Let’s Work Together to Confront Today’s Challenges


     Human beings faced extraordinary challenges in 2020, the likes of which most of us had never faced.

Likewise, the environment is facing extreme challenges, from CWD in the deer herd and VHS in fish, diseases killing oak and ash trees, shortages of clean water, draining of wetlands, loosening of environmental standards during the previous eight years by the federal government, and loss of independence of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

     There are important underlying concerns, such as the loss of touch that today’s citizens have with natural resources (i.e. where meat and heat come from), and youngsters who would rather play indoors with video games than go outside.  Of course, the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and it seems there are many adults who would rather sit on the couch and watch football than go out and slog through a marsh to put out a dozen decoys or walk a mile to a deer stand.

     Just as concerning is the growing divide between those who hunt and those who do not hunt.  Some hunters seem to think that everything they do is acceptable, and they deride those who don’t hunt because they don’t buy a hunting, fishing or trapping license.

     That is evident in some of the letters to the editor in outdoor newspapers who deride non-hunters as “fools” who “understand nothing,” or constantly chastise natural resources volunteers, and agency employees, who are trying to find solutions to problems.  That type of name calling is defamatory, serves no purpose, and is sure to drive a wedge further between hunters and non-hunters.

     This is no different than racial bigotry, chastising someone due to their beliefs rather than color of their skin.

     People who are clad in blaze orange or camouflage have many reasons to be proud of what past hunters have done and how hunting and fishing and trapping have been the backbone of conservation in the United States.  Indeed, the North American Model of Wildlife conservation, called one of the greatest success stories in the world, realizes that what sportsmen have done with their license dollars and political support of conservation, has been responsible for the abundance of many wildlife populations.

     But, take your blinders off and you’ll see that those who do not hunt or fish have also been active in the conservation field. Take a look at what the Madison Audubon Society or The Nature Conservancy have done to preserve native habitat and save rural land from being paved over and “developed” into housing sub-divisions.

     And, lest you weren’t paying attention during eighth-grade civics, you would have learned that in the United States wildlife belong to ALL the people, so everyone does have a right to have a say in how ducks, wolves, bears and all wildlife are managed. 

     The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that there were a little over 1-million waterfowl hunters in the U.S. during 2016. About the same time FWS estimated there were about 45 million birders in the United States: There’s more of them than us!

     A major problem is that these people haven’t had an easy way to provide financial help to the states and federal government.  Sure, you can say it’s easy to buy a hunting or fishing license, but if you don’t hunt or fish, why?

     States and the Feds need a product, license, or meaningful method for non-hunters to purchase so that money can go into the same state conservation fund as hunters and anglers.

     Is it that the state, and hunter interests, are afraid to let non-hunters “into the game” for fear they will grab more power?

     There is often a lot of concern about “anti-hunters,” and indeed there are people who don’t believe in hunting, fishing or trapping.  Some are strictly vegetarian.

      To those who are anti-harvest, they have the right to what they believe and they should be tolerated, but not bashed or persecuted.

     Indeed, the critical mass is the great majority in the middle who do not hunt or fish or trap, but realize the benefits and are willing to continue these outdoor traditions as long as they are ethically conducted and regulated with scientific management.  These are the people whom outdoorsmen need to pay more attention to.

     Both a person’s conduct in the outdoors, and just as important their conduct and “image” indoors at public meetings and events, and their letters to the editor, can turn those middle-ground supporters into a majority against hunting, fishing and trapping. The key to the future of outdoor sports is in the behavior and actions of today’s hunters, anglers and trappers.

     An official with the Montana Fish, wildlife and Parks Department said it well: “People are not necessarily concerned with the fact that we hunt, but rather how we hunt.”  He could have added the words: “How we represent ourselves as hunters to the public.”  

     Everyone should pay to protect natural resources!  We all need clean air and water, enjoy seeing eagles and herons, and walking in public wildlife management areas.  It is time that we all participated in funding these programs.

     People who hunt, fish and trap have paid much in licenses, stamps, excise taxes and donations to conservation organizations.

     It is time for a broad general funding mechanism for natural resources.  Missouri uses a percentage of the state sales tax and Minnesota showed it was light-years ahead of Wisconsin by establishing the Minnesota Legacy Fund.

     Minnesota was also light years ahead of Wisconsin because they banded hunters and non-hunters, (even a few of those “evil” art lovers), together to pass the increased tax.  They did it together!

     Wisconsin once used a penny-a-pack on cigarettes for purchasing land, and though legislators are shy about new taxes it is time for a way to pluck a downy feather from the public goose. The options are many, but something needs to be used. 

     Changes needed in Wisconsin?

·         Adopt a new “conservation license” allowing non-hunters to buy it and pay into the state Conservation Fund, the same as those who hunt, fish and trap, without requiring them to buy a hunting, fishing or trapping license.

·         Outlaw the “organized” killing contests where bars and organizations give prizes for the most coyotes, rabbits, etc. killed within a given time period.  Hunting is NOT about killing and it is NOT competitive.

·         Require non-toxic ammunition for all hunting, including shotgun, rifle, and fishing lures.

·         Do away with firearms that look like “military or automatic weapons.”  What hunters use is a firearm, NOT a weapon.  Single shot, double barrel, over-and-under, pump and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns have been adequate for centuries.

