MADISON (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker promised to transform the state Department of Natural Resources. And he has, cutting scientists, shrinking its budget and pushing the agency to be more receptive to industry. And even more changes could be in store. Walker and Republican lawmakers, who hold their largest majorities in decades, are pondering whether to eliminate the agency and spread its duties across state government as well as charge people more to get into state parks and to hunt. It all adds up to a picture of a struggling agency no one recognizes any more, critics say.
Thanks to Tommy Thompson's success nearly 20 years before in making the DNR secretary a gubernatorial appointment and Doyle's failure to overturn it, one of Walker's first acts was to make an outspoken critic of the DNR, former state Sen. Cathy Stepp, the department's new secretary. It's been downhill ever since. The department has been complicit in weakening permitting regulations. An audit has found it derelict in enforcing its own policies when dealing with polluters. Large animal-feeding operations, CAFOs, have gone virtually unchecked. The science services division was dismantled. Large cutbacks were made in the staffs that deal with hunting and fishing.