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How Evers’ budget tries to ‘bring back science’ to DNR

Fans of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are hoping for better times under a new governor.

Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has repeatedly said he wanted to “bring back science” to the state agency.

He appointed a well-respected Natural Resources Board member, Preston Cole, to lead the Department of Natural Resources

And now comes Evers’ two-year budget plan.

Under the proposal, now going the Republican-controlled state Legislature, five more science positions and a new bureau will be added to the DNR.

The five positions would be charged with researching water and sources of contamination, while at least two would look at synthetic chemicals known as PFAS, which are present in things ranging from firefighting foam to food packaging.

Still, the plan makes no mention of another pledge Evers made on the campaign trail: allowing the Natural Resources Board to once again appoint the DNR secretary. Evers last September said such a policy change would let an “independent” agency head “restore the DNR’s mission of serving the needs of all Wisconsin citizens, not just the big corporations.” But at the time he didn’t say he’d include it in his first budget.

The seven-member board is currently controlled by appointees from then-Gov. Scott Walker. One member — former state Rep. Fred Clark — was picked by Evers to replace Cole on the panel.

Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said at the beginning of March that Evers still supports giving the Natural Resources Board the power to appoint the top official at the DNR.

“However, his first priority is restoring science to the DNR and beginning to fix the mess he inherited at that agency,” she said.

Evers’ plan would also set up a new Bureau of Natural Resources Science with a director who reports directly to the agency secretary and serves as the “science advisor,” according to the budget document.

In addition to the five science positions, Evers is looking to add five separate staff positions to oversee concentrated animal-feeding operations, also known as CAFOs. And he wants to increase the $345 annual permit fee that CAFO owners who have a system for eliminating pollution from water discharges have to pay.

That fee would be increased to $660 a year beginning in the first year of the budget, according to a DNR spokesman.

Evers’ budget doesn’t include any provisions to increase state park fees or hunting and fishing fees. But it does propose allocating about $2.8 million over the biennium from a conservation fund used for the state park system. The budget doesn’t note how much money each park would receive.

The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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