Letter from Sen. Vinehout: DNR actions raise questions, concernsIt was a cool opening to Wisconsin’s inland fishing season. Not too many headed out to the water. But for some, the day ended in an exceptional catch.
By: Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Pierce County Herald
It was a cool opening to Wisconsin’s inland fishing season. Not too many headed out to the water. But for some, the day ended in an exceptional catch.
It’s also been an outstanding time to watch the Neo-tropical migrant birds. Orioles, warblers, grosbeaks, catbirds, thrushes and vireos are all now on the move according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
In one day a friend saw 61 species of birds in beautiful Buffalo County - 39 in just the front yard. His favorite was the Harris Sparrow that breeds up in the Tundra. The little guy was on a long trip to the far north.
We are proud of our natural resources.
We presume those charged with protecting Wisconsin’s water, air and land will work behind the scenes to make sure our natural resources remain pristine.
That is why recent reports of politically connected polluters seem so disturbing.
Recent reports in the Wisconsin State Journal suggest DNR political appointees sought leniency on violators who made campaign contributions. Records of meetings with those who are either related to or former elected officials now working in the DNR suggest they wanted to handle pollution violations with-in the DNR rather than send a case to the Department of Justice for enforcement.
In one case, reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, a waste hauler spread three times the legal limit of sewage on farm fields. He appears to have kept three different sets of records on how much waste was spread on the fields near a residential area. DNR citations reported as many as 60 different inaccuracies in record keeping.
The DNR investigator was concerned about possible contamination of 40 wells in the area.
The case was sent to the department higher-ups. Political appointees decided to try to resolve the violations internally instead of referring the case for prosecution by the Department of Justice. Generally serious cases are referred to the Justice Department for enforcement and DNR investigators recommended this case was serious enough to warrant referral.
In another recent report, evidence shows the citations or ‘tickets’ written by DNR have dramatically dropped off. Officials say this is partly because of staff shortage and partly because of a ‘change in philosophy’.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported the number of violation notices written by DNR last year was less than half of the yearly average in the past decade.
The reports have stirred concern among many around the state. Conservationists wonder if laws related to clean water and clean air are still being followed. Businesses wonder if political connections are making enforcement more uneven – tipping the scale to one business over another.
Meanwhile the federal government has raised questions about the state’s enforcement of environmental laws.
Wisconsin’s natural resources draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to our communities. Many Wisconsin residents choose to live in this great state because of our natural resources. Our state officials have an obligation to enforce the laws of the land.
The influence of politics has no place in decisions made to protect our natural resources.
The walleye have finished spawning and the bass and bluegills are feeding in the shallows. The Harris Sparrow calls three pure notes. We have a responsibility to protect them and sustain our natural resources for the generations to come.