Tag Archives: wisconsin department of natural resources

Nature lovers blast Walker’s plan to end DNR magazine paid for by readers

Twenty years of back issues in Jim Stroschein’s attic attest to his love of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ publication. Since 1919, the DNR magazine has featured stories and photos highlighting Wisconsin’s natural splendor, from where to hunt, fish, hike and camp to what it’s like to a own a north woods cabin.

If Republican Gov. Scott Walker gets his way, this will be the last year for the DNR magazine. Even though it is sustained entirely by subscribers — it had nearly 84,000 as of December — Walker’s proposed budget would end it next February. He argues that the state shouldn’t be in the publishing business and that more people can be reached through social media than the DNR magazine.

The proposal has outraged subscribers, particularly older ones who don’t rely on the internet for news, and has Democrats wondering if the pro-industry governor wants to pull the plug because the DNR magazine promotes science.

“To take away this tremendous communication tool, which costs them nothing, is really short-sighted,” said Stroschein, 54, of Mineral Point. “I don’t understand it.’’

At least a dozen states publish magazines detailing their environmental and wildlife agencies’ work, regarding them as a public relations vehicle. Wisconsin’s, which comes out every two months, typically runs articles by agency staff and freelancers accompanied by gorgeous photographs of wildlife and the outdoors. The April issue has a list of outdoor trips for the public, a staff story on a state nature preserve, and contributor pieces on kids’ efforts to build better birdhouses and how a ruffed grouse followed a man’s aunt around in 1950.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, a Walker appointee, told legislators last month that DNR employees lose time from core duties when they work on articles and that subscription revenue doesn’t make up for the lost hours. Echoing her boss, she said the agency could reach more people through social media.

But  Walker’s three state budgets have cut $59 million from the DNR and eliminated nearly 200 positions, including half of its science researchers.

That’s the same argument that former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley made when they eliminated their states’ magazines in the last few years. Like Walker, they are both Republicans.

Some Wisconsin conservationists and Democrats aren’t buying the explanation. They believe the move reflects the de-emphasis of science and education at the DNR under Walker. The DNR recently scrubbed language from an agency webpage that stated human activity was a major cause of climate change, despite overwhelming evidence that it is, and replaced it with language that said the causes of global warming are still being debated. That move came after the state budget Walker signed in 2015 cut half the positions in the DNR’s science bureau.

Natasha Kassulke, who used to edit the DNR magazine, said agency executives began vetting content after a story on climate change ran in 2013. She said they spiked a story she wrote on the endangered American pine marten because it included a map showing that the creature inhabits an area near Lake Superior that had been slated for a contentious iron mine project. She said they also killed a story she wrote on how mammals will cope with climate change, telling her the terms “climate change” and “global warming” were forbidden.

Kassulke said she quit last summer because the editing had become so draconian.

“There are things in the magazine Walker hasn’t liked,” said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Middleton Democrat who sits on the budget committee. “People like to sit down with something in their hand and read it outside of their smartphone or their tablet. It pays for itself. It’s not a waste of staff time. It’s more a matter of Scott Walker trying to control the message.’’

DNR spokesman James Dick declined to comment, saying the agency stands by Stepp’s testimony to the budget committee.

Legislators could save the magazine as they revise Walker’s budget. Nearly 3,000 people have subscribed and another 1,200 have renewed since Walker released the budget in February. The committee’s Republican members say they have heard from many constituents asking to spare the magazine.

Louisiana’s current governor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, decided last year to bring back the Louisiana Conservationist in a limited format. Rather than mail magazines to subscribers, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries places 7,500 free issues in its field offices.

“Everybody seems to like it, especially those old-timers, who seemed to miss it,” said agency spokesman Rene LeBreton.

Jim Shavlik, 80, of Crivitz, said he’s subscribed to the Wisconsin magazine for more years than he can remember. He sent an email to legislators warning them if the magazine dies he’ll quit volunteering to sample area water quality for the DNR.

“I do not like looking at a screen,” Shavlik said. “I just like a piece of paper in front of me. If they have a good reason (for eliminating the magazine), I can live with it. So far I haven’t heard a good reason.’’



GOP legislator wants to dismantle Department of Natural Resources

State Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, is proposing to carve up Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, a move that sounds “interesting” to Gov. Scott Walker — but not to many hunters and anglers.

Announced Dec. 21, 2016, Jarchow’s plan would create two new agencies: a Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and a Department of Environmental Conservation. Other current DNR functions would be relocated to the Departments of Administrative Services, Agriculture and Tourism.

George Meyer, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation’s executive director, said the prominent statewide organization of 200 sports clubs strongly opposes the plan to spin off DNR functions into five disparate agencies.

