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Politics inevitable with DNR secretary
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MADISON - The hoopla over appointment authority for the Department of Natural Resources secretary reached new heights of exaggeration recently as the Wisconsin State Assembly prepared to vote on the override of Assembly Bill 138, vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle last year. The measure would have authorized the Natural Resources Board to appoint the DNR secretary rather than the governor.

The override attempt failed, 58-38, Tuesday in the Assembly (a two-thirds majority is needed to override). The outcome was somewhat surprising considering the gloom and doom consequences, supporters warned, if the attempt failed.

In a God-save-the-Queen message to its members to rise up in support of the override, the environmental group, River Alliance of Wisconsin, urged its members to lobby in favor of the bill. "Save the DNR!!" shouted the title of the alert.

In a similar vein, a letter from George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation to Rep. Scott Gunderson, D-Wind Lake, declared this the "eve of one of the most historic votes ever taken on behalf of Wisconsin's sportsmen and women."

Since 1995, the governor has appointed the DNR secretary, a circumstance that critics argue makes the incumbent subject to undue influence from political elements. Having the NRB select the secretary will take politics out of the mix, supporters of AB 138 say.

Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, author of the override measure, was especially upset with the outcome.

"We need to base decisions on science, not what pleases the politicians and special interests," Black moaned.

As one of the most politically partisan members of the State Assembly, his anguish rings a bit disingenuous. A life-long politician, Rep. Black's career has prospered via a treasure trove of environmental - dare I say it - special interest groups.

Meyer has been the lead horse on the override effort, issuing regular press releases and messages to leaders within the conservation community, urging their support. He claims that his organization represents more than 160 conservation groups throughout the state. Moreover, on this issue, Meyer expands that list to 270 groups, including the Argyle Rod & Gun Club, Sugar River Pheasants Forever and Pecatonica Coon Hunters.

Bob Wesenberg of Sugar River Pheasants Forever says the appointment authority conversation came up at a meeting and believes there was consensus that the appointment authority should rest with the Natural Resources Board. Like others, he would like to see as little political involvement as possible when dealing with conservation issues.

He was surprised, however, to hear that the Wildlife Federation listed the chapter as a supporter of the override. "How they got our name I have no idea," he said. "We never actually voted on it."

Argyle Rod & Gun Club officials were even more puzzled. President Mike Pederson said no such decision was made and did not remember a conversation to that effect.

"I don't know how we got on that list," Pederson said.

Club Secretary Harold Marzolf agreed, saying he had no recollection of any such action and knew of nothing in board minutes to reflect any decision on the matter. Past president and current board member Brian Mundt was also baffled, saying he remembers no correspondence to that effect.

I'm not surprised. The Wildlife Federation has been known to play fast and loose with its claims of widespread support and flirts on the edges of propriety within its status as a non-profit, non-partisan organization.

Regarding the Natural Resources Board, it would behoove every sportsman to delve into its composition, which may not bode well for sportsmen. In a Feb. 18 letter to Meyer, Rep. Scott Gunderson, D-Wind Lake, expressed his concerns. "It has become painfully clear that the current Natural Resources Board is not acting in the best interests of the hunters and anglers of Wisconsin."

"When you are out talking to your member organizations it is highly unlikely that you bother to mention the fact that for the first time in history the Natural Resources Board has elected an environmentalist, not a conservationist, as its chairman," Gunderson charged.

The current NRB chair, Jonathon Ela, served in various regional and national Sierra Club positions and is regarded as a staunch environmentalist. In his response, Meyer noted that pending legislation would require three of the seven NRB board members to hold hunting, fishing or trapping licenses. A $20 fishing license, according to this logic, makes the board member one of us. Everyone hates politics, it seems, even its master practitioners within the State Assembly and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. But as I wrote in my Monroe Times article of Sept. 17, 2009, taking the politics out of the DNR is like trying to take suds out of soap.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at