State Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, is proposing to carve up Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, a move that sounds “interesting” to Gov. Scott Walker — but not to many hunters and anglers.
Announced Dec. 21, 2016, Jarchow’s plan would create two new agencies: a Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and a Department of Environmental Conservation. Other current DNR functions would be relocated to the Departments of Administrative Services, Agriculture and Tourism.
George Meyer, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation’s executive director, said the prominent statewide organization of 200 sports clubs strongly opposes the plan to spin off DNR functions into five disparate agencies.
Meyer, a former DNR secretary who served in the agency more than 30 years, told WiG Jarchow’s plan “came out of nowhere.” He said its proponents “seem to not understand how the DNR actually works and the effectiveness produced by its well-coordinated operations.” Outdoor sports enthusiasts depend on high-quality waters, forests and other resources and thus oppose any weakening of environmental protections, said Meyer.
Meyer added that replacing one agency with two would ultimately “cause significant cost increases” based on existing state government pay scales — even without adding staff. He anticipated that many functions would be duplicated and communication across agencies would become cumbersome or nonexistent. Meyer said higher costs would likely lead to more cuts in services and higher fees, including at state parks.
Additionally, Meyer said the Wisconsin Conservation Congress has historically opposed such proposals to split the DNR. The congress is the only statutory body in the state where citizens elect delegates to advise the Natural Resources Board and the Department of Natural Resources on how to responsibly manage Wisconsin’s natural resources for present and future generations.
Attempts to weaken environmental protection and defund state parks run counter to Wisconsin’s history, for at least a century, as a national trailblazer on conservation. Previous plans to revamp the DNR have been offered and rejected, most recently about a decade ago, according to Meyer.
WiG asked Jarchow about his goals for his DNR plan. He responded with this statement: “I agree with Gov. Walker that we should continue working and winning for Wisconsin. That means addressing difficult challenges like reigning (sic) in the DNR. I look forward to continuing this important discussion.”
Jarchow did not respond to questions about what, if any, support he has garnered for his plan.
Jarchow was among three legislators named to Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ “Dishonor Roll” for 2015–16 for “egregious actions,” along with Sens. Tom Tiffany and Frank Lasee. Jarchow told WPR Radio, “I see it as a badge of honor. I am proud to work hard to protect property rights on behalf of my constituents. Our pro-growth, common-sense reforms are working. If extremist, left-wing, radical, environmental groups don’t like it, too bad.”
Widespread concerns about plan
Concerns about the DNR proposal are coming from every corner of the state.
Former DNR Secretary Scott Hassett told the Wisconsin State Journal that, if the DNR is split up, Republicans would “have one agency they can feed and one they can starve. They like to feed fish and wildlife and starve environmental protection.”
Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, told WiG in an email that “further dismantling and diminishing the Department of Natural Resources is the wrong direction for Wisconsin. The state must restore our investment in our pristine lands and waters so that generations to come can enjoy the Wisconsin outdoors.” He noted that five former DNR secretaries were among many to “immediately speak out against unraveling an agency whose mission requires a comprehensive approach to best safeguard our future.”
Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, thinks Jarchow’s plan would further jeopardize Wisconsin’s strong tradition as a leader in conservation and state parks. “The damage may not be felt immediately but, cut by cut, we are going down a very dark path in terms of our environmental security,” he told WiG.
Brostoff said Wisconsin’s tourism industry is “endangered when ecological oversight and enforcement is weakened.”
Green Bay resident Charles Frisk commented in a letter to the Capital Times: “Splitting of the DNR is an example of Walker’s ‘divide and conquer strategy,’ which he used effectively to pit union and nonunion workers against each other. It would finish off the DNR as a functioning agency.” Frisk noted that Walker’s administration has “already weakened the DNR by firing scientists, regulators and environmental educators, drastically cutting funding and naming a real estate executive (Cathy Stepp) as the DNR secretary.”
Under Jarchow’s reorganization, Wisconsin’s 66 state parks — comprising almost 61,000 acres — would be managed by the Department of Tourism, which has no staff trained to manage parks and trails. The tourism department’s mission is “to market the state as the Midwest’s premier travel destination for fun” — a far cry from natural resource protection.