     We also need to return to an independent DNR and secretary selected by the Natural Resources Board. Tommy Thompson upset the apple cart when he turned the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) into a cabinet agency.  Scott Walker put the nail in the coffin of the DNR by considering its mission as being “pro-business,” caving in to power-hungry northern politicians to eviscerate its science services bureau, and install a secretary who parroted the mantra that, “We can have good business while having a clean environment,” which sounds good while scientists and proposed pollution protections were shown the door.

     The DNR began leaking employees as they became eligible for retirement or grabbed by other agencies, and employees the likes of Randy Stark, Paul DeLong, and Jack Sullivan are now long gone.

It can no longer be independent of political influence as long as the governor appoints the secretary.

The citizen board was a far cleaner system and Missouri has the best system where three commissioners are of the conservative party and three are of the liberal party.  That way they HAVE to get together and they often have a way of looking toward the long-term outlook of natural resources rather than the short-term vision of politicians who can only see as far as the next election.

     Wisconsin needs to change and allow the citizen Natural Resources Board to select the secretary, as it (and its predecessor the Conservation Commission) did from 1927 to the mid-1990s.  And if we want to improve the system, require that three Democrats and three Republicans always serve on the seven-member board, so that the legislature and governor would always have an open ear to listen to at least some of the board members.

     Wisconsin has a rich conservation history.  It has been home to Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, Warren Knowles, Harley MacKenzie and Ernie Swift, among others.

     Wisconsin is also where devoted volunteers, not so well known, work behind the scenes to improve natural resources. Look at the resumes of men and women now enshrined in the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in Stevens Point.

     Volunteers and professional resources staff continually work with committees, boards, agencies, and organizations to protect and improve natural resources.  In the past they have made Wisconsin truly unique in natural resources, and what is needed is for those who hunt and those who do not to mend their ways to work together on the bigger challenges faced today.

Keep Politics Out of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board

    We need to ensure that politicians keep their mitts off of the Natural Resources Board.

    Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board is composed of seven individuals appointed by the governor for six-year terms.

    Board members are all volunteers, three have to be from south of Stevens Point, three from north of Stevens point and one is from any location in the state.

    At least three board members must have had a hunting, fishing or trapping license for 7 of the 10 years before they were appointed, and at least one must have an agricultural background. (View a pdf list of historic Natural Resource Board appointments here.)

    The board sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and approves regulations.

Besides involving citizen input, the citizen board keeps the DNR at some distance from obvious partisan politics!

    Board terms begin on May 1, and in 2021, two current board members, Dr. Frederick Prehn (a North position since he lives in Wausau), the current chair, and Julie Anderson (a South position since she is in Sturtevant), had terms that ended April 30.

    Anderson indicated that she did not request re-nomination, however Dr. Prehn applied to be re-appointed.

    Normally, but not always, Republican governors nominate people who presumably have a history of swaying Republican or conservative, while Democrat governors nominate people with an indication of being Democrat or liberal.

    This was not the case when Preston Cole was first appointed by Democrat Jim Doyle in 2007, but was then re-appointed by Republican Scott Walker in 2013, at a time when the board was dominated by Walker appointees.

    Often an appointee’s political bent is not known, or had not been obvious, but their one dominant feature is a strong interest in natural resources.

    Going into 2021 board had five members who have been appointed by then Gov. Scott Walker (Prehn, Bill Bruins, Julie Anderson, Terry Hilgenberg and Greg Kazmierski) and two more-recently appointed by Gov. Evers (Marcy West and Bill Smith).

    Although individuals are appointed by partisan governors, it is this writer’s opinion that board members try to come to a consensus and don’t let partisan politics interfere. 

    People can look at things differently, that’s only human, but their mission is to set policy for the DNR and board members generally are looking out for the good of natural resources.

    The board is where “social” interests enter into decisions, as the board hears “biological” interests presented by the DNR.  The board then has to make the tough decisions.

    Important in all of this is to realize that board members serve as volunteers.  They are NOT paid, other than reimbursed expenses, and they receive packets of background information (called “green sheets”) they must read and understand prior to each of the nine meetings.

    On the last day of April, Gov. Tony Evers announced that he has appointed Sandra Dee E. Naas of Ashland and Sharon Adams of Milwaukee to the Natural Resources Board.

Nass will fill the vacancy created by the expiring term of Dr. Frederick Prehn of Wausau, and Adams will fill the expiring term of Julie Anderson of Sturtevant.

Both of the new board appointees will need to receive confirmation from the State Senate, which most likely will not come for several months.

The new terms began May 1, 2021, and Adams was able to begin serving immediately with the May board meeting since Anderson did not seek re-appointment.

Prehn, who had been re-elected as chair of the board in January, decided not to relinquish his seat, telling me that, “I intend to fulfill the chairmanship role that was granted to me in January and at this time I await senate confirmation on the appointee.”

    The fact that Prehn was serving as chair makes it understandable he wants to continue, but his term has ended and the board should go on record establishing a policy for all board members to follow that once board member terms expire and the governor appoints new replacements, even though not yet confirmed, the expired board member should step off and allow the new member to begin.

