By Ben Gruber
I try not to get editorial or political, but I cannot be quiet any more. I plan to be back to telling mostly true adventure stories next week. For now, I am asking each of you to try and get involved and take part in the opportunities provided to you to assure that our children and their children have the same chances available to them.
Here in Wisconsin we have a long-standing history of involvement and input in how our natural resources are managed. Some of the greatest conservationists that this country has known cut their teeth hunting and fishing in Wisconsin. Aldo Leopold is one of those figures.
Wisconsin has long been the envy of many natural resource managers around the country. The Wisconsin Conservation Congress is a revolutionary idea: The people have a say in the management of their resources. I am standing here today yelling from my pulpit, “We are losing it.”
I am not taking aim at a specific administration. This started with Gov. Tommy Thompson, who made the DNR secretary a cabinet position. Prior to that, the nonpartisan Natural Resources Board appointed the secretary.
Gov. Jim Doyle made it a campaign pledge to return the appointment back to the DNR board. He lied.
Now, the current administration has just ratcheted up the process of removing citizen input — trying to remove as much power from the Natural Resources Board and the Conservation Congress, turning the secretary of the DNR into a political puppet, cutting the science and research department of the DNR.
I am not about to sit here and tell you that I agree with every management decision the DNR has ever made. For the most part, I think they work in the best interest of the environment. In particular, the field staff is out there every day in the dirt working for us and doing an excellent job.
Each and every one of us citizens has a vested interest in the resources of this state, and each and every one of us is provided ample opportunities to have our input on the management of those resources heard and valued.
We are failing in increasingly large numbers to be a part of the process we are blessed to have. Our apparent disinterest has allowed greedy politicians to seize the opportunity to chisel away at our rights to be part of the process. The longer we allow it to continue, the more they become emboldened to take away more.
We need to start asserting our rights, and the best way to do that is to use them. You need to attend the annual spring hearing of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. It is April 10 at 7 p.m., and there is one in every county. Wood County’s is in the auditorium at the Pittsville School District Administration Building, Marathon’s is at the D.C. Everest Middle School in Weston, and Clark’s is at Greenwood High School. Go to dnr.wi.gov and search for “spring hearing” to learn more. There are many other opportunities too, but this is the easiest place to begin.
We have also failed to take responsibility for our own actions, instead taking the easier route of blaming the DNR. We shoot too many does and then blame the number of tags. We have created an agricultural system that has been forced to plow every square inch of land to make a living, leaving fewer and fewer fence rows and wetlands for cover, and we wonder why there are no pheasants and fewer turkeys and rabbits and deer around. The list goes on.
I got started on this rant because I found out today that the governor’s budget proposal would axe the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. Essentially, it would provide no cost savings to the budget. What it will do is silence one more voice of conservation. We do not have many voices left.
The cost of subscriptions pays for most of the magazine. Freelancers, like myself, for no charge, provide much of the content. DNR employees, who most likely are being paid while writing, provide some content as well. I enjoy reading it, and I am working on a story for them to print. For free.
Folks, all I am asking is that you get involved. Go to some meetings. Be at the spring hearing. Call your legislators. Your opinions are yours, and mine are mine. We are entitled to them. Please, let us hold on to the right to influence the management of our natural resources and not leave it all up to the governor. The damage that can be done in a term might be irreversible before we could elect someone else.
Politicians cannot take this away from us. We can only give it away through indifference.
Step No. 1: Go to the spring hearings. Step No. 2: Tell your legislators and the governor that we want the DNR secretary appointed by the Natural Resources Board. If you are so inclined, maybe mention that you enjoy the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine too.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.