Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Walker's 8-year war on Wisconsin's environment. Part 14. Public saved DNR magazine.

This is the 14th installment in a 21-part series about the damage that Walker has done to Wisconsin's environment. The series will during the weekend before the election on Nov. 6th.

Many installments dealt with Walker's deliberate remaking and redirection of the DNR with a "chamber of commerce mentality" on behalf of donors and business interests he had implemented by Cathy Stepp, his long-time DNR Secretary and known, self-admitted and unabashed DNR hater.

Installment 11 covered a lot of that ground
Inside the WI DNR: poor morale, fear, despair over lost mission
One things I was told over the years that really irked Stepp and Walker about the department they inherited was its insightful and rather charming bi-monthly magazine Wisconsin Natural Resources, a nearly-century-old publication that was a little bit science, a little bit hunting and fishing, a little bit parks and trails and tourism, but more than anything, a lot of old-fashioned Wisconsin tradition.
People by the tens of thousands subscribed, many for generations. Often given as holiday gifts, or 'welcome-to-Wisconsin' greetings for newcomer, subscriptions to the magazine were low-cost, staffers and freelancers loved submitting pieces to the editor.

Basically, everyone loved it.

Except Walker and Stepp, who quietly, they thought, slipped a line or two into the 2017-'19 budget that axed it, purportedly to save money and streamline whatever at the agency, though in fact the magazine spent no money because staffers put the magazine out as an adjunct to their duties and the price of subscriptions made the publication self-sufficient.

It was already a streamlined, straight-line communication right to the people. So it had to die.

I'm happy to say that when word got out that Walker and Stepp were magazine-killers,  all hell broke loose - - in media, legislative offices and at kitchen tables and online all across the state. 

This blog took up the cause in February, 2017.
Though its costs were completely covered by subscribers, and the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine had a long and useful run, climate change denier Scott Walker and his "chamber of commerce mentality" DNR mission-saboteur Secretary Cathy Stepp are using the state budget to wipe out the credible, high-quality publication that published items like this no longer wanted by official Wisconsin.
Walker and the DNR were bombarded with demands that they reverse their position, and after a lot of grumbling and fumbling, agreed that the magazine would not be killed, though it went from six issues annually to four.

After all, you can't allege, as Stepp did, that the DNR shouldn't be putting out a magazine when the state Department Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection, where Walker intends to bury the CAFO inspection program is also a magazine publisher, and no one in WalkerWorld said that was a problem.

And, yes, the saved magazine won't be publishing things that Walker and DNR higher-ups do not like, such as pieces about human-caused climate change like this 2011 submission:
February 2011
Or about CAFO runoff, or algae blooms or the return of sulfide mining to state waters. Why not this in the DNR's magazine if we're serious about saving state rivers (and more about that in a few days.)
Menominee River | Tom Young
The Menominee River along the Wi-Mn border and sacred to the Menominee Nation, is under threat from toxic sulfide mineral extraction by out-of-state interests. Other mines will emerge after Walker signed a bill permitting it for the first time in decades.
Regardless, the people spoke, subscriptions spiked, Walker backed down - - though all the administration's garbage about 'serving the customer' took another hit when the DNR decided it didn't need to sponsor a rich exhibit annually at State Fair - - organizing was validated and, above all, the magazine was saved.

And who knows, perhaps a more enlightened state government and refreshed DNR management will someday allow the magazine under a fully freed staff to blossom again.

I knew when gaming out this series that I would include an installment about the sage of the magazine's survival, and I thought about getting in touch with David Sperling, the magazine's long-time editor, now retired, who had gone public with a strong defense of the magazine when its existence was threatened.

But I violated one of the old rules of journalism: Don't wait. Make your calls.

Just a few days ago, media carried Sperling's obituary. Such a loss for public service, for public service journalism, for Madison, for a more decent political and natural environment, and for the state he worked so hard to improve.

R.I.P. Jeffrey Sperling, and thank you for making the magazine so vital for so many years and for so many people that even Team Walker could not get rid of it. 

The 13th installment in this series ran on October 24, 2018.

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