Beyond the state parks, the DNR’s Division of Forestry manages 471,000 acres in Wisconsin’s state forests. Under the Jarchow plan, the DNR’s forestry operations and northern state forests would be managed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, while the Department of Tourism, again, would supervise southern state forests.
The fate of Wisconsin’s state parks already hangs in the balance after the Republican-led Legislature defunded them as of 2015. That has led to increases in fees for things like parks admission and camping.
Larson believes access to recreational opportunities within the state is at serious risk. “Wisconsin’s parks, forests and recreational areas are an important heritage meant for all to enjoy, not just those who can afford to pay more. Yet Walker’s DNR secretary is proposing more increases in fees at our state lands as well as selling the naming rights of different state park facilities to corporations,” Larson said.
Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Parks Directors and a former parks director in North Carolina, said no state parks system has ever functioned long term on just a mix of user fees and corporate sponsorships without other public money. He was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2015.
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, which represents more than 38,000 members statewide, monitors all proposed policies relating to parks and public lands. WLCV’s spokesman Ryan Billingham said “thousands of state residents rely on parks as their only access” to outdoor recreation and respite. He thinks any new or proposed policies that “hamper access or reduce the quality of parks are completely out of touch with the needs of residents and what people value about the state’s rich heritage of conservation and public lands.”
DNR spinoff plan in a nutshell
Wisconsin implemented its current integrated approach to natural-resource management in 1967, following intensive study by the Kellett Commission appointed by Republican Gov. Warren Knowles. That effort was chaired by William Kellett, retired president of Kimberly-Clark Paper Corporation in Neenah. Meyer said the commission had determined the Kellett Commission structure would be “more efficient and effective from a business standpoint.” He said “staff in virtually every state have been envious of how Wisconsin can easily bring together professionals within a single department” to address environmental issues.
That approach would be turned on its head by the Jarchow plan.
Existing Department of Natural Resources functions would be transferred to far-flung new and existing state agencies.
A Department of Fish and Wildlife would oversee wildlife and fisheries units, including fish and game enforcement. It also would manage state natural areas. The existing Natural Resources Board, composed of appointed citizens, would be renamed and have policy oversight over the agency.
A Department of Environmental Protection would manage environmental issues, such as drinking water, lake and river protections, air regulation and ground and watershed management. It would not have oversight by a citizens’ board.
State parks and trails and southern state forests would be transferred to the Department of Tourism.
The DNR’s forestry operations and the state’s northern forests would be managed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The Department of Administration would manage the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which buys land for public use, as well as the legal services program now within the DNR.
State Rep. Josh Zepnick has won support progressive groups such as Planned Parenthood and Fair Wisconsin. But in this election cycle, we prefer his primay challenger, immigration lawyer Marisabel Cabrera, in the 9th Assembly District.
The reasons are multifold. Zepnick recently sponsored legislation that would have made it easier to privatize public water systems by making it harder for citizens to collect signatures for referendums on such proposals. That action cost Zepnick, a 14-year incumbent, the endorsement of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, which has supported him in the past. Both WLCV and Clean Wisconsin Action Fund have endorsed Cabrera in this race.
Zepnick also introduced legislation that would have relied on debt collection from county residents to pay $4 million a year to subsidize the Bucks arena. Both bills were defeated.
Like many Republicans — and an unfortunate number of Democrats, as well — Zepnick has taken contributions from the predatory pay day-loan industry. He’s received a lot of support from electric utilities that have made it difficult to get wind and solar energy on the grid in Wisconsin.
Last year, Zepnick was arrested for drunken driving.
Perhaps most importantly, Zepnick’s enthusiasm for the job of representing the district appears to be waning. Earlier this year, he ran in the 8th Aldermanic District’s primary race as one of two candidates seeking to oust right-wing Ald. Bob Donovan. It’s time for enthusiastic new leadership.
