Scott Gunderson, appointed by Scott Walker to a top position in the DNR, once pushed for legislation that would have privatized thousands of miles of Wisconsin’s waterways, including portions of every trout stream in the state. The 2004 legislation, authored by Gunderson while he was representing the 83rd District (Waukesha) in the State Assembly, redefined “navigable waters” in a way that would have denied public access to between one third and one half of Wisconsin’s public waterways.
Although strong opposition from the public and from sportsmen’s groups such as Trout Unlimited, together with the probability that it was unconstitutional, killed his navigable waters bill, Gunderson continued to push for the privatization of Wisconsin’s water resources. His next effort was more successful. In 2008 Gunderson, working in concert with industry-backed politicians in other states, blocked ratification of the Great Lakes Compact until a ground water protection provision had been removed from it. Removal of the provision was a gift to the bottled water industry, but put lakes and streams at risk of running dry from lowered water tables.
As DNR executive assistant, Gunderson became a central figure in the recently publicized “Sewergate” scandal when he worked behind the scenes to help Herr Environmental, Inc. evade serious penalties from charges of illegally dumping human urine and feces on fields near residential areas in Jefferson County in 2009. The human waste threatens to contaminate groundwater and the wells of dozens of families. Herr, whose owners are supporters and financial backers of both Walker and Gunderson, typically would have been fined $20,000-40,000 for such violations. Thanks to Gunderson’s intervention, Herr was fined the legal minimum of $4,338.
Gunderson’s long-standing advocacy of privatization, and his contempt for laws protecting public resources, no doubt were the reasons that Scott Walker appointed him as “Executive Assistant” to the like-minded (DNR Secretary) Cathy Stepp.
Things have changed since 2004. Under Walker, citizen input on environmental regulation has been greatly reduced. Act 21 neutered the Conservation Congress. Meanwhile, the power and influence of radical ideology and of out of state lobbyists has grown. As shown in the debate over the ferrous mining bill, even likely Constitutional challenges do not deter the Walker administration from pushing legislation that support his privatization schemes. Given Walker’s passion for privatization, it is not at all unlikely that Gunderson’s redefinition of navigable waters will reemerge on the Walker administration agenda.
This time around, the fisherman are likely to lose.