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Another Wave of Change within Wisconsin DNR, Reorganization Afoot

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S Bence
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Can nature and commerce flourish under DNR's restructuring plan?

It’s being called a “department strategic alignment effort” and comes after waves of change within Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources in recent months.

The state budget doled out staff cuts, including to the DNR’s science research team.

Now, the agency has announced a major reorganization. Governor Walker wants the DNR to become a customer-oriented team - for hunters and corporations alike.

WUWM requested an interview, but the agency’s new communication director, Jim Dick, said DNR leadership did not have time to talk, stating it “is booked for staff listening sessions around the state so we can fully explain to staff what the alignment is all about.”

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Credit Wisconsin State Journal
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Wisconsin State Journal
DNR reorganization chart

Will Wawrzyn feels completely in the dark.

The recently retired fisheries biologist worked for the DNR for decades, spending most of his career tending the Milwaukee River basin.

He says as a fish expert, he was often asked to review permit applications. “It might be a proposed filling of a wetland, or modification of a stream channel, changes to a shoreline,” he says.

Wawrzyn says he and other DNR staff provided data and their experience in the field. “Individuals within the department who have more expertise in the effects on the fisheries is going to be, or the water quality is going to be going to be, threatened or endangered species,” he says.

Wawrzyn isn’t sure that policy will survive the DNR’s reorganization and that has him worried. “If that accommodation can still be made, going to the various programs within the department to get their input, it’s going to be very important,” he says.

Cheryl Nenn with Milwaukee Riverkeeper isn’t sure how partnerships with nonprofits like hers will shuffle out under the DNR’s new plan.

Riverkeeper is among groups that partner with the agency to monitor water quality on rivers, streams and lakes around the state. “In the last few years we’ve seen a real decline in communication between the agency and a lot of nonprofit groups trying to protect the environment.  We’re having a real hard time getting information from the department, so I don’t know if that change is going to make that worse or better,” Nenn says.

Yet Scott Manley says he has no complaints or concerns. He’s VP of government relations with the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Manley says putting air and water quality permitting under one administrative roof makes both resource management and business sense.

“A lot of our members have both water permit and air permits, and if they can go to a single division and get permits they need to operate, it’s going to function that much better and will likely lead to a reduction in the time businesses need to wait for their permits,” he says.

Manley thinks a streamlined permitting process could attract more companies to set up shop in the state. “How quickly they can get up and running with a new investment and regulatory permitting and the time it takes to get a permit, Is certainly a factor in that decision-making. So if Wisconsin can make the case that the investment should come here because we have a timely and efficient regulatory process that’s going to help us attract investments,” Manley says.

Meanwhile, David Clausen has a different take. He’s philosophical about structural changes to the DNR.

Clausen served on the Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board from 2006 until 2013, including a term as its chair. “Every governor likes to remake things in their own image. Basically, it's one of those things governors get to do,” he says.

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A longer conversation with David Clausen.

The public can comment – in writing - on the DNR’s reorganization. The deadline is tomorrow.

The Natural Resources Board will take up the restructuring at its meeting next Wednesday.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.