Confirmation required

    New board members must be confirmed by the state senate, and this could mean that the Republican-controlled senate could hold up confirmation, in which case Prehn could continue serving on the board until someone is confirmed to replace him.

    Sometimes when an appointee lingers without confirmation, the appointment is withdrawn and a new person is nominated by the governor.

    It is also possible that the senate could vote the new appointee down, allowing Prehn to serve until another person is vetted and comes up for confirmation. 

    The senate, as it did in 2020 with the Department of Transportation secretary, could just not bring up the position for confirmation.  This is not the way government should function.

    When board member Steve Willett was ending his term in 2004, Gov. Doyle appointed Jane Wiley, from Wausau, but the senate held up confirmation of the appointment.

Wiley diligently waited patiently travelling to and attending board meetings while sitting in the audience for more than two years to keep up on issues, until the senate confirmed her in 2007.

    So, the state senate, especially if it is controlled by a party different from the Governor’s, can “play games” and hold up people from serving.

    The late Herb Behnke, from Shawano, was appointed to the previous Wis. Conservation Commission by Gov. Knowles from 1968 to 1972, and then Tommy Thompson reappointed Behnke to the NRB from 1989 to 2006.

Behnke is one of the most respected of all board members, but Gov. Doyle wanted to get some of his appointments on the board, though didn’t have an opening.

Behnke told this writer that the governor had the DNR secretary visit him in the evening prior to a board meeting saying that he would be replaced at the meeting the next day, but Behnke knew that couldn’t happen.

Scott Hassett, then DNR secretary and now an attorney for a Madison firm, says it wasn’t that harsh.

Hassett said that he was new in the job at the time and his boss, Governor Doyle, asked him to approach Behnke and see if he would consider resigning so that Doyle would be able to appoint someone else.  Behnke would have none of that.

Hassett admits it was “awkward,” at the time, but eventually the governor came to realize that Behnke was an “institution” on the board.

However when it came close to the end of his term, Behnke indicated that he would be willing to resign, after serving several terms, if he knew that someone with good natural resources credentials would replace him.

Behnke agreed to an interview with this reporter, indicating his willingness to resign, whereupon Doyle subsequently appointed Dave Clausen, veterinarian from Amery, to replace him.

Almost full-time job

    Tim Andryk served as an attorney for DNR for 30 years and retired in 2016 after being chief legal counsel for four years.  He has seen many board members come and go.

    “It’s a challenging job and they are volunteers who put in a lot of time.  It’s almost another full-time job,” Andryk said.

    He said that each governor has his own agenda and normally governors look for someone who will reflect the governor’s priorities and direction for DNR.

    The Governor also may be receiving advice from constituents and groups who’ve helped to elect him. 

    Duke Welter, of Viroqua, served on the Natural Resources Board from 2004, when he filled an unexpired term for Tryg Solberg, and then as an appointee by Gov. Doyle until 2011.

    Welter, who had a diverse background working as a journalist, lawyer and volunteer with Trout Unlimited, also served on the Conservation Congress but he waited two-and-a-half years for confirmation by the senate.

    “It is important to have a broad range of resource interests, even if you aren’t an expert,” Welter said of qualifications for serving on the board.  “It helps if you have experience with people and groups working on resources around the state, whether that’s as a volunteer or agency experience.

    Welter had worked in the trenches when sportsmen were resisting efforts by Perrier to put a water bottling plant near the McCann River, a move that had been supported by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, but failed due to concerns over pollution to and misuse of groundwater.

    Welter said that a lot of good board members have an area of expertise that they brought to the board, as an example Jonathan Ela knew air and water quality issues, and Dave Clausen had veterinary experience bringing excellent credentials for knowledge of chronic wasting disease.

    Board meetings were often two days, sometimes including a field outing to see first-hand resource issues followed by a day’s meeting.  Welter said board members receive a “green sheet” packet of materials to review, and may be asked to attend meetings of conservation groups in the area or represent the DNR at a local event.

    Welter said that one thing he thought was very beneficial when on the board was holding public “listening sessions” when the board met at different locations around the state.  This helped local people bring concerns to the NRB.

    The Natural Resources Board helps to keep some semblance of a screen from partisan politics and brings diverse backgrounds into the natural resource process.

NRB and DNR Secretary 

    The Natural Resources Board used to not only have the power of setting policy, but also appointed the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The board appointed the secretary of the DNR up until 1995, but then Gov. Tommy Thompson grabbed control by changing the DNR to a cabinet agency with the secretary appointed by the governor.

    In previous years, the board’s predecessor, the Conservation Commission, also had citizen appointees and there was more of a mixture as governors changed after two-year terms.

    However, Governor Pat Lucey was not happy with a two-year term and got the legislature to change the governor’s term to four years, which gave Lucey, and succeeding governors, twice the influence and could more easily have a board dominated by that governor’s political persuasion.

Not long after the board was dominated by Lucey appointees, the board fired long-time DNR secretary Les Voigt, who came up through the agency and had served under Democrat and Republican governors, and hired Democratic politician Tony Earl.

Earl was one of the first DNR secretaries to head the agency without any natural resources experience.

Meyer values board

    George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, served as DNR secretary from 1993 to 2002 and had worked for DNR as a staff attorney and enforcement division administrator since 1972.