Meyer, a former DNR secretary who served in the agency more than 30 years, told WiG Jarchow’s plan “came out of nowhere.” He said its proponents “seem to not understand how the DNR actually works and the effectiveness produced by its well-coordinated operations.” Outdoor sports enthusiasts depend on high-quality waters, forests and other resources and thus oppose any weakening of environmental protections, said Meyer.

Meyer added that replacing one agency with two would ultimately “cause significant cost increases” based on existing state government pay scales — even without adding staff. He anticipated that many functions would be duplicated and communication across agencies would become cumbersome or nonexistent. Meyer said higher costs would likely lead to more cuts in services and higher fees, including at state parks.

Additionally, Meyer said the Wisconsin Conservation Congress has historically opposed such proposals to split the DNR. The congress is the only statutory body in the state where citizens elect delegates to advise the Natural Resources Board and the Department of Natural Resources on how to responsibly manage Wisconsin’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Attempts to weaken environmental protection and defund state parks run counter to Wisconsin’s history, for at least a century, as a national trailblazer on conservation. Previous plans to revamp the DNR have been offered and rejected, most recently about a decade ago, according to Meyer.

WiG asked Jarchow about his goals for his DNR plan. He responded with this statement: “I agree with Gov. Walker that we should continue working and winning for Wisconsin. That means addressing difficult challenges like reigning (sic) in the DNR. I look forward to continuing this important discussion.”

Jarchow did not respond to questions about what, if any, support he has garnered for his plan.

Jarchow was among three legislators named to Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ “Dishonor Roll” for 2015–16 for “egregious actions,” along with Sens. Tom Tiffany and Frank Lasee. Jarchow told WPR Radio, “I see it as a badge of honor. I am proud to work hard to protect property rights on behalf of my constituents. Our pro-growth, common-sense reforms are working. If extremist, left-wing, radical, environmental groups don’t like it, too bad.”

Widespread concerns about plan

Concerns about the DNR proposal are coming from every corner of the state.

Former DNR Secretary Scott Hassett told the Wisconsin State Journal that, if the DNR is split up, Republicans would “have one agency they can feed and one they can starve. They like to feed fish and wildlife and starve environmental protection.”

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, told WiG in an email that “further dismantling and diminishing the Department of Natural Resources is the wrong direction for Wisconsin. The state must restore our investment in our pristine lands and waters so that generations to come can enjoy the Wisconsin outdoors.” He noted that five former DNR secretaries were among many to “immediately speak out against unraveling an agency whose mission requires a comprehensive approach to best safeguard our future.”

Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, thinks Jarchow’s plan would further jeopardize Wisconsin’s strong tradition as a leader in conservation and state parks. “The damage may not be felt immediately but, cut by cut, we are going down a very dark path in terms of our environmental security,” he told WiG.

Brostoff said Wisconsin’s tourism industry is “endangered when ecological oversight and enforcement is weakened.”

Green Bay resident Charles Frisk commented in a letter to the Capital Times: “Splitting of the DNR is an example of Walker’s ‘divide and conquer strategy,’ which he used effectively to pit union and nonunion workers against each other. It would finish off the DNR as a functioning agency.” Frisk noted that Walker’s administration has “already weakened the DNR by firing scientists, regulators and environmental educators, drastically cutting funding and naming a real estate executive (Cathy Stepp) as the DNR secretary.”

Parks threatened

Under Jarchow’s reorganization, Wisconsin’s 66 state parks — comprising almost 61,000 acres — would be managed by the Department of Tourism, which has no staff trained to manage parks and trails. The tourism department’s mission is “to market the state as the Midwest’s premier travel destination for fun” — a far cry from natural resource protection.

Beyond the state parks, the DNR’s Division of Forestry manages 471,000 acres in Wisconsin’s state forests. Under the Jarchow plan, the DNR’s forestry operations and northern state forests would be managed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, while the Department of Tourism, again, would supervise southern state forests.

The fate of Wisconsin’s state parks already hangs in the balance after the Republican-led Legislature defunded them as of 2015. That has led to increases in fees for things like parks admission and camping.

Larson believes access to recreational opportunities within the state is at serious risk. “Wisconsin’s parks, forests and recreational areas are an important heritage meant for all to enjoy, not just those who can afford to pay more. Yet Walker’s DNR secretary is proposing more increases in fees at our state lands as well as selling the naming rights of different state park facilities to corporations,” Larson said.

Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Parks Directors and a former parks director in North Carolina, said no state parks system has ever functioned long term on just a mix of user fees and corporate sponsorships without other public money. He was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2015.

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, which represents more than 38,000 members statewide, monitors all proposed policies relating to parks and public lands. WLCV’s spokesman Ryan Billingham said “thousands of state residents rely on parks as their only access” to outdoor recreation and respite. He thinks any new or proposed policies that “hamper access or reduce the quality of parks are completely out of touch with the needs of residents and what people value about the state’s rich heritage of conservation and public lands.”

