Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Walker's 8-year war on Wisconsin's environment, Part 11. DNR crippled.

This is the 11th installment of a 21-part series from my blog about Walker's attack on the Wisconsin environment. 

Since many of the installments have dealt with the DNR, and the deliberately-corrosive 'chamber of commerce mentality' which Walker's hand-picked agency saboteur Cathy Stepp
Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp proudly shows off her first deer, taken opening weekend last year. In the upcoming TV Special "Deer Hunt Wisconsin 2012, Stepp urges male hunters to take more girls and women hunting. "The secret's out," she says. "Hunting is a lot of fun, so don't keep it to yourselves."  photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR
implemented for years on his behalf, I wanted to repeat what experts, insiders and experienced DNR hands told me in 2016 for a long expose, and have repeated over the years.

A typical observation is that it will take years, perhaps a generation, to repair the DNR if it is ever to become a strong, science-based public health and conservation agency.

I've updated the item I wrote since its original publication, but the words supplied by experts statewide ring true when you read about the Kohler golf course land and water giveaway, favors and fast-tracks for Foxconn, CAFO expansion enabled by weak oversight, easy treatment of sand mines, rampant pollution from phosphorous, and so on:
Inside the WI DNR: poor morale, fear, despair over lost mission
*  A lobbyist noted DNR policy and procedure changes that have tilted agency activity and decisions towards regulated businesses:
No legislative analysis of bills by Department staff. No testimony on bills unless asked by a legislator... DNR used to have written instructions on providing testimony. That no longer exists. 
Decisions on permits, policies, responses to FOI's [freedom of information requests] are all made by Division Administrators (political appointees) 
Routine for permit applicants to meet with senior staff (Secretary's Office) with no front line staff working on permits attending - or even notified of these meetings...
*  A former longtime staffer said:
Employee morale is far lower than it ever has been. Most experienced  employees leave as soon as they can. There is often a fear to make unpopular decisions which often are part of the job...
* A second lobbyist said:
...for retired DNR workers...there's deep dismay about the selling off of the agency, the trashing of its mission, the disrespect for agency workers (and all public employees, for that matter, by the Walker regime). 
The most deeply dismaying, for former DNR types, is how acquiescent and compliant newer DNR workers are to this philosophy of government -- how they really know nothing else and they think this is normal. Retirees understand younger DNR workers have families to support and careers to build, but it pains them to see them robbed of their autonomy and professionalism -- and that newer workers may not even fully understand the robbery.  
*  Another former staffer said: 
The most alarming issue to me is the great waste of decades of sound science, compiled overtime in on-going studies and data collection. WI had more information about our natural landscape than most states. Abolishing science services put an end to decades long studies vital to maintaining and recovering rare and endangered plants and animals as well as understanding natural communities as information on resilience for climate change. 
* A current employee on personal time echoed many of the lobbyists and former staffers' observations:
Under Walker and Stepp, science is not a priority. Scientific knowledge is ever-changing but in Wisconsin our staff are being left behind. We no longer have a statistician to help interpret data, a library to provide journals or books, or researchers that monitor fish counts, wildlife health, air quality, water quality and etc….employee scientific knowledge and data specific to WI is stagnant...we cannot do the best job possible for our state. 
The DNR is currently run by people who understand public relations spin but not the complexity of the natural resources they are responsible for...Communications staff, generally not trained specifically in resource communication, answer questions with talking points..usually developed by upper management - political appointees - and legal staff. The information provided is biased and superficial.
Act 10 and the pay cuts related to that have been hard on a lot of staff...we can no longer hire and/or keep the best and brightest and that is sad. Especially looking back at some of the really ground-breaking research and resulting policy work done here 20-30 years ago. We now do the minimum to protect resources...
We have 2,500 full time staff (down from 3,100) and about 1,500 Limited Term Employees. That is an extremely high number of temporary employees who can and have been fired without any notice. After Civil Service "reforms" which go into effect in July, we will all be subject to that uncertainty. Under these circumstances, collective institutional memory can be lost very quickly...Reinventing the wheel is wasteful... 
I do believe that all the natural resources of Wisconsin belong to the people of Wisconsin...I don't understand why people who live in one of the most beautiful and environmentally diverse places in the world voted for environmental degradation. 
Here is Part 10 of the series which ran Monday, October 22, 2018.

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