James Rowen
Op Ed

The DNR Isn’t Quite Dead

Signs of life in its latest reports on natural resources that still survive.

By - Dec 15th, 2017 12:55 pm
Karner Blue Butterfly. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Karner Blue Butterfly. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Karma is thriving inside the Wisconsin DNR, so enjoy it along with me.

You may remember that developer and former GOP State Senator Cathy Stepp successfully auditioned through a snarky, anti-science blog post for the DNR Secretaryship she enjoyed for nearly seven years before Donald Trump moved her to a bigger sandbox to pollute. Let us quote from her blog back in 2009:

Those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of peeking behind the scenes of our state agencies like DNR, Health and Family Services, etc…need to know how some of the most far-reaching policies come down on our heads…suffice it to say that many of these great ideas (sarcasm) come from deep inside the agencies and tend to be reflections of that agency’s culture

For example, people who go to work for the DNR’s land, waste, and water bureaus tend to be anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes, karner blue butterflies, etc…This is in their nature; their make-up and DNA. So, since they’re unelected bureaucrats who have only their cubicle walls to bounce ideas off of, they tend to come up with some pretty outrageous stuff that those of us in the real world have to contend with.

Now let me point you to the DNR’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program 2017 Annual Report, a lovely document touting many positive DNR staff and volunteer initiatives statewide.

Among more than a dozen success stories is this one which would give Stepp heartburn:

Wisconsin has more Karner blue butterflies than anywhere else in the world, and NHC continues restoring habitat for this endangered species. For example, a 34-acre area of Coon Fork Barrens State Natural Area is now exploding with lupine and other plants critical for Karners following a recent prescribed burn; butterfly numbers increased at this site too.

With restoration projects planned through this fall/winter, Karners will gain more than 900 acres of improved habitat, which will also benefit a host of other species, by the end of 2017.

And while the Governor and his GOP-run Legislature want business to be able to fill wetlands and dig mines near rivers and streams, the report highlights many examples of land preservation that invite hikers and tourists to enjoy an enriched environment:




And it’s hard to miss the contradiction between the DNR management that’s working hard to help a Walker donor to tear apart a wetland/woodland/artifact/dune-rich 247-acre nature preserve right next to – – and even intruding into –  – Kohler-Andrae State Park – – and this feature item in the Natural Heritage Conservation Program 2017 Annual Report:


and more of them got the help they needed in 2017 as NHC field staff controlled brush and invasive plants, conducted prescribed burns and arranged timber harvests on a record 12,445 acres.

Such management is particularly important for maintaining Wisconsin’s best remaining prairie and oak savanna and barren remnants and providing refuge for the endangered plants and animals that depend on such habitat.

By the way: while you can enjoy the report online, I have to mention that I first saw it as an insert in the December 2017 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine – – the publication which Walker and then-DNR Secretary Stepp tried and failed to kill.

Which led to an increase in subscriptions, and no doubt wider distribution of the Natural Heritage Conservation Program’s work, goals and 2017 Annual Report, to new readers, like me.


James Rowen, a former journalist and mayoral staffer in Milwaukee and Madison, writes a regular blog, The Political Environment

Categories: Environment, Op-Ed, Politics

5 thoughts on “Op Ed: The DNR Isn’t Quite Dead”

  1. kar says:

    Unfortunately, things are not fine at the DNR. When it held a hearing in November on Assembly Bill 587, which would end state regulation of many air pollutants, the Assembly Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations didn’t even bother to invite the DNR to testify. In order to share his concerns about the dangers of this proposed legislation, DNR environmental toxicologist Jeff Myers had to appear before the committee as a private citizen, on his own time, according to a report in the Journal Sentinel. His decision to do so was apparently so brave, it merited a front-page story in the newspaper. Despite ongoing efforts by DNR scientists, legislators increasingly choose to ignore them. Citizens worried about the provisions of Assembly Bill 587 and its Senate counterpart, SB459, will have to contact their legislators directly.

  2. Terry says:

    Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans hate nature, hate the environment and they love garbage, pollution and big corporate polluters.

  3. MKE Kid says:

    Terry, don’t forget that Walker and his cronies also love those big donations they get bribed with to look the other way.

  4. Virginia says:

    Ever since Increase Lapham settled here in the mid 1800s and then John Muir and Aldo Leopold and all the other nature-loving. Wisconsin citizens, this state has led the way on every environmwntal front. Now, 150 years of stellar legacies are being wiped out at breakneck speed.

    Mother Nature usually gets the last word, which has yet to be written. We’re all living within an unfolding tragedy.

    Thanks James (and Lee Berquist of JS) for your ongoing reports of this calculated undoing of an incomparable conservation legacy.

  5. MKE Kid says:


    Remember the honorable Governor Warren Knowles? A staunch environmentalist, gentleman, and a sane Republican.

    Remember when Wisconsin’s state goverment was a shining example of open and honest government and was the envy of the rest of the US?

    What do we have now?

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