Ex-DNR leaders urge Walker not to split agency

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Five former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secretaries are urging Gov. Scott Walker and legislators to reject a proposal to divide the agency and scatter its responsibilities across state government.

Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow has proposed placing wildlife and fisheries management in a new Department of Fish and Wildlife and handing pollution control over to a new Department of Environmental Protection. The DNR’s other duties would be spread across three existing agencies: The Department of Tourism would take over state parks. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would manage forestry operations. The Department of Administration would handle land acquisitions.

Jarchow has said he’s pushing for the split because businesses and outdoor lovers tell him the DNR isn’t working in its current form. Walker has said the plan is worth pursuing.

The former secretaries said in their Tuesday letter that a Republican Legislature created the DNR’s current structure. The issues the DNR faces require constant interaction between the agencies’ multiple bureaus and dividing up the tasks between agencies would hamper coordination, they said. For example, fisheries experts need to work closely with water quality regulators and forestry managers need to work closely with wildlife experts to protect game species like deer.

People wouldn’t know which agency to contact with questions and the split would create a myriad of new oversight and supervisory positions that will require compensation, the ex-secretaries said, adding that environmental groups and outdoor clubs would have to work with five different agencies.

Jarchow and Walker’s offices didn’t immediately respond to messages. DNR spokesman James Dick said the agency doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

The secretaries include Democrat Tony Earl, who went on to serve as governor; George Meyer and Darrel Bazzell, who served under Republican Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum; and Scott Hassett and Matt Frank, who served under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

Bruce Braun, a former DNR deputy secretary who worked with now-deceased secretary C.D. Besadny, also signed the letter. Besadny worked under Republican Govs. Lee Dreyfus, Earl and Thompson.

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