Cabrera, an immigration lawyer who’s been in private practice for a decade, said she’s long felt the public interests of the South Side district where she was born have been “under-represented” in the Legislature. She told WiG that, in the process of knocking on 100 doors a day in the district, she’s found that “people are super excited to have someone else running in this race.”
Cabrera, who earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and a law degree at Michigan State University, said she believes adequate funding for public schools is a “civil rights issue,” since public education is “the great equalizer” in affording opportunities for all.
Cabrera serves on the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, where she’s gained grassroots experience in police-community relations that is badly needed in Madison. She promised to be a champion in pushing for adequate state funding for public safety, including funds for training police officers. “We need to have collaboration” among police and citizens and to promote a high “level of mutual trust and respect,” she said.
Cabrera says “it’s no secret” that she is bisexual but has not wanted to use that in an “opportunistic” way to try to win votes. In a state where women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people are poorly represented in government, however, she would lend valuable perspective to the Assembly.
AFSCME Council 32 and Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters have endorsed Cabrera. Other supporters include State Rep. Mandela Barnes, former Greendale Village President John Hermes (current chair of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District), MPS board member Dr. Tatiana Joseph, Ald. Nik Kovac, State Sen. Chris Larson, Ald. Chantia Lewis and MPS Board vice president Larry Miller.
For more, go to www.cabreraforassembly.com.
Environmentalists fear that a Republican bill allowing people to replace, rebuild or transfer high-capacity wells without state approval would remove key oversight of operations that can suck up millions of gallons of groundwater.
A number of conservationist groups, including Clean Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, oppose the bill. They argue that it would mean the end of Department of Natural Resources well reviews once permits are issued, since the only points where the agency can revisit permit conditions come when owners replace, rebuild or transfer ownership.
The DNR would still review each well’s pumping data annually but would have no say over whether conditions in the original approval still protect groundwater, said Jennifer Griegerich, the legislative director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.
“No conditions in the permit could ever be changed,” she said.
The bill’s main author, Sen. Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac, insists that the proposal would eliminate burdensome paperwork, give farmers certainty that they can keep their wells running and ensure that property buyers can use wells they acquire without the fear of the DNR shutting them down or imposing new conditions.
He said the bill is largely a reaction to an administrative law judge’s ruling last year requiring the DNR to consider the cumulative effects of high-capacity wells on groundwater use. The bill makes certain that the DNR can’t apply that new standard to wells that have already been approved, he said.
“This bill reduces the added bureaucratic hassle of dealing with an application process that adds no value or protection to our state waters,” Gudex and co-author Rep. Lee Nerison, R-Westby, wrote in a February email to their legislative colleagues.
Under current DNR rules, owners of high-capacity wells, defined as wells that draw at least 100,000 gallons of water per day, need written approval from the agency to build, reconstruct and run their wells. Applications cost $500 and approvals carry a $125 annual fee.
People who acquire a well through a land purchase must notify the DNR. If the new owner isn’t planning to make any modifications to the well, the DNR reissues the approval, agency spokesman Jim Dick said. If the new owner wants to make changes at any point he or she would have to reapply for approval.
Under the bill, a well owner would have to notify the DNR if she or he plans to replace a well of the same depth within a 75-foot radius of the existing well, reconstruct a well or transfer ownership. No additional approval or inspection would be necessary. Owners would have to abide by the parameters spelled out in the original approval, however; they couldn’t increase their water consumption without DNR approval.
Jeff Beiriger is a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Water Well Association, which represents more than 300 well drillers and pump installers and has registered in support of the bill. He stressed that the measure has nothing to do with water withdrawals.
“This is a good regulatory fix,” he said.
The bill’s prospects are unclear. Asked about the measure’s chances, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman, Myranda Tanck, said a number of GOP senators have been working on high-capacity well legislation and Fitzgerald hopes “to address the issue” before the end of the legislative session next spring.
Wisconsin’s Republican leadership has enacted a measure that would allow the accident-prone Canadian energy company Enbridge to bury oil pipelines on property anywhere in the state it desires. The property owner’s approval is not required.
