WHEELERweek – DNR Reform


August 19, 2017

As published by The Wheeler Report – Wednesday, January 04, 2006 …


Arbor Vitae, WI – The first of three currently scheduled hearings by the Senate Select Committee on DNR Regulatory Reform didn’t focus on a central theme here today, but it did raise the issue of disdain and general distrust of the DNR.

About 70 persons showed up for the hearing, with 35 registering to testify. The committee travels to Cadott tomorrow for the second hearing, with the third set for January 10 in Green Bay.

Committee Chair Alan Lasee said he was pleased with the tone of the hearing and was happy to get “real stories from real people regarding wetlands, permitting processing – the core issues we can zero in on.”

Lasee said the hearing showed there is a “lack of communication between the state and local governments and the legislature needs to redefine that role, forcing some cooperation.”

He focused on permitting by the DNR and local units and said if a person gets a permit at the local level, “that should be it.” But, he said, who determines whether permits are granted is to be decided. He suggested a “super-permitter” at the local level would be one possibility.

Lasee and committee member Robert Jauch were at odds several times during the hearing. Jauch called on witnesses to provide specific details of their allegations of abuse of power by the DNR.

Lasee said he sensed hostility by Jauch. Later in the hearing, Jauch challenged the testimony of one witness, who made reference to the brains of persons involved in government. Jauch challenged the witness’ arguments and suggested the legislature was not here to run the government. To which Lasee responded, “If we’re not there to run the government, where the hell are your brains.” Jauch said later it was “totally inappropriate as a chairman to be accusing a member of not having any brains.”

“This process (the committee hearings) is not about helping government work better. It’s about ginning up people against government. This is Southeast Wisconsin talk radio shows on the road,” Jauch said.

There were some complaints about the DNR in specific instances, but for the most part, witnesses told the committee they didn’t trust the DNR and held it in disdain.

The president of the Sporting Heritage Foundation, Greg Pziedzic, told the committee there are too many complicated hunting and fishing rules across the state and suggested the committee look at clarifying the rules to make them easier to understand.  He also said the committee should look at the possibility of having the Conservation Congress have smaller committees.

Another witness, Ron Bern of Phillips, told the committee wolves were a problem in Rice County. He said there are too many of them and they are becoming less afraid of humans. He told the committee there is a “profound distrust of the DNR in Wisconsin.”

James Tate, of Boulder Junction, said he didn’t want to dismantle the DNR, “just some fine tuning.” He urged a closer working relationship between the DNR and townships.

Committee member Sen. Cathy Stepp told the hearing there are abuses in the system. She said the DNR, in some cases, has “a general distain for the legislature. Sometimes they don’t want to be accountable to the legislature. They don’t want to take their direction from us.” The crowd applauded Stepp’s comments, once again Jauch suggested if there are abuses of power “we need to know it.” He said he didn’t believe different points of view were abuse.

And Today …

Thursday, August 17, 2017


Rep. Adam Jarchow has been frustrated with the DNR for some time, and the Foxconn proposal is bringing that frustration back to the spotlight. Shortly after the Foxconn proposal was announced Jarchow began sharing his frustrations with the DNR on Twitter. Jarchow questions why Foxconn is being given exemptions to, and relief from, DNR regulations. Jarchow says if the regulations are too much for Foxconn then it is clear they are too much for other Wisconsin businesses and should be eliminated. Additionally, Jarchow has expressed frustration that the DNR is hiring a special person just to work with Foxconn yet says it can take over 18 months for businesses in his district to get permits approved by the DNR. The Wheeler Report talked with Jarchow about his concerns.

What are some of the issues businesses in your district are having with the DNR?

As you may recall, I proposed earlier this year to the Governor splitting the Department of Natural Resources. Environmental law has been one of the larger issue areas for me. In my part of the state, it is hard to find a job that is not natural resources intensive. If you look at the three legs of the stool you have manufacturing, tourism, and agriculture. All three of these are natural resources intensive. My view is the DNR is not doing an adequate job of helping the businesses grow and get through the permitting process. I’ve been pretty outspoken on my disappointment with the department in how it operates. One of the biggest things in my area, and I hear it from my colleagues as well, is the use of wetlands. One of the things is a different method for isolated nonfederal wetlands. A lot of these wetlands aren’t even wet. They are considered wetlands because of the soil indicators or something like that. If they are wet, sometimes they are tiny areas that get wet when it rains. We aren’t talking about prime duck habitat. We’re talking about oftentimes dry soil. It has gotten to the point that you’ll have a delineation done, the project moves forward, then you’ll have some water gather where a machine goes through and leaves tire tracks and there is a cattail. Now all the sudden you’ve got a wetland; and in the middle of your project you’re going backwards. We are one of the only states that does this on isolated nonfederal wetlands. It hampers growth in areas and serious delays. With respect to Foxconn, I am having difficulty getting to the place feeling comfortable asking my constituents to foot the bill for this when they are going to be playing by different rules. All I have said is I would like to see the Foxconn environmental rules applied on a statewide basis, so the businesses in my area are operating under the same rules. I think putting these exemptions on Foxconn it is a vindication of all the loud complaining I have been doing about the DNR. Not only do they get exemptions, but now there is going to be an employee at the DNR just for Foxconn. I’ve got farmers waiting months and months for permits and now these people get an entirely different set of rules. I’m not happy with that situation. I don’t mind that Foxconn is coming, my only point is that everyone should play by the same rules.

This is not the first time it has been recommended to split the DNR, but it doesn’t seem to get further than a discussion or a proposal. Why do you think that is?

Remember the full legislature passed the split when McCallum was governor and he vetoed it, which was a stupid thing for him to do, in my opinion. I don’t know why it is. I think one of the concerns, and it’s a legitimate concern, is if you are going from one agency and you go to two agencies, you are you creating more bureaucracy. That is a legitimate concern, we don’t want to create more bureaucracy. On the other hand, there is no worse bureaucracy than the one that we have now. It would be good for sportsmen and women too. We cover a lot of costs through our license fees. They say it’s not happening, but I know for certain that there are hunting and fishing fees being used for non-hunting and fishing overhead in the guise that it is for hunting and fishing stuff but covers environmental stuff. People are frustrated with that, at least I am.

What would a split of the DNR look like?  Has the DNR looked into this and done a study?

When I proposed the split to the Governor I had a very detailed Fiscal Bureau memo.

Do you plan to propose this next session, and do you think there will be more traction now that rules are being changed for some businesses like Foxconn?

I certainly hope so. They could use the Foxconn proposal as a model once this thing is done and people see that there isn’t an environmental catastrophe. That’s always the prediction every time we do any environmental legislation, the environmental left screams that the sky is falling. It never does. We have some of the cleanest air and water, except for some specific issues like Kewaunee County, but for the most part we have some of the cleanest air and water in generations. All of us are committed to keeping that. Hopefully Foxconn can be a proving ground that we can walk and chew gum. We can protect the environment and be pro-growth.