Meyer has enormous respect for the board system.

    “The board brings grassroots input into decision-making regarding conservation and environmental issues,” Meyer said. 

    Board members, each with different experiences, blend the science brought forth by DNR professionals, with ramifications of policies on day-to-day citizens.

“It leads to a more balanced approach to managing natural resources, and often a much more practical one,” Meyer said.

Meyer said the board brings seven other perspectives to the debate on natural resources, and they catch things that might not otherwise have been thought of.

Citizens also have access to board members throughout the state, which can bring support for natural resource proposals.

The downside is that once in a while Meyer said he’d get a proposal from a board member that was questionable, which required time to work with the individual member to explain the ramifications.

“But by-in-large I saw value added by the board, either bringing new ideas in or validating that what was proposed made sense,” Meyer said.

The governor can appoint people of his general philosophy, Meyer said, but has the obligation to appoint level-headed people.

“Most important is that they have strong natural resources values and are open-minded,” Meyer said.

    Board members should be collegial with other board members and able to compromise as a board as a whole.

    They also need to have respect for DNR staff, Meyer said, as the staff are hard-working people with strong resource values.

    Meyer said he found the governor would ask him for recommendations on potential board members, but the DNR staff also must vet the possible appointee for natural resources legal violations and whether they hold permits involving environmental pollution laws.

    Meyer served as DNR secretary both when it was independent, with the secretary appointed by the board, and when it was a cabinet agency with the governor appointing the secretary.

    “Clearly I support a board-appointed secretary, because it gives the secretary the ability to fully apply sound natural resources policy,” Meyer said.

    The secretary is always aware of political ramifications, but can make much more independent decisions when hired by a board.

    “The governor is well-served by making appointees of strong mind, he is not served by appointing ‘yes men,’” Meyer said.

    Meyer complimented Tommy Thompson who wanted a strong cabinet and wanted secretaries to push back when he put out ideas.  The end result, Meyer said, was better ideas.

Hassett experience

    Scott Hassett, an attorney with a Madison law firm, was selected to serve as secretary of the DNR by Governor Jim Doyle from 2003 to 2006.

    Hassett, an avid musky fisherman and outdoorsman, had extensive knowledge of board members as his father, Paul Hassett, served as chief of staff to Governor Warren Knowles in the 1960s.

Hassett had gone fishing and hunting with many past board members, such as Arthur MacArthur, as well as Gov. Warren Knowles, who was an avid fisherman.  Hassett’s father, a Republican, pushed for legislation that protected clean water and good quality of life in Wisconsin.

Hassett admits that there is pro-and-con working with a board from the DNR secretary’s standpoint.

“The downside is there can always be friction, knowing who is in charge of what and who has jurisdiction over matters,” Hassett said.

“The board sets policy and the secretary is in charge of operations, but there is a big gray area in between which is where you can get friction,” he said.

Hassett said there can be tensions when the board wants to get into operations and the administration pushes back.

    “On the other hand, the board can be a huge plus, they genuinely want to do the right thing and they can provide cover for the administration on rules or programs (that aren’t popular),” he said.

    Hassett said often Knowles would appoint board members who were active hunters and anglers, while Doyle would appoint people who had more of an environmental background.

    Though governors appoint board members, they can receive advice from the agency and organizations.  For instance, Hassett had known Christine Thomas, dean of the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point, while they both served on the Natural Resources Foundation board of directors, and when Doyle was considering people to appoint Hassett recommended Thomas for a board position.  She was appointed and was a strong advocate for natural resources.

    Another person whom Doyle appointed was Duke Welter, who was already on Doyle’s list of possible appointments, but Hassett said he was able to also provide a recommendation for Welter.

    Previous DNR secretaries realize the value of an independent secretary and the role that citizen board members can make for good natural resources management.

With this Legislature, inaction is good.

There may not be many good things coming from the pandemic, which has affected just about everything, but it did curtail the legislature from continuing its session!

     Yes, there have been good legislative actions, such as passage of the Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Program and approving state duck, pheasant and turkey stamps to fund management of those species.

     But legislators think they know it all and they want to set more rules by statute, but if natural resources rules and regulations created by statute need to be changed it then requires the legislative process, which is slow, cumbersome and not a sure thing.

     Originally legislators passed natural resource laws, until realizing it made sense to delegate conservation rules to the Conservation Commission, which is now the Natural Resources Board.

     Now legislators continually try to claw back power and authority.

     For instance, if the DNR or Natural Resources Board wanted to make changes in the following season regulations they could NOT without having the legislature meet and go through a lengthy process of debating and passing a bill:

  • Opening date of the gun deer hunting season.
  • Opening of the gamefish fishing season.
  • Further restrictions on baiting and feeding of deer.
  • Date that the opening of the wolf hunting season can begin.
  • Opening of elk hunting season.
  • Restrictions on crossing railroad tracks to hunt or fish on public lands.

     It’s particularly frustrating to sit through a legislative committee hearing and hear a state legislator try to justify that DNR shouldn’t make the rules because “they are not elected.”

     Legislators forget that DNR has input from trained ecologists AND citizens through public hearings AND the Conservation Congress.