The measure was among 67 proposals in the Joint Finance Committee’s wrap-up motion (known as the 999 motion) to the 2015–17 biennial budget approval process. Many of the proposals were both controversial and unrelated to the budget, reflecting a strategy used by both parties for circumventing public attention and debate on hot-button issues.
The 999 proposals were harshest on environmental issues, according to Wisconsin conservation groups. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters described the budget as a whole as “a grab bag of anti-conservation policy.”
Among the worst of the new environmental laws, conservationists say, are those that were designed to benefit Enbridge, the world’s largest transporter of tar sands oil. The company has close ties with Wisconsin Republicans.
The impetus for the new laws is to expedite Enbridge’s plan to expand the volume on Line 61, which crosses the state diagonally from Superior to Flanagan, Illinois, with a pipeline conveying a half-million barrels of tar sands crude a day. Enbridge wants to triple that volume, which would make Line 61 it the highest-volume pipeline in the nation — one-third larger than the Keystone XL.
Line 61 passes through every major waterway in the state, and Enbridge has the Western Hemisphere’s worst record for oil spills — a combination of factors that alarms environmentalists.
According to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Enbridge is guilty of more than 100 environmental violations in 14 Wisconsin counties. In 2010, the break of an Enbridge line in Michigan spewed oil for more than 17 hours before Enbridge realized it was leaking. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, with a clean-up price tag of $1.2 billion. EPA officials struggled three years to get Enbridge to clean up the impacted area, and environmentalists say the work is still incomplete.
Enbridge’s plan to expand Line 61 had been held up by Dane County, where officials demanded that the company carry $25 million in pollution insurance before they would approve a new pumping station in the county’s northeastern corner.
But with a proposal included in the 999 motion, Republican leaders enabled Enbridge to circumvent the requirement with a new law that bans local jurisdictions from requiring insurance on an operator of a hazardous liquid pipeline as long as the company carries comprehensive insurance coverage, according to Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator for the Sierra Club’s John Muir chapter.
Given the cost of clean-ups, the frequency of Enbridge accidents and the company’s history of reluctance to clean up after itself, Dane County officials fear the company’s current insurance coverage is inadequate.
Another item folded secretly into the 999 motion expands the state’s eminent domain law so that it virtually would allow Enbridge to seize property from any individual and use it for placing a pipeline. Although the Public Service Commission must deem such an action necessary for the public interest, environmentalists say obtaining its permission would be merely a formality in most cases, given that Walker, who appoints its commissioners, controls the PSC.
Wisconsin Public Radio’s Danielle Kaeding reported that legislative drafting files show Enbridge had direct involvement in changing the wording of the eminent domain law to include itself.
“A staffer with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ office requested Enbridge Energy attorneys speak with drafters on a language change affecting who has power to take private property for public use,” WPR reported.
Enbridge has shown its willingness to exercise eminent domain rights in other states. It recently filed a lawsuit in North Dakota against holdout landowners who refused to give the company permission to use their properties for a pipeline that will convey tar sands oil, the most hazardous of all petroleum products to transport, from North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin.
Enbridge also has eminent domain rights in Michigan, where in 2012 the company took 70 homeowners in Ingham and Livingston counties to court to force them to relinquish their property for the installation of a new pipeline. The new pipeline replaced the one that ruptured in 2010 and dumped 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a Kalamazoo River tributary near Marshall.
On July 8, the same day the Legislature approved the final budget, demonstrators congregated outside Gov. Walker’s office in Madison to protest what 350-Madison called “a Republican scheme to pay off the Enbridge pipeline company in the state budget bill.”
Protesters floated a balloon shaped like an octopus next to the Walker’s East Wing office. The octopus dropped thousands of dollars in monopoly money “to represent the campaign contributions it expects the governor and Republican legislators to receive for doing the company’s bidding,” according to a press release.
“Since the politicians are so intent on getting campaign contributions, regardless of the harm it does to the state’s taxpayers and landowners along the line, we thought we’d help speed up getting the pipeline company’s contributions to the governor,” said landowner Ronni Monroe from Jefferson County, where the company’s new Dane County pumping station will now be built.
