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WI Conservationists: Wash Politics Out of the DNR

July 20, 2009

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin conservationists are hoping to get a bill passed that would restore an independent secretary for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), by having that appointment filled by the DNR Board rather than by the governor. Next week the State Assembly Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing on a proposal to make the change.

Tom Thoresen, a former conservation warden, is president of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Institute. He says the current system makes it more likely that important decisions will be affected by politics.

"The voters might perceive the governor as opposed to what's in the long-term best interest of protecting our natural resources."

Thoresen says legislators have an opportunity to restore confidence that natural resources decisions will be based on science and not politics, by changing the way the DNR secretary is selected.

Opponents of the change say it would mean less oversight over the DNR, but Thoresen says that's just not the case.

"The Legislature and the governor still have oversight over the DNR and the board, because of their review of all policy actions and also their control of the budget."

Thoresen says the political appointee system makes it hard to follow through on important conservation initiatives because the players are constantly changing.

"In 2001 through 2008, we've already had four DNR secretaries, so there is a real loss of continuity in a political appointee system."

The hearing on the measure is slated for Tuesday, July 28, at 11 a.m. at the Capitol in Madison.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI