MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans in control of the Wisconsin state Legislature are considering splitting up the Department of Natural Resources, scattering parks, forestry, environmental, hunting and fishing programs among three existing agencies and two new ones.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported Thursday that the lawmaker behind the plan says he’s pursuing the dramatic change because business operators and outdoor enthusiasts have said the DNR is not working in its current form. And Gov. Scott Walker told the newspaper that the plan is worth pursuing.
Walker told the Journal Sentinel that Rep. Adam Jarchow, of Balsam Lake, gave his office a detailed proposal a month ago that would split environmental and wildlife functions into two separate departments. Other duties such as forestry and parks would go to other agencies.
Republicans have tried to break up the DNR in the past but have fallen short. The plans have traditionally met with opposition from outdoor clubs and environmental groups, which argue that breaking up the DNR would endanger outdoor recreation, increase costs to taxpayers and further weaken the state’s air and water quality protections.
“We all at some point have common interests in terms of the protection of the environment,” said George Meyer, a former DNR secretary who now directs the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “Those who are not friends of conserving the environment want to split the department.”
“Once split, the agencies can focus on their mission — one on growing and promoting our sporting heritage and one on effectively and efficiently protecting the environment,” Jarchow said in a statement.
Jarchow’s proposal comes just three weeks after the DNR announced a major reorganization plan, which agency leaders said would make the department more efficient and help defend it from budget cuts. Walker was expected to include that reorganization plan in the state budget he introduces in February.
“I think for a large part we’d like to give that some time to play out,” Walker told the Journal Sentinel.
If the DNR is split up, Republicans will “have one agency they can feed and one they can starve,” former DNR secretary Scott Hassett told the State Journal. “They like to feed fish and wildlife, and starve environmental protection.”