“Enbridge is a $42 billion Canadian pipeline company that exploits loopholes to avoid paying federal and state income taxes. It hired four high paid lobbyists to push through what is likely to turn into a $1 billion taxpayer bailout for itself at Wisconsin’s expense as part of the 2015 state budget,” said Carl Whiting with 350-Madison.
Read the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ analysis of the budget’s conservation impacts.
Everyone has a lot to say about state Rep. Brett Hulsey, especially Hulsey himself.
But no one knows what to make of his unexpected entry into the Democratic gubernatorial race — or whether it will affect the race.
There’s one thing about Hulsey, however, on which everyone agrees: He was a bright, energetic and effective environmentalist before he went off the rails a couple of years ago and made headlines for some rather bizarre antics. Reports of his erratic behavior were alarming enough have sunk most politicians’ careers.
In fact, it’s widely believed that the Madison Democrat chose not to seek re-election in the 78th Assembly District because he realized all the negative publicity had destroyed any chance he had of retaining his seat.
Two members of the Madison Common Council — Lisa Subeck and Mark Clear — are battling it out for the Democratic nomination in the solidly blue district. Embarrassingly for Hulsey, Clear is his former campaign treasurer.
If Hulsey was afraid to run for re-election to the Assembly, then what prompted him to run for governor? Several Democratic insiders interviewed for this story speculated that it’s an act of retaliation against his party for marginalizing him. An aide to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos reportedly told WisPolitics that Hulsey’s bitterness has taken him so far that he asked to join the Republican caucus after Democratic leadership blocked his efforts to offer amendments to the state budget. Hulsey denies that charge but has hinted he might run as an independent.
If Democrats have more or less censured Hulsey, it’s because of the alarming behavior he’s demonstrated. In 2012, he flipped a 9-year-old boy off a flotation device while swimming at a public lake on July 4. He then intimidated the boy by taking pictures of him.
Hulsey pleaded no contest after being cited for disorderly conduct. His version of the story, however, was that he intervened to protect two little girls from the boy, who he said was splashing them. He claims that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, a political enemy, engineered the whole incident to discredit him.
Hulsey has kept the story alive by refusing to stop talking about it, said John “Sly” Sylvester, the colorful, popular radio host on 93.7 WEKZ-FM. Hulsey first claimed that he was taking pictures of the sunset, not the child, prompting some skeptical Madisonians to check out whether it was possible to shoot a sunset picture from the lake in July. It isn’t.
Hulsey also appeared on Sly’s show and insisted that he’d deleted the pictures. But he later turned up at a Democratic meeting insisting that he had pictures from the incident that would prove his innocence.
Sly said Hulsey “was always kind of a minor irritant to people because he was so dogged and wanted to get the spotlight. But people didn’t think he was crazy. And issue-wise he’s not stupid.”
Although Hulsey has provided some “pretty entertaining” moments for Sly’s listeners, “I kind of laid off after a while,” Sly said. “He said he’s going to counseling. I don’t know what the issue is. But I’ve got mental illness in my family, and I didn’t want to push someone over the edge.”
Some of Hulsey’s fellow Assembly members have been so terrified by Hulsey’s aggressive behavior they’ve asked not to be seated near him for safety reasons. An aide to Hulsey was reassigned after she told Capitol Police she feared for her life when he brought a box-cutter to his office, urged her to seek self-defense instruction and threatened to bring a gun to work.
Hulsey also came under fire for purchasing a red convertible with campaign funds.
Despite so many well-publicized incidents swirling around him, however, Hulsey was on the campaign trial soliciting signatures for his nominating petitions when WiG caught up with him by phone.
“Like most people in Wisconsin I’m not perfect,” Hulsey said. “I’m running for governor, not saint.”
Hulsey adroitly dodged further questions about his personal behavior and launched into a complaint about the way that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has united around candidate Mary Burke. He accused Democratic leadership of making a decision that should have been left up to the Democratic voters.
But voters do, in fact, have two other candidates to choose from in the Democratic primary.
