Legislators, don’t divide and conquer the DNR

GOV. SCOTT WALKER’S “divide and conquer” strategy, originally aimed at labor unions, shouldn’t be applied to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The Republican governor should reject a state lawmaker’s plan to scatter the DNR’s duties across five agencies, two of which would be new departments.

Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, claims the DNR “is not working in its current form,” but he offers little evidence or specific concerns to justify his divisive proposal. He wants to separate environmental protection from fish and wildlife programs — even though they are intimately related. Jarchow also would move forestry management to the Department of Agriculture, and divert state parks to the Department of Tourism.

Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, a leading voice on environmental issues and chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, wisely opposes Jarchow’s plan.

“To break up an agency and create more bureaucracy and more confusion, it doesn’t appeal to me at all,” Cowles said last week.

“It would make things more confusing, more expensive, and deter from the ultimate mission of the DNR: to protect the resources in a reasonable way.”

Amen to that.

The governor’s own DNR secretary, Cathy Stepp, said she hopes her agency isn’t split up in the next state budget. She has been working on a reorganization plan to consolidate, rather than disperse, DNR functions.

Five of Stepp’s predecessors, serving Republican and Democratic administrations, have criticized Jarchow’s idea. They warned this month that a sliced up agency would increase cost, slow the state’s response to pollution and undermine efforts to preserve quality hunting grounds and fishing holes. Decisions on forest management, for example, would be made in four separate state agencies, under Jarchow’s plan. Currently, the former DNR leaders said, the DNR’s forestry division does all of that work for parks, fisheries, wildlife and natural areas.

Republicans often tout smaller government. But Jarchow’s proposal would inevitably create more government offices and higher-paid administrators who would be less coordinated and less efficient in getting the job done while balancing competing interests.

That’s not to say the DNR can’t improve. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have made streamlining DNR decisions a priority in the past. Common sense sometimes can get lost in the agency’s many regulations. And decisions to grant or deny permits can take too long.

But none of that justifies breaking this vital agency into pieces.

The governor, who called Jarchow’s proposal “interesting,” should quickly discard it so Republicans who run the statehouse can focus on improving, rather than dissolving, the DNR. — Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 25

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