Fresh, January 9, 2024: Hiring New Wisconsin DNR Secretary Is ‘More Difficult’ After String of GOP Blocks

January 9, 2024

Fresh is a biweekly newsletter from Circle of Blue that unpacks the biggest international, state, and local policy news stories facing the Great Lakes region today. Sign up for Fresh: A Great Lakes Policy Briefing, straight to your inbox, every other Tuesday.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Fresh Editor

This Week’s Watersheds

  • Three communities in Macomb County, Michigan, have passed resolutions opposing a proposed water affordability program, arguing residents’ monthly bills would actually rise. 
  • A new 56-acre nature preserve will open next year in northern Michigan and connect to Lake Michigan shores.
  • After Republican lawmakers fired four appointees to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources board, Gov. Tony Evers is having a hard time filling its secretary role.
  • Great Lakes ice cover is again down compared to historical averages, hurting shoreline stability and fish.

Minnesota lawmakers show support for more outdoor classroom and learning possibilities.

“In Minnesota, our Constitution protects hunting and fishing as part of what it means to be Minnesotan, [but younger generations are] literally getting no exposure to that. I think that is why this is really resonating with my colleagues, regardless of your political affiliation.” — Minnesota state Rep. Kristi Pursell.

Inhibited largely by financial barriers, only about 30 percent of Minnesota students are able to participate in outdoor classroom and learning experiences, Minnesota Public Radio reports

But that could soon change, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are showing support for increased funding and more opportunities for young students to spend time outside, learning about the environment. 

A bill sponsored last year by state Rep. Kristi Pursell, a Democrat, would offer K-12 districts the opportunity to “apply for a chance to spend time at one of Minnesota’s five accredited outdoor schools.” Another bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jeremy Miller, a Republican, encourages similar action.

Fresh from the Great Lakes News Collaborative

  • 10-year study of Michigan stream before, during, and after dam removal published — Michigan Radio
  • ‘Forever chemicals’ found in freshwater fish, yet most states don’t warn residents — Bridge Michigan
  • New EPA Great Lakes executive warns on “moon shot” cleanup goal for toxic sites — Great Lakes Now

The Great Lakes News Collaborative includes Bridge Michigan; Circle of Blue; Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television; and Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader. We work together to produce news and information about the impact of climate change, pollution, and aging infrastructure on the Great Lakes and drinking water. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Find all the work here.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Role Remains Vacant

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-controlled state Senate remain at odds after eight of the governor’s board and commission appointees — including four appointees to the Department of Natural Resources — were blocked by GOP lawmakers.

The ongoing power struggle has resulted in the DNR secretary position remaining vacant since November 1. Evers has publicly stated that the senate’s continued blocking of his appointees is making it “more difficult” to fill the role.

Only five governor appointees over the past several decades have been blocked, Wisconsin Public Radio reports. Republican senators have said that Evers’s appointees didn’t know enough about natural resources, or would “knowingly violate” the REINS Act, which requires legislative approval for any regulations costing more than $10 million over a two-year period.

Evers says he will continue to make appointees — his four newest include “former DNR Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs, former DNR Environmental Loans Section Chief Robin Schmidt, former Democratic state Sen. Patty Schachtner and former Menominee Indian Tribe Chair Doug Cox,” WPR reports.

In the News

Macomb County Backlash: Clinton Township, Macomb Township, and St. Clair Shores – all in Macomb County, Michigan – have all passed resolutions against a proposed statewide water affordability program, saying that rates will rise for all residents under its convention and that other, similar programs for assistance already exist. The Detroit Free Press reports that the program would cap residential water bills at 3 percent of a household’s income, and that “households who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty limit or are receiving certain other kinds of state or federal assistance” are eligible to participate. Opposing communities argue that tax hikes to support the program would offset the program’s savings, and many people would actually end up spending more money each month. The bill package is currently moving through the state government, and is sponsored by state Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit. 

Little Traverse Conservancy: The nonprofit conservation organization has announced that a new 56-acre nature preserve will open next year in Emmet and Charlevoix counties in northern Michigan, WOOD TV reports. Purchase of the land — which includes a quarter-mile of Lake Michigan shoreline — was made possible by donations from close to 150 families. The preserve will be called Enji-Minozhiiyaamigak, the Anishinaabemowin phrase for “The Place of Peacefulness,” and will feature accessible trails and signage in Anishinaabemowin.

Looking Ahead

Great Lakes Ice: As the calendar turned to 2024, just 0.43 percent of the Great Lakes were covered in ice — a far cry from the 9 percent scientists typically see at this time of year, WBEZ and Grist report. Less ice offers greater opportunity for shoreline erosion and damage, scientists say, while warmer, shorter winters are destabilizing both lake trout and whitefish populations, species which rely on ice cover for healthy, cool seasonal waters.

Upcoming Events

January 11 — Great Lakes Seminar Series: Bill Currie — learn more and register

January 17 — Great Lakes Seminar Series: Silvia Newell — learn more and register

January 18 — 2024 Ontario Invasive Plant Council — learn more

January 18 — Breaking Down the Role of Business in Achieving a Sustainable Future in the Great Lakes and Beyond — learn more

Other News

All the fish: Twenty fishing companies have pledged to utilize 100 percent of fish caught in the Great Lakes, reducing waste and encouraging creative recycling methods, Great Lakes Echo reports. The pledge is an initiative of the Conference of Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers.

Niagara Falls: New designs for a proposed “living museum” in Niagara Falls, New York, called the Great Lakes 360 have been released, Advance Media New York reports. The project, part of the Aquarium of Niagara and set to be completed in spring 2024, will showcase wildlife and exhibits about the Great Lakes ecosystem.

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