Give me a break!  Legislators need to relinquish their hunger for power and let professionals with knowledge manage natural resources.   We can breathe a little easier now, even wearing a mask, with the legislature not meeting.

DNR Losing Valuable Knowledge Base

 How can those who don’t know about the past, make plans to advance in the future?
        Just like keeping a comfortable old flannel shirt, there is value in keeping “older things.”
When it comes to buildings many are saved and classified on historic registers, realizing that there is value in preserving history.
        But, the institutional knowledge of people is often discarded by employers as employees retire, including at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
        In past years, it wasn’t surprising to find dedicated retired employees in wildlife research and management continuing their interest in wildlife and often volunteering with different conservation groups (such as Pheasants Forever, the Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, Ducks Unlimited, Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, Whitetails Unlimited, etc.) as well as participating at DNR species management advisory committees.
        The committees are usually made up of current DNR biologists, law enforcement, customer service, and research professions, along with DNR field staff, representatives of some stakeholder organizations, most notably the Conservation Congress and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
It was not unusual in the past to have retirees attend and participate at the committee meetings, able to relate their experience.
        The committees review and provide guidance on policies, plans, season structures, harvest quotas, and project funding. 
        But during the era when Scott Walker was governor, and Cathy Stepp served as DNR secretary, it became apparent that retired employees, and even some university faculty, were no longer welcome at the meetings.
        Tom Hauge, retired DNR director of Wildlife Management, confirms that a couple years after Cathy Stepp took over as DNR secretary, was when changes occurred.  He said that there were frustrations from groups such as the Hunters Rights Coalition that the advisory groups were completely DNR dominated, and they wanted more public input from stakeholder organizations especially before decisions were made.
        DNR retirees could participate if they represented a stakeholder group and usually the committee chair asks for comments from the public at the end of the meeting.
        Ed Frank, age 85 and retired DNR upland wildlife ecologist, said that it became clear that “We could attend, but we couldn’t speak unless the chair of the committee called on us.”
        Frank soon decided attending meetings for species that he had spent a career working on behalf of, wasn’t worth the time.
        Some of the trend may have coincided during a time when Scott Gunderson, past chair of the Assembly Natural Resources committee, was wanting to see big changes in the DNR deer program and Keith McCaffery, DNR northern deer research leader, retired from the DNR.
Tim VanDeelen was hired from Illinois to fill McCaffery’s position.
        McCaffery, who often refers to himself as a “failure at retirement”, continued to come into the office as a volunteer, even though he had retired. Gunderson was unhappy with that, telling this reporter that he feared that the “old guard” was still around and the new researcher couldn’t change the program.
        On the contrary.  VanDeelen, today Beers-Bascom professor in conservation for the UW-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, says that, “I enjoyed having Keith at the office. . .  and never once felt like I was constrained or prevented what I thought was best.
        “Keith was also a great resource.  His knowledge of the history of the deer program and the details of how the deer-harvest-permitting system behaved in different parts of Wisconsin was invaluable.”
        Van Deelen added that “Keith is one of the best friends that the deer hunters of this state ever had.  He was instrumental in building one of the best deer programs in the country.”
        But why retired employees are not welcomed remains a question that is also of concern to Bruce Gruthoff, age 81 and retired Wisconsin DNR wildlife biologist who later worked for and retired from Ducks Unlimited as Regional Director.
        Gruthoff is appalled that retired DNR employees, especially those in wildlife ecology, are not allowed to actively participate in committees that are established to help manage and plan for the future of species such as pheasants, ruffed grouse, prairie chickens, pheasants, or deer.
        He said that when he took over the prairie chicken project in the early 1970s he met regularly with Fred Hamerstrom, who had retired from the department, and Gruthoff obtained valuable information and advice from this world- renowned researcher.
        He said that was invaluable, and it illustrates problems today where past managers are not allowed to participate in meetings about species that they used to be involved with.
        The history that employees have and relationships they have developed with the public, especially private landowners, are invaluable, and should be seen as assets rather than liabilities. 
        Jim Keir, retired DNR biologist in Wisconsin Rapids, said that, “It makes no sense to me that retirees in general have accumulated years of expertise and to not make use of that makes no sense.”
        Keir spent more than 20 years on the Buena Vista Marsh area.
        John Kubisiak, retired long time ruffed grouse and deer researcher with DNR, said that he had served briefly on committees but then was not advised of committee meetings or dates and was in essence “summarily dismissed after retiring.”
        Keith McCaffery, retired DNR deer researcher, said he was prohibited from species advisory committees along with other retirees and university staff during the Stepp era.  He doesn’t believe that much has changed since then.
        What he terms as “vicious” legislative leadership and appointees from the previous administration still prompt many concerns for people concerned about the management and future of the state’s natural resources.
        The question was put to the DNR and Beth Bier, DNR deputy secretary, explains that several years ago changes were made to the structure of the species management committees in response to concerns that they had grown too large and unwieldly and were not functioning in a way that provided clear stakeholder input to the DNR.
        Previous DNR leadership approved the policies, though Bier said that retired DNR staff are not prohibited from being on the committees if they are a representative of a stakeholder group.
        “They may also attend meetings as a member of the public,” she said.  Adding that it is important to continually assess operations and they will discuss with staff.
        “While our DNR retirees have a lot of expertise and passion to bring to the table, we do want to ensure diverse points of view are present.”
        All good points, and to be sure large committees can be unwieldly, and current employees need to have the freedom to do what they are trained for, paid for, and feel is correct.
        BUT, dis-inviting retirees who have the interest and passion to contribute their experience and knowledge is a waste of resources the State has long invested in.  The new “resource friendly” administration needs to take a look at its policies.

