actions “under advisement.”
- The board, which sets policy for the DNR, now cares more about the advice from a deer “expert” from Texas than it does from biologists who designed what was thought to be one of the “best” SAK deer management programs in the U.S. The board sides more with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce weakening environmental regulations, such as PFOS, than with state health experts.
- In the eyes of many conservationists, a natural resources board member is no longer seen as someone dedicated to natural resources, and the “side show” detracts from the importance, authority and image of the board.
Of course, it is not just Republicans that play games, as then Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, ruled with an iron fist. Doyle promised to sign a bill backed by conservation interests that would have allowed the NRB to appoint the secretary but when the bill finally came to him Doyle vetoed it!
Politics is not for the faint of heart, but it should not be responsible for destroying a system that worked for decades!
It’s time to move on, before Wisconsin’s democratic system of government crumbles, as the national system is now teetering.
This is the time for Dr. Prehn, who made his point, to show statesmanship and now step down, and let the system return to its democratic principles. This would assure citizens that behind-the-scenes strings are not being pulled by Republican legislators, and Dr. Prehn is not just a pawn of the Republican legislature.
If the current controversy continues, it could jeopardize the future of the existence of the board system.
Or if continued, when Democrats eventually have power we can expect similar disruptive, political non-action.
Greg Kazmierski, NRB chair, needs to show chairmanship-type leadership to the board he leads and bring a proposal to the board that would ensure future uninterrupted functioning.
The board uses a system of Manual Codes to outline its procedures, and they need a code where every board member, and all new board members, agree to serve their term and vacate their seat when done unless they are re-appointed by the Governor to serve again.
Such a code could lead to a smoother functioning board and eliminate future distractions from either political party.
The Gov needs to appoint a commission, not unlike the Kellett Commission appointed by former Gov. Warren Knowles, to right and revamp the system, so that conservationists get the representation and input they deserve.
The Gov also needs to announce new board appointments in March or early April, giving the Senate time to review appointees and confirm or deny them by May 1.
The legislature needs to pass a law that if new appointments are not confirmed within one month of when they should have taken effect, that the new board appointee is allowed to serve until that appointment is taken up by the Senate and either accepted or rejected.
July is usually the time for celebration of America the Beautiful. Let’s see if we can celebrate America’s democratic system, and Wisconsin’s previously respected system of citizen board oversight, by returning to principles esteemed by conservation leaders such as Aldo Leopold, William Aberg, and Haskell Noyes.
What’s taking place now is a perversion of the system, and a return to the days of the early 1900s when political bosses pulled the strings.
Note: Tim Eisele has followed NRB members and meetings since 1971