Amazing and great leaders in Wisconsin like Aldo Leopold, Increase Lapham and Gaylord Nelson have helped to find and expand the concept of science-based conservation and protection of the environment.
Due to the efforts of these leaders and countless Wisconsin citizens, our state became a model for the world on how to promote conservation, clean up the environment and have a healthy economy. Unfortunately, the situation has drastically changed.
Kewaunee County has experienced massive pollution of its ground water. Over sixty percent of the wells in the county have been found to contain contaminants. In the central sands region of the state, rivers and lakes are drying up due to massive overuse of the ground water. Enforcement of environmental laws has precipitously declined in the past several years.
Central to Wisconsin becoming a world leader in environmental protection was the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Leaders like Leopold recognized that in order for the DNR to be effective, the agency had to be removed from the shenanigans of politicians and politics.
Hence the DNR was set up to use science to make decisions, and its independence was guaranteed by having the head of the agency appointed by a natural resources board rather than a politician. The DNR had an internationally recognized scientific research department that studied issues and developed solutions to the problems and reported the results to the legislature and governor. Now, the DNR secretary is little more than a minion of the governor and the science department is virtually non-existent.
Previously, the DNR would routinely appear before the legislature and provide science-based testimony on the various bills and proposals before the legislature. Sometimes the DNR staff supported the proposals. Other times, DNR staff rightfully criticized the pet schemes of the politicians as environmental disasters and recommended that they not happen.
After the Walker administration assumed power, the ability of DNR staff to provide testimony and information to the public was limited to pre-approved statements. Later, their ability to testify has been curtailed to the point that DNR staff were not allowed to testify to the legislature on important legislation during this current session.
As a journalist, I can state that pre-Walker, I could call up a DNR staff member and have questions answered immediately. Now, DNR staff do not even respond to requests for information.
In recognition of this appalling situation, a new organization called Wisconsin’s Green Fire has been established. Green Fire is a volunteer organization that will be working to restore science and a long-term vision to the management of Wisconsin’s natural resources.
Wisconsin’s Green Fire was formed, fittingly on Earth Day. Its members are primarily retired natural resources professionals. About half of its members are former DNR employees and the remaining members come from academia, the private sector and the federal government.
Green Fire’s volunteers have a mission to help local units of government, nonprofit organizations, media, decision makers and citizens get the scientific information they need to address local and regional issues. The group will also be a source for those seeking experts who can and will take positions and bring scientific clarity and scrutiny to complicated environmental issues. The group hopes to add an educational effort to build a bridge from Wisconsin’s conservation history to the future through outreach and mentoring to young and aspiring conservation professionals and youth in general.
Green Fire is an independent, nonpartisan group. Its 145 volunteer members represent 25 centuries worth of experience in in natural resource management, environmental law and policy, scientific research, and education. Historically, Wisconsin managed its abundant natural resources based on sound science, wise economic investments, fair and open public process, and a shared conservation ethic.
In the last six years that tradition has been eroded. “Wisconsin’s Green Fire believes Wisconsin’s citizens deserve better. We believe there are many in Wisconsin who feel, as we do, that a state as beautiful and bountiful as ours deserves thoughtful stewardship,” said Wisconsin’s Green Fire board member, Nancy Larson, who retired in the past year from WDNR’s water program.
“In recent years, Wisconsin’s longstanding tradition of balancing natural resource conservation with human activities has been undermined,” said board member Terry Daulton. “Wisconsin Department Natural Resources staff is no longer able to fully share their expertise with policy makers and the public. As a result, we are seeing new and unprecedented threats to Wisconsin’s water, air, lands and wildlife. Our goal is to be a voice for sound science in conservation.”
Green Fire is looking to work on a variety of conservation and environmental issues like climate change, public trust doctrine water, public lands, surface and ground water use and pollution, and a host of other issues.
Board member Paul La Liberte of Eau Claire noted that: “Wisconsin needs to reestablish a nonpartisan environmental evaluation capacity similar to the function of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. DNR used to perform that function but no longer can”
Green Fire will soon be providing information and testimony on pressing environmental issues. The group is looking for natural resource professional in Western Wisconsin, especially ones with knowledge in agricultural conservation, to add their expertise to the organization.
To find more information on Wisconsin’s Green Fire’s see wigreenfire.org.