Renewing old acquaintances with Nina Leopold Bradley, daughter of the late Aldo Leopold, were some of Leopold’s students at a 2003 celebration of wildlife management and research at the Leopold Shack near Baraboo., Wisconsin. (L to R): Harry Stroebe, Arman Schwingle, Jim Hale Nina Leopold Bradley, Bob Wendt, Ruth Hine (seated), George Hartman, Don Thompson and Cliff Germain. Photo Copyright Tim Eisele

Changes needed in Wisconsin

Human beings have been facing extraordinary challenges in 2020, the likes of which most of us alive today have never faced.

But the environment is likewise facing extreme challenges, from CWD in the deer herd and VHS in fish, diseases killing oak and ash trees, shortages of clean water, draining of wetlands, loosening of environmental standards by the federal government, and loss of independence of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

      There are important underlying concerns, such as the loss of touch that today’s citizens have with natural resources (i.e. where meat and heat come from), and youngsters who would rather play indoors with video games than go outside.  Of course, the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and it seems there are many adults who would rather sit on the couch and watch football than go out and slog through a marsh to put out a dozen decoys or walk a mile to a deer stand.

      Just as concerning is the growing divide between those who hunt and those who do not hunt.  Some hunters seem to think that everything they do is acceptable, and they deride those who don’t hunt because they don’t buy a hunting, fishing or trapping license.

      That is evident in some of the letters to the editor in outdoor publications who deride non-hunters as “fools” who “understand nothing,” or constantly chastise natural resources employees and volunteers who are trying to find solutions to problems.  That type of name calling is defamatory, serves no purpose, and is sure to drive a wedge further between hunters and non-hunters.

     This is no different than racial bigotry, chastising someone due to their beliefs rather than color of their skin.

      People who are clad in blaze orange or camouflage have many reasons to be proud of what past hunters have done and how hunting, fishing and trapping have been the backbone of conservation in the United States.  Indeed, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, called one of the greatest success stories in the world, realizes that what sportsmen have done with their license dollars and political support for conservation, has been responsible for abundance of many wildlife populations.

      But, take your blinders off and you’ll see that those who do not hunt or fish have also been active in the conservation field. Take a look at what organizations such as the Madison Audubon Society, The Prairie Enthusiasts or The Nature Conservancy have done to preserve native habitat and save rural land from being paved over and “developed” into housing sub-divisions.

      And, lest you weren’t paying attention during eighth-grade civics, you would have learned that in the United States wildlife belong to ALL the people, so everyone does have a right to have a say in how ducks, wolves, bears and all wildlife are managed. 

      The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that there were a little over 1-million waterfowl hunters in the U.S. during 2016. About the same time FWS estimated there were about 45 million birders in the U.S.:  There’s more of them than us!

      A major problem is that non-hunters haven’t had an easy way to provide financial help to the states and federal government.  Sure, you can say it’s easy to buy a hunting or fishing license; but if you don’t hunt or fish, why?

      States and the Feds need a product, license, or meaningful method for non-hunters to purchase so that money can go into the same state conservation fund as hunters and anglers.

      Is it that the state, and hunter interests, are afraid to let non-hunters “into the game” for fear they will grab more power?

      There is often a lot of concern about “anti-hunters,” and indeed there are people who don’t believe in hunting, fishing or trapping.  Some are strictly vegetarian.

      To those who are anti-harvest, they have the right to what they believe and they should be tolerated, but not bashed or persecuted.

      Indeed, the critical mass is the great majority in the middle who do not hunt or fish or trap, but realize the benefits and are willing to continue these outdoor traditions as long as they are ethically conducted and regulated by scientific management.  These are the people whom outdoorsmen need to pay more attention to.

      Both a person’s conduct in the outdoors, and just as important their conduct and “image” indoors at public meetings and events, and their letters to the editor, can turn those middle-ground supporters into a majority against hunting, fishing and trapping. The key to the future of outdoor sports is in the behavior and actions of today’s hunters, anglers and trappers.

      An official with the Montana Fish, wildlife and Parks Department said it well: “People are not necessarily concerned with the fact that we hunt, but rather how we hunt.”  He could have added the words: “How we represent ourselves as hunters to the public.”  

      Everyone should pay to protect natural resources!  We all need clean air and water, enjoy seeing eagles and herons, and walking in public wildlife management areas.  It is time that we all participated in funding these programs.

      People who hunt, fish and trap have paid much in licenses, stamps, excise taxes and donations to conservation organizations.

      But, it is time for a broad general funding mechanism for natural resources.  Missouri uses a percentage of the state sales tax and Minnesota showed it was light-years ahead of Wisconsin by establishing the Minnesota Legacy Fund.