Hulsey is likely to attract a number of Republican crossover voters. Since Gov. Scott Walker faces no challengers, Republicans are reported to be drooling over a prospective dirty-tricks campaign to increase Hulsey’s vote total and make Burke look weak.
Hulsey dismissed the notion that he’s a spoiler.
“Listening to Mary Burke, I just realized that at bare minimum she needs some spring training,” he said. “She’s playing more like the Bucks than the Brewers.
“I have a get-Wisconsin-to-work plan. It’s a real jobs plan, so I thought I’d put it out there and see what happens.”
Hulsey’s challenged Burke to debates in every one of the state’s 72 counties, and he intends to have someone in a chicken suit show up at every Burke appearance to underscore her refusal.
“While Mary Burke is tirelessly meeting voters around Wisconsin and rolling out her plan to take back our state and bring back hope to the many people suffering due to Scott Walker’s mismanagement, Brett Hulsey’s in his basement making a chicken suit,” said Dane County Democratic Chair Mike Basford. “This stunt doesn’t deserve the respect and attention that would be due to a serious candidacy. The bottom line is that there is only one serious candidate for governor, and my job will be to work with Democrats to elect her in November.”
Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki refrained from commenting on Hulsey’s candidacy. “Our focus remains squarely on Scott Walker,” he said. “Mary Burke has a real plan to grow our economy, create jobs and strengthen the middle class and a game plan to beat Walker in the fall.”
Hulsey’s candidacy presents a dilemma not only for Democratic officials, but also for conservationists. Hulsey, a state leader on environmental issues, runs an energy and environmental consulting business called Better Environmental Solutions. He served for 17 years as an environmental educator and advocate for the national Sierra Club. That puts the club’s Wisconsin chapter in an awkward position when it comes to issuing its endorsement in the race.
David Blouin, chair of the club’s Four Lakes Group in Madison, said, “It’s pretty early in our (endorsement) process, and we have a lot of factors to consider. Endorsements are reserved for the best, most qualified candidates for office, and we’re still reviewing records.”
“We have endorsed Brett in his Assembly races but a race for governor is clearly a much bigger post,” Blouin added.
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters had already endorsed Burke before Hulsey announced his candidacy.
Dennis Dresang, professor emeritus of political science and public affairs at UW-Madison, expects Hulsey to have a “pretty negligible” effect on the Democratic primary.
“There is a frontrunner, so he’s entering the race late,” Dresang said. “Burke’s really got the momentum in terms of visibility and the like. He doesn’t have statewide name recognition.”
Dresang and his wife belong to a bike club in which Hulsey is also a member. Having known and respected Hulsey in the past, Dresang said it’s been uncomfortable to watch his unraveling.
“The disrespect he’s generated for himself just gets enhanced by a quest for something that is really just beyond what is achievable,” Dresang said.
“A large number of people who know him are speculating about his mental health,” Dresang added. “How else do you explain this change from someone who was an effective advocate for environmental issues and is now, if anything, very counterproductive. He’s just made himself a laughing stock. When you try to search for an explanation, I think illness does come right up there to the top.”
Dresang said it’s for this reason that he doesn’t expect Republicans to try exploiting the situation with Hulsey.
“If they take somebody who’s not really respected and perhaps really sick and use (him) as a source for trying to attack Mary Burke, that comes off as an act of desperation,” he said.
Like Burke’s supporters, Scott Walker’s don’t know quite what to make of Hulsey’s entry into the Democratic gubernatorial race. Colin Roth, a right-wing blogger, wrote that “conventional wisdom says Hulsey’s last-minute campaign for governor will actually help Mary Burke. It may toughen her up, boost her name ID, and could even serve to make her positions seem more moderate to voters.”
Roth added, however, that Hulsey’s presence in the race could prove to be a two-edged sword for Burke. “This may all end up working out just fine for (her). Or it could make Burke look afraid, timid, and lacking in confidence,” he told his readers.
“Hulsey said he wants to make the governor’s race ‘more interesting,” Roth added. “That we are guaranteed. But take heart Democrats. This, after all, is what democracy looks like.”