Walker Battles Climate Change Believers to Reshape Department of Natural Resources

Wisconsin Democrats have demanded Gov. Scott Walker (R) join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a newly formed coalition of states that intends to move forward with the terms of the Paris climate accord after President Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement.

"President Trump’s rejection of fact, science and of the Paris Climate Agreement is an act that endangers every American. Gov. Walker’s silence on this issue echoes this shared anti-environment, anti-middle class agenda,” read the letter to Walker signed by 35 state representatives and 11 senators.

"Given the recent reports on Wisconsin’s dismal slump in job creation, we cannot afford to reject both the economic opportunity that green jobs would bring to Wisconsin and the moral obligation of taking a stand to address climate change,” the Democrats concluded.

Will Walker bend and join the Climate Alliance? Not likely, since the Republican has proposed transferring 15 scientists, who had been studying climate change and global warming, to new jobs within the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Two years ago, 18 DNR science bureau researchers lost their jobs as the result of a Walker administration budget cut.

Democrats said it’s no coincidence that all of those DNR employees were working on climate change research and the impact climate change could have on Wisconsin.

“This is just part of the continued effort to discourage the use of science or evidence in this administration’s decision-making,” Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D) told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Gov. Walker and Legislative Republicans don’t want science to get in the way of their politics.”

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R), who said the idea that climate change caused by human activity was “theoretical,” told the Wisconsin State Journal it is true the Walker administration is trying to alter the structure of the DNR.

“I think it’s a more disciplined approach where the leadership of the Department of Natural Resources really directs that research,” said Sen. Tiffany, who does not believe that the climate is changing as rapidly as many scientists claim.

This is not a new political fight in Wisconsin. The DNR’s website was scrubbed of its climate change section late last year. Instead of saying the Earth’s climate was changing and humans were the cause, the Wisconsin DNR site now notes the Earth is going through a change with the causes of said change still being debated.

“As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth's long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,” the DNR website read.

“The effects of such a change are also being debated but whatever the causes and effects, the DