The 2015-’17 proposed Wisconsin budget has elicited strong concerns from many in the conservation community.
Among the most onerous budget proposals are those to make the Natural Resources Board “advisory-only,” staff reductions in science and educator positions at the Department of Natural Resources and a moratorium until 2028 on land purchases through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
On Tuesday, all living former DNR secretaries issued a letter opposing the proposed neutering of the NRB.
The six men say the board “should retain its current authority over the Department of Natural Resources.”
The careers of the former secretaries span 36 years of leadership from 1975 through 2011. They also represent those who served under Republican and Democratic governors and as board-appointed and governor-appointed secretaries.
The former secretaries are Anthony Earl (also a former Wisconsin governor), Bruce Braun (deputy secretary under the late Secretary Buzz Besadny), George Meyer, Darrell Bazzell, Scott Hassett and Matt Frank. The letter was sent to the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee.
The JFC will be considering the budget and potential modifications to it over the coming weeks. The budget is typically finalized in summer.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Dear Senator Darling and Representative Nygren:
The state budget that is presently before the Joint Finance Committee proposes to change state law by removing the decision-making authority of the Natural Resources Board and making it solely advisory to the Department of Natural Resources Secretary.
The below signed individuals served as Secretaries of the Department of Natural Resources from 1975 until 2011 (36 years). The group includes Secretaries that served in Republican and Democratic Administrations and as Board-appointed and Governor-appointed Secretaries. We have worked very closely for and with the Natural Resources Board over those years and have direct first-hand knowledge of its operations and value.
We all agree that the Natural Resources Board should be retained as the decision-making body for the Department of Natural Resources. As presently constituted the Board provides immeasurable value for Wisconsin citizens and the natural resources of the state.
The Board provides an extremely valuable function as a major gateway for average citizens to directly impact all forms of natural resource management. This is done through citizen appearances at the monthly Natural Resources Board meetings and through the thousands of individual citizen communications that Board members receive each year and bring to bear in their decision-making process.
Secondly, we all have benefited from having the direct input from the highly respected conservationists that have served on the Board during our tenures. Natural resource decision-making is often complex and controversial and we found it very valuable to have the ideas and direction of these individuals in making decisions. The Board as decision-makers brings the perspective of average citizens to the table and is valuable in molding agency decisions to be less bureaucratic and workable for the average citizen.
It has been set forth by some that removing the Natural Resources Board as the decision-making body will increase accountability for agency decisions for Wisconsin citizens. In fact, having the open process of monthly meetings of the Natural Resources Board as a decision-making body where average citizens can comment and bring forth any issue regarding the agency problems is a far higher level of accountability for Wisconsin citizens.
Lastly, we believe that if the Natural Resources Board is changed to an advisory body, the state will lose the high level of individuals that have historically served on the Board and that their “advice” will be easily dismissed at the discretion of the Secretary.
Anthony S. Earl Bruce Braun George Meyer
DNR Secretary Deputy Secretary to C.D. Besadny DNR Secretary
1975-1982 1982-1993 1993-2001
Darrell Bazzell Scott Hassett Matt Frank
DNR Secretary DNR Secretary DNR Secretary
2001-2003 2003-2007 2007-2011