PRESS EDITORIAL: Political scheming pollutes natural resources

You could call it a cheap political trick, except it’s not cheap, and Wisconsin taxpayers are paying for it in various ways, including with cash from their wallets.

Leaders of the Legislature’s Republican majority have hired lawyers at taxpayer expense to keep the chairman of the state Natural Resources Board in office indefinitely, even though his term expired four months ago.

The chairman, Frederick Prehn of Wausau, acting in consort with legislators to exploit a loophole in state law they claim allows board members to continue to serve until the state Senate approves a replacement, refused to leave the board when his six-year term expired on May 1.

Senate leaders enabled the ploy by refusing to consider confirming the appointment of the new NRB chairman, and made it plain they have no intention of ever doing so by referring the confirmation to an obscure committee that rarely holds hearings.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, at the urging of the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity, is suing to enforce the term limit and remove Prehn. Legislators have hired lawyers, who will bill taxpayers for their work at the reported rate of $500 an hour, to keep Prehn in office.

The crude political scheming evident in the Prehn affair is a particularly sad example of Wisconsin’s descent from the time when the state was admired as a paragon of clean, honest and effective government. The existence of Natural Resources Board, created to insulate natural resources decisions from politics, is a result of that ethic.

The board sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources. Its seven members are appointed by the governor with staggered terms to encourage a carry-over from one administration to another, though former Gov. Scott Walker’s appointees have constituted the majority for a number of years. That would change if Gov. Evers’ appointment of Sandra Dee Nass as NRB chairman were approved.

Nass, of Bayfield County, is a scientist, conservation teacher and environmental consultant. There has been no credible suggestion she is unqualified for the position or has a political agenda.

Emails recently made public reveal that Prehn, a dentist from Wausau who owns a cranberry business, has been communicating with prominent lobbyist Scott Meyer about keeping his hold on the NRB chairmanship. Meyer represents Americans for Prosperity, the political organization funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, and Hunter Nation, the organization that sued the DNR to force a wolf hunt last year.

That hastily arranged hunt turned into a national embarrassment for Wisconsin when the kill quota was quickly exceeded, with 182 of the animals killed days before the hunt was scheduled to end.

The wolf hunt planned for November 2021 is controversial as well, with Prehn in a key role. As chairman, he led a move by the MRB in August to set a kill quota of 300 wolves, overruling DNR biologists and wildlife managers, who recommended a quota of 130.

Several environmental organizations have since joined in a lawsuit filed in Dane County Court to put wolf hunting on hold until a kill quota with a scientific basis can be established.

Wolf hunting is just the controversial issue du jour. Others coming soon before the Natural Resources Board include clean water regulations, such as setting limits for “forever chemicals” from industrial operations that pollute ground water used for drinking.

These important upcoming decisions help account for the GOP legislators’ keen interest in trying to control the board. They believe they can do so with impunity because they can take for granted the support of voters in their conservative districts.

There are some refreshing signs that this is a miscalculation when the state’s natural resources are at issue. A number of conservation organizations with memberships of hunters, fishermen, environmentalists, business advocates, Republicans and Democrats have urged Prehn to step aside.

It seems people of all political persuasions can recognize a cheap political trick when they see one.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login