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Republican lawmakers vote to deny confirmation for four Evers appointees to DNR board

The Wisconsin Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Sporting Heritage voted on Thursday to recommend denying the confirmation of four nominees of Gov. Tony Evers to the state Natural Resources Board (NRB). 

The three Republicans on the committee voted against the nominations of Sharon Adams, Dylan Jennings, Sandra Dee Naas and Jim VandenBrook. The committee voted to approve the nomination of Paul Buhr. Despite the committee votes, the status of the nominations to the board, which sets policies for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will depend on votes of the full Senate. 

The vote Thursday is another episode in Republicans’ ongoing efforts to prevent Evers’ appointees from taking control of the board. From May 2021 to the end of last year, Frederick Prehn, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, refused to leave his seat on the board even though his term had expired. 

While Prehn was holding over in his seat — with the help of Senate leadership who refused to confirm his replacement, Naas — he wrote in texts and emails with Republican officials that the goal of staying on was to influence NRB decisions on important policy questions such as wolf hunting and water quality standards. 

A spokesperson for Evers did not respond to a request for comment on the denials of his nominees. 

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) wrote on Twitter that the vote against Evers’ nominees was a threat to clean water.

“The future of clean water in our state is at stake — and who pays to keep it that way,” he wrote. “This should not be a partisan issue. Our health and safety are more important than polluters’ profits.”

At public hearings for the nominees, the three Republicans on the committee pushed them on their beliefs about wolf management and the stringency of water quality rules. 

As the committee has been weighing their confirmations, the DNR is going through the process of updating the state’s wolf management plan. The plan guides how the state handles the state’s wolf population and the ability for people to hunt wolves when the animal isn’t on the federal endangered species list. 

Wolf management is among the most politically thorny of Wisconsin’s environmental policy issues. The DNR’s proposed wolf management plan does not include a statewide population goal for the animal; instead, it divides the state into regions and leaves it to DNR biologists to decide if the population within each area should increase, be maintained or decrease. Under the current wolf plan, written in the 1990s as the animal was still being reintroduced to Wisconsin, the population goal is 350. Estimates put the current wolf population at around 1000. 

Republicans, along with hunting and farming interests, have objected to the DNR proposal, instead insisting that the state set a specific number, which they believe should serve more as a hard ceiling than as a goal for establishing a healthy population. 

DNR scientists have repeatedly said the regional plan, known as adaptive management, would give the agency more flexibility in managing the wolf population while minimizing conflicts between the wolves and humans, pets and livestock. 

At a hearing for two of the nominees last week, the committee also heard public comment on a Republican bill that would require the DNR to set a specific wolf population number. That bill was also forwarded by the committee in a 3-2 party line vote on Thursday. 

During the nominees’ confirmation hearings, Republican lawmakers frequently focused their questioning on the wolf issue. Buhr, appointed to the board to represent the seat statutorily required to represent Wisconsin’s agricultural interests, was the only nominee who signaled support for setting a specific wolf population number. 

“How do we find balance with all the different concerns around the wolf population? I have found living where I live, I have had many encounters with wolves, and they will teach you very, very early on that you are not at the top of the food chain,” Sen. Mary Felzkowski said at an August hearing. “So how do we balance tribal issues, concerns around the wolf hunt, with the constituents that are literally not letting their children play in the backyard right now?”

The Evers nominees who were voted down Thursday can continue to serve on the Natural Resources Board as interim members until the full Senate holds a confirmation vote. If they  are denied by the full Senate, he’ll be able to name replacements who will be able to begin serving on the board on an interim basis immediately. The board is set to consider the wolf management plan at its October 24-25 meeting.

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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F09%2F28%2Frepublican-lawmakers-vote-to-deny-confirmation-for-four-evers-appointees-to-dnr-board%2F by Henry Redman

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