      Minnesota was also light years ahead of Wisconsin because they banded hunters and non-hunters, (even a few of those “evil” art lovers), together to pass the increased tax.  They did it together!

      Wisconsin once used a penny-a-pack on cigarettes for purchasing land, and though legislators are shy about new taxes it is time for a way to pluck a downy feather from the public goose. The options are many, but something needs to be used. 

      We also need to return to an independent DNR and secretary selected by the Natural Resources Board. Then Governor Tommy Thompson upset the apple cart when he turned the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) into a cabinet agency.  Scott Walker put the nail in the coffin of the DNR by considering its mission as being “pro-business,” caving in to power-hungry northern politicians to eviscerate its science services bureau, and install a secretary who parroted the mantra that, “We can have business while having a clean environment,” which sounds good while DNR scientists and proposed pollution protections were shown the door.

      The DNR began leaking employees as they became eligible for retirement or grabbed by other agencies.  Exemplary employees the likes of Randy Stark, Paul DeLong, and Jack Sullivan are now long gone.

The DNR can no longer be independent of political influence as long as the governor appoints the secretary.

The citizen board was a far cleaner system and Missouri has the best system where three commissioners are of the conservative party and three are of the liberal party.  That way they HAVE to get together and board members often have a way of looking toward the long-term outlook of natural resources rather than the short-term vision of politicians who can only see as far as the next election.

      Wisconsin needs to change and allow the citizen Natural Resources Board to select the secretary, as it (and its predecessor the Conservation Commission) did from 1927 to the mid-1990s.  And if we want to improve the system, require that three Democrats and three Republicans always serve on the board, so that the legislature and governor would always have an open ear to listen to at least some of the board members.

      Wisconsin has a rich conservation history.  It has been home to Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, Warren Knowles, Harley MacKenzie and Ernie Swift, C.D. “Buzz” Besadny, among others.

      Wisconsin is also where devoted volunteers, not so well known, work behind the scenes to improve natural resources. Look at the resumes of men and women now enshrined in the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in Stevens Point.

      Volunteers and professional resources staff continually work with committees, boards, agencies, and organizations to protect and improve natural resources.  In the past they have made Wisconsin truly unique in natural resources, and what is needed is for those who hunt and those who do not to mend their ways, to work together on the bigger challenges faced today.

Vote for Natural Resources this November

Tim Eisele,  October 9, 2018, Editorial

 

Your vote is YOUR vote.

Your vote represents your ideals and desires of how you want this State to be when your children or grandchildren are your age.

Natural resources should be an important criteria in who you vote for.  If that is the case, you would do well to take time to study who you vote for November 6.

If candidates say natural resources are important, did they really work to protect Wisconsin’s resources?  Or did they attempt to give away protections so that a business could degrade them all the while saying they back a healthy environment?

Here are a few specific examples where legislators and the Governor failed to protect natural resources:

In 2013 the legislature and Governor passed a law requiring the DNR to put up 10,000 acres of public land for sale.

Granted some were scattered parcels, but “like they say,” they aren’t making land any more.  Each piece, though small, undoubtedly had a local hunter, angler, trapper or hiker who enjoyed that parcel.

The tragedy is seen when you look at a small parcel in the Town of Oakland in Jefferson County.

On September 24, 1969 Orlando H. Perry, Sr. wrote to then-DNR wildlife manager Harry Stroebe in Madison saying that the parcel, which Perry owned, was vitally essential to the quality of Lake Ripley.

The wetland contained a stream that passed through, filtering water that flowed into Lake Ripley, a lake that to this day holds the record for the largest largemouth blackbass ever caught in Wisconsin.

“Looking backward to my younger days, I certainly recall the numerous northern pike and walleyes that have called these lands their birth grounds.  It is only a shame that the upper part of the inlet to Lake Ripley was drained, but I guess that is the story of present day Wisconsin and most of the other states,” Perry wrote to the DNR.

“I have enjoyed many hunting moments, fishing hours, and deer and fox hunting days in the State of Wisconsin.  This small gift is in part payment to the State of Wisconsin and for the people of the Lake Ripley area as a token of our thanks to conservation.”

“It is my fervent hope that these wetlands remain wetlands for better conservation and reproduction of fish and wildlife in the Lake Ripley area.  It is hoped these wetlands will be the key to being a sponge and settling bed for all the silt, chemicals and fertilizer from upper farm lands.”

O.H. Perry donated the land to the State, FREE AT NO COST TO THE STATE, but that was a parcel that the legislature forced the DNR to sell, since it was an isolated parcel.

The DNR put the parcel up for sale and the Lake Ripley Management District and other conservation organizations realized it was too valuable to lose.

The locals had to raise funds and The Cambridge Foundation, Pheasants Forever Jefferson County Chapter, Oakland Conservation Club, Fort Atkinson Wisconservation Club, United Community Bank, Badger Bank, DeGidio Tooling, Kutz’s Hillside Rental and local residents raised funds.

Then Ducks Unlimited received $15,000 in North American Wetlands Conservation Act funds to permanently protect the parcel.

In the end, the Lake Ripley Management District paid $41,600 for 40.17 acres of land that was originally given FREE to the State.

This is just one example of events that make no sense to me, and should be taken into account when deciding whom to vote for in November.