DNR  spinoff plan in a nutshell

Wisconsin implemented its current integrated approach to natural-resource management in 1967, following intensive study by the Kellett Commission appointed by Republican Gov. Warren Knowles. That effort was chaired by William Kellett, retired president of Kimberly-Clark Paper Corporation in Neenah. Meyer said the commission had determined the Kellett Commission structure would be “more efficient and effective from a business standpoint.” He said “staff in virtually every state have been envious of how Wisconsin can easily bring together professionals within a single department” to address environmental issues.

That approach would be turned on its head by the Jarchow plan.

Existing Department of Natural Resources functions would be transferred to far-flung new and existing state agencies.

A Department of Fish and Wildlife would oversee wildlife and fisheries units, including fish and game enforcement. It also would manage state natural areas. The existing Natural Resources Board, composed of appointed citizens, would be renamed and have policy oversight over the agency.

A Department of Environmental Protection would manage environmental issues, such as drinking water, lake and river protections, air regulation and ground and watershed management. It would not have oversight by a citizens’ board.

State parks and trails and southern state forests would be transferred to the Department of Tourism.

The DNR’s forestry operations and the state’s northern forests would be managed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The Department of Administration would manage the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which buys land for public use, as well as the legal services program now within the DNR.

Industrial sand project would destroy pristine wetlands

Continue reading Industrial sand project would destroy pristine wetlands

Wisconsin DNR fails to update lead testing guidelines for drinking water

Nine months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned against flushing water systems before testing for lead, the state Department of Natural Resources has not yet passed that advice on to public water systems in Wisconsin.

The EPA issued a memo in late February as the lead-in-drinking-water crisis in Flint, Michigan was exploding into public view. The memo, intended to clear up confusion over testing procedures, declared that flushing water systems before sampling must be avoided because it can conceal high levels of lead in drinking water

Water managers in Shawano and at Riverside Elementary School near Wausau say they were not aware of the change and have continued to use flushing when testing for lead.

Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech University professor who helped expose the Flint crisis, said that updating the testing procedures is “essential for public health protection.” Any amount of lead can cause permanent damage, including reduced intelligence and behavior problems, according to the EPA. Infants and children are considered the most vulnerable to lead’s negative effects.

“As we saw in Flint, the old protocols effectively ‘hid’ lead in water problems,” Edwards said.

“Given what we now know, data collected using the outdated protocols cannot be trusted.”

The memo also instructed EPA administrators to pass the guidance along to state drinking water program directors. DNR spokeswoman Jennifer Sereno said the agency was notified of the guidance and she confirmed that “pre-stagnation flushing is not an appropriate sampling procedure.”

Sereno insisted the agency had responded appropriately. DNR presented the information at two industry meetings and sent an email to the Wisconsin Rural Water Association in March, she said.

Sereno added that the agency “is in the process of drafting a letter to all community water systems that will make them aware of this and other EPA memos and summarize the content.” The agency, which is responsible for enforcing federal drinking water standards in Wisconsin, expects to send the letters next week, she said.

A search of the DNR drinking water database Friday showed nearly 6,270 lead compliance sample results from 948 water systems have been reported to the agency since Feb. 29, when the EPA guidance was issued. It was not immediately known how many used the now-discredited procedure of pre-stagnation flushing, in which a water system is flushed for some period of time, water sits unused for six hours, and then samples are collected.

Sampling procedures listed on the DNR’s website indicate the water must be stagnant for six hours but do not address whether or not the tap should be flushed prior to sampling. Sereno said new instructions will be posted online to clarify this.

Virginia Tech University professor Marc Edwards talks with Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Carrie Lewis before a symposium on drinking water Sept. 7, 2016 at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wis. Edwards said WisconsinÕs failure to notify local water managers of new lead testing protocols in the wake of the Flint, Michigan lead crisis could pose a danger to the public. —PHOTO: Dee J. Hall
Virginia Tech University professor Marc Edwards talks with Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Carrie Lewis before a symposium on drinking water Sept. 7, 2016 at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wis. Edwards said WisconsinÕs failure to notify local water managers of new lead testing protocols in the wake of the Flint, Michigan lead crisis could pose a danger to the public. —PHOTO: Dee J. Hall

In July, EPA sent a letter reminding states to post updated protocols to their websites, saying the agency would follow up with each state “to ensure that these protocols and procedures are clearly understood and are being properly implemented to address lead and copper issues at individual drinking water systems.” The EPA did not respond to a question about whether any other states had failed to notify water managers of the updated protocols.

While some municipalities, such as the Green Bay Water Utility and the Milwaukee Water Works, were aware of the EPA memo and updated their testing procedures, others continued using outdated methods that included a flushing step — making it possible dangerous levels of lead could go unnoticed.

