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Key GOP lawmaker pans proposal to break up DNR

Mark Sommerhauser

A Republican state senator who oversees natural-resource issues has panned a proposal to split up the state Department of Natural Resources, saying it would “create more bureaucracy” and hamper the department’s environmental mission.

Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, joins DNR secretary Cathy Stepp in raising questions about the breakup plan.

State Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, has been crafting the proposal behind the scenes for months. Gov. Scott Walker made the proposal public in December, and it sparked swift controversy heading into the legislative session, which began Jan. 3.

Jarchow has said the DNR is “not working in its current form.” He proposes splitting the department into two agencies, one focused on hunting and fishing and the other on environmental protection. Other DNR duties, including parks and forestry, would be parceled out to three other agencies.

Cowles, chairman of the Senate committee overseeing natural resources, a potential waypoint in that chamber for DNR bills, told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday that he doesn’t support the proposal.

“I don’t think (Jarchow) has built a rationale for it, other than saying his constituents tell him that (the DNR) doesn’t work. My constituents have not told me that,” said Cowles, R-Green Bay. “Some of my constituents have problems with different things that (the agency does), and we may modify some things down there. But to break up an agency and create more bureaucracy and more confusion, it doesn’t appeal to me at all.

“It would make things more confusing, more expensive, and deter from the ultimate mission of the DNR: to protect the resources in a reasonable way.”

The proposal has not been introduced in bill form, but details of it were provided to Walker’s office and the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Walker has said he’s open to considering the idea.

Cowles noted in the interview that lawmakers could include a DNR breakup plan in the state budget, which would limit the ability of the committee Cowles leads — which oversees natural resources and energy — to modify it.

Natural-resources and conservation groups have criticized the proposal, saying it would be costly to taxpayers and impede state government’s ability to protect the environment.

Former DNR secretaries and the department’s current secretary, Stepp, also have weighed in against the idea. Stepp told the State Journal last week that the agency instead should be allowed to move forward with a recently launched reorganization.

The DNR was created in the 1960s by consolidating agencies that handled conservation and environmental programs, with the aim of increasing efficiency and making it easier for the public to have concerns addressed.

— Copyright © 2017, The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)/Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.