Here are a few others:

  • The legislature proposes rules that affect natural resources in this state but the Wisconsin DNR is NOT allowed to testify either for or against the proposed rules. The DNR hires people who  have a formal background in natural resources and they are NOT allowed to present their analysis of whether the proposal is good or bad.  This came into being when Scott Walker and his hand-picked secretary, Cathy Stepp a previous state senator, began to rule the DNR.
  • The 2015-17 State Budget enacted by the legislature and Governor eliminated 16 DNR positions in science services. This was a move to gut the science positions that are supposed to provide guidance, opening more potential for decisions based on political intervention.
  • The Governor and legislature eliminated the Forest Mill Tax that paid for forestry in this state. This small tax amounted to  $27 that homeowners paid each year.  Now in every biennial budget, forestry will have to compete for funding with all other budgetary requests for funding, including education and roads.  This was an election ploy so that the Governor can say “there are no state taxes in your property tax.”  Yes, but taxes fund services and land maintenance.   Everyone who lives in houses built from wood, hikes in forests, and uses paper products benefits from state forests.  The Forest Mill Tax was the $90-million engine that drove Wisconsin’s forest train and used to be  envied by other states.
  • The Governor and legislature took the first steps to eliminate the popular and self-supporting DNR Natural Resources Magazine. The Governor originally proposed to eliminate it, even though it was self-supporting from reader subscriptions.  His appointed DNR Secretary (Cathy Stepp) concurred that the DNR was not in the magazine publishing business.  Eventually legislators heard the public clamor in support of the magazine and they restored the magazine, but only for four issues a year.  It could be the first step to eliminating the magazine, despite the fact that traditionally the DNR mission includes natural resources education.
  • Whether or not you agree that man-made causes are responsible for climate change, scientists agree the climate is changing. Our rainfall occurs in deluges, winters shorter, and summers warmer.  The DNR took any reference to climate change off its website and threw out its educational material on climate change.
  • The DNR went through a major realignment and eliminated state park patrolmen assuring that DNR Conservation wardens could handle the job. As a result, conservation wardens were driving all over the state to patrol parks, leaving local waters unenforced.
  • Fourteen conservation organizations asked the Governor and legislators to raise the cost of six licenses and stamps to help fund the shortage in the Fish and Wildlife Account at the DNR.  The request was ignored.  The organizations include  Ducks Unlimited, Federation of Great Lakes Sport Fishermen, Trout Unlimited, Ruffed Grouse Society, Quality Deer Management Association, Safari Club International Wisconsin Northeast, Badgerland and Southeast BOW Chapters, WI. Chapters of National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever, WI. Bear Hunters Association, Conservation Congress, WI. Trappers Association, WI.Waterfowl Associaiton, WI Bowhunters Association and WI Wildlife Federation.  Legislators and the Governor turned a deaf ear to the request, and instead DNR budgets are not adequate.
  • Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-2017 state budget would have halted any borrowing for the Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Program which would have stopped purchases of public land. He also proposed stripping regulatory authority from the Natural Resources Board.  In a future move, it has been reported (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 8, 2018) that the Governor is preparing a proposal in the next state budget to transfer regulations over agricultural pollution from DNR, that is supposed to protect air and water quality, to the farmer-friendly DATCP.
  • Also in Governor Walker’s 2015-17 state budget was a $500,000 “gift” to the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin for hunter recruitment activities.  However, the group did not qualify for non-profit status and the organization’s president was cited for a conservation violation.  The grant was cancelled, and money that could have gone to a valid conservation organization was never allocated.
  • Governor Walker signed Act 100 that limits DNR’s ability to take into account the total water withdrawal from high capacity wells while many people in Kewaunee County have polluted wells and line up at a high school for bottles of drinking water.
  • Legislators rolled back wetland protections (AB 547), with all Republicans in the State Senate in favor and all Democrats against. The bill that was signed by the Governor.  One legislator was quoted as saying, “Let me tell you today, this is the worst bill for sportsmen in a generation.”

The November, 2018 election will be monumental both in Wisconsin and the country.  There is much that will depend on the outcome.

Wisconsin is a shadow of its former self as a national leader in protection of natural resources.  The Department of Natural Resources is muzzled and neutered by the loss of positions in science and gag orders put on employees who are no longer allowed to testify in the capitol on proposed legislation.

DNR employees are not allowed to talk unless they are invited.  Even then, they can Not take a position based on their natural resources education.

We have bills being passed because polluters, CAFO operators, high-capacity well farmers, and Frac Sand operators want to make it easier for them to make money at the expense of the people’s natural resources, and nobody is there to speak up for natural resources from the DNR.

November 6 is an important election.

You need to consider the consequences and vote!

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were allowed to write our signature on our ballot, and then be able to bring it out and show it to our children or grandchildren when they ask, “What part did you play in voting for people who were supposed to protect the natural resources that you enjoyed and that Wisconsin used to have?”

Democratic nominee for governor Tony Evers launched Conservationists for Tony, a group of bipartisan conservation, environmental and outdoor leaders supporting Evers’ campaign. Photo by Tim Eisele

Note:  To see how different legislators voted on different bills in the 2017-2018 Legislature you can go to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters at: http://conservationvoters.org/vote-tracker/