The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ second in command is following former agency secretary Cathy Stepp to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency office in Chicago, the DNR said Monday.
Kurt Thiede was a career DNR employee who was appointed deputy secretary by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2015. Unlike Stepp, Thiede holds a college degree and a background in the sciences. He was hired in 1999 to work in DNR’s wildlife management office.
Thiede will become Stepp’s chief of staff in the EPA Region 5 office, which oversees six Great Lakes states including Wisconsin, DNR spokesman Jim Dick said.
Stepp, a former home builder and Republican activist who campaigned for Donald Trump, has been criticized for her questioning of climate change science and her role in weakening environmental protection in Wisconsin.
Thiede helped lead a major reorganization of the DNR that was aimed at reducing the work the agency did and making it more efficient after two decades of reductions in workforce. The department’s shortcomings in protecting water quality have been highlighted by the EPA and the nonpartisan state audit bureau.
Assistant Deputy Secretary Ed Eberle will move into Thiede’s DNR post. Eberle joined the DNR in 2015 after working about 20 years in the Legislature, and the state Department of Administration.
Patrick Stevens, DNR environmental management division administrator, will fill the assistant deputy secretary position. Before joining the DNR in 2011, Stevens served as counsel for the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association and environmental policy director for the state business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
Walker made the appointments of Eberle and Stevens effective Feb. 19.
Walker hired Stepp in 2011 to make the department friendlier to business. Last year he replaced her with former GOP lawmaker Dan Meyer.
“I look forward to working with these two accomplished people in their new leadership roles,” Meyer said. “Their knowledge, experience and dedication to our mission and values will help guide us as we move forward.”