Shawano included pre-stagnation flushing in the procedures used for this year’s testing, which was completed over the summer. Patrick Bergner, water manager for the city of nearly 10,000 between Green Bay and Wausau, said although he works closely with a DNR liaison, he was not aware of any EPA guidance against flushing.

“I’d be happy to be informed of any changes in the procedure,” Bergner said. One of Shawano’s 21 compliance samples had a level of lead nearly three times the federal action level, which is 15 parts per billion; several more neared the limit.

DNR public water supply specialist Tony Knipfer acknowledged the need for clarification when flushing is appropriate. It is typically recommended as a way for consumers to reduce exposure to lead in their own homes, for example, but should not be done before testing.

“I think it’s fair to say that there’s been some confusion or conflicting information out on the flushing,” he said. “But from a regulatory aspect and a health and safety aspect, we’re looking for representative samples of what’s likely to be consumed.”

Milwaukee Water Works issued a statement in June saying it immediately adopted the instructions not to pre-flush. Those new instructions will be put to use next year when the utility tests 50 homes and buildings for compliance with EPA regulations.

“Prior to February of 2016, MWW did instruct residents to flush their home plumbing prior to the required six-hour stagnation period, before collecting samples for regulatory compliance purposes,” according to the memo from Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Carrie Lewis to Mayor Tom Barrett.

“The last testing cycle (for Milwaukee) was the summer of 2014. That cycle did include the pre-stagnation flushing instruction,” Lewis wrote. “The next cycle in the summer of 2017 will not.”

Other procedures that can mask the true level of lead in drinking water include removing or cleaning faucet filters called aerators that can collect lead particles; using narrow-necked bottles that result in a slower flow of water; and sampling in cooler months when lead concentrations are lower. The EPA also urged that those procedures should end.

“While we cannot undo the past harm done from failing to detect water lead risks,” Edwards said, “there should be zero tolerance for future needless harm that arises from a false sense of security created by bad data.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.


Environmental Protection Agency pressed to oppose DNR pollution permit

Continue reading Environmental Protection Agency pressed to oppose DNR pollution permit

Feds investigating claims WDNR fails to enforce water pollution regs

Federal regulators planned to visit Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources headquarters this week to investigate claims the agency is failing to enforcing water pollution laws and regulations.

Midwest Environmental Advocates and 16 individuals petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review water regulations in the state to ensure the DNR is complying with the Clean Water Act.

The EPA in 2011 cited 75 deficiencies in how DNR handles water regulation.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports four EPA regulators planned to spend four days this week at DNR headquarters in Madison paging through the agency’s water pollution files beginning Tuesday.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick called the review standard procedure, although the review could result in the EPA stripping the state’s authority to enforce federal regulations.

Environmentalists challenge DNR sand mine pollution findings

A new Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources draft report wrongly concludes that sand mining operations don’t produce fine dust particles and shouldn’t impact human health, an environmental advocacy group contends.

The DNR released a potential update to its 2012 sand mining analysis for public comment this past week. The analysis tracks the latest scientific and socioeconomic information about sand mining in Wisconsin. The agency uses the analysis to inform policy discussions and decisions.

Sand mining has taken off in western Wisconsin since 2008, as fracking, a process to free petroleum and natural gas by cracking rock with injections of water, sand and chemicals, has taken hold. The region has high-quality silica sand that works well in the process; according to the report, 92 sand mines are currently active in the area. The boom has generated fears of air and water pollution.

A section of the report focuses on air pollution, stating that sand mines don’t appear to be producing the small pollutant particles that can lodge deep in human lungs and, according to some studies, cause health problems. Air quality monitors in western Wisconsin haven’t detected elevated levels of such tiny particles and the levels of larger particles are well below federal air quality standards, according to the report.

“As a result of existing regulations and the permitting and compliance activities … health related impacts from industrial sand facilities are not likely to be an issue,” the analysis states.

Midwest Environmental Advocates, though, insists that the DNR needs to take a tougher look at sand mining and solicit more data and input from experts and the public.

The analysis relies too heavily on voluntary air monitoring and industry-funded studies, the group said, and minimizes a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire study that found sand mines may be causing or contributing to unsafe air pollution. The DNR has no evidence showing that sand mines don’t produce the smaller, more dangerous particles, the group said.

MEA attorney Sarah Geers pointed to a letter the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent to the DNR in August that a broad statement that mining processes don’t emit fine particles is accurate or appropriate.

“Robust public comment will improve the final (analysis), if the DNR will hear the public’s concerns, accept more air quality studies and address the legal and environmental concerns with fine particulate matter associated with frac sand mining,” the group said in a news release.

The DNR plans to hold a public hearing on the draft analysis July 24 in Eau Claire. The agency will take comments for at least 45 days before issuing the final version. DNR spokesman James Dick declined to comment on MEA’s complaints, saying the agency typically doesn’t respond to public comments as they come in.