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Monday, Sept. 9, 2013

The Dark, Scary DNR

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Anyone who has ever spent time around a campfire in the woods while growing up remembers that eerie time in the dark of the night when someone quietly begins telling a really scary story.

The trees start closing in. The wind suddenly has a chilly undercurrent. You really dread where the story is going, but you can’t stop listening.

Well, the scary stories we’ve been hearing lately about what’s going on in the woods of this state are absolutely true.

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is now in the hands of private developers and political operatives who consider Wisconsin’s natural beauty something to be ravaged and hauled away by corporations for big profits.

Even some Wisconsin hunters, who’ve always considered the DNR their friend as long as it allows them to shoot more and more wildlife, are beginning to realize they’re being used to fill the pockets of political insiders.

Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators got caught manipulating a half-million dollar state grant to their political cronies and had to cancel the looting.

Describing the money at the heart of the corrupt scheme as half a million dollars grossly understates an enormous, continuous political payoff Republicans tried to slip into the budget.

The grant inserted unnoticed into the state budget on the last day by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee budgeted $500,000 in taxpayer funds to promote hunting and fishing in the current two-year budget.

But—get this—that first $500,000 was just the beginning. Under the terms of grant, if the grant recipient raised $150,000 on its own for each future budget, it would receive $450,000 in every state budget “in perpetuity.”

That’s right. Forever. Or at least until more-honest state legislators got control of Wisconsin’s budget from Republicans. And who would the lucky winners of this lifetime, multimillion-dollar political giveaway be?

 

The Right Political Connections

A whole lot of people extremely close to former Republican Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, who created the grant before resigning to accept a Walker appointment as a staff administrator for the Public Service Commission.

Calling themselves the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation, the group listed as educators under the grant Suder’s former chief of staff, former Republican state Sen. Pam Galloway, who helped Suder pass concealed-carry legislation, and a number of political donors to the campaigns of Suder, Walker and other Republicans.

Despite having no qualifications or experience in recruiting or training hunters, United Sportsmen was the only grant applicant. The DNR had to work extremely hard to avoid publicizing the grant to qualified hunting organizations. 

It helped that Suder’s legislation was cleverly written to disqualify any organization with expertise or experience. The legislation specifically stated the grant would only go to a group that was “not an affiliate of a national federation or organization.”

That immediately ruled out most legitimate hunting and conservation groups in the state, including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and state chapters of organizations devoted to hunting pheasants, turkeys and other species.

Not that the state had anything against national organizations. In fact, the grant required the inexperienced amateurs who qualified for the grant must “have a relationship with a nationally recognized organization that provides proven and successful firearms safety education.”

Golly, we wonder who that could be. It turns out United Sportsmen decided to hook up with the National Rifle Association, which pours millions into the campaigns of Republican politicians.

Until the political embarrassment forced Walker to cancel the DNR’s awarding of the open-ended grant, one of United Sportsmen’s announced priorities was to reduce safety training for Wisconsin hunters to bring it more in line with the lack of training required to carry concealed weapons in Wisconsin.

For a state that has always tried to protect its natural environment and promote outdoor recreation, the current leadership of the DNR is about as bad as it gets.

The top three political appointees controlling the DNR include two former Republican legislators clearly open to shady political deals and two development executives who lust after wild, undeveloped land with dollar signs in their eyes. 

Yes, that adds up to four, but Cathy Stepp, the DNR secretary, is a two-fer. She was a right-wing Republican legislator who ridiculed the DNR for protecting butterflies and snakes and a private developer whose life’s work has been eliminating green space.

Now we have out-of-state thugs armed with assault rifles posted by a mining company that wants to close off thousands of acres of recreational land in Northern Wisconsin to keep protestors from complaining about the environmental devastation.

And the state permit allowing the mining company to destroy enormous swaths of two Wisconsin counties while threatening rivers, lakes and wetlands with rubble and toxic leavings will be up to Walker’s DNR.

Now there’s a terrifying story to tell around the campfire if we still dare to go into the woods.

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