By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials have taken the unprecedented step of refusing to participate in its policy board meeting later this month amidst a nasty fight over whether the panel’s chairman must step down from his post.
Fred Prehn’s term on the board expired in May. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, a move that would give Evers appointees majority control of the board. Prehn, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has refused to step down.
He maintains he doesn’t have to vacate the post until the state Senate confirms Nass. Republicans who control that chamber have made no moves toward a confirmation vote. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to remove Prehn from the board.
Prehn released a statement Thursday through his attorney saying DNR Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs told him the agency will not propose any agenda items for the board’s Sept. 22 meeting, no DNR officials will attend the meeting and that Prehn should cancel it. Prehn said he has no choice but to cancel the meeting, calling the department’s stance unprecedented.
“This is an unfortunate decision by the department, as September meetings have historically had a robust agenda in the heart of the hunting seasons,” Prehn said. “I am deeply concerned that the department has made this political decision contrary to state statutes, which say that the department is under the direction and supervision of the (board).”
DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye was out of the office Thursday and didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. A message sent to the agency’s general media email address also wasn’t immediately returned.
DNR Secretary Preston Cole lashed out at Prehn during the board’s August meeting, accusing him of squatting on the board so he can cast the deciding vote on key environmental and wildlife issues.
A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups has filed a lawsuit seeking to block Wisconsin’s fall wolf hunt. They argue in part that the board vote setting kill quotas at the August meeting was illegitimate because Prehn presided over the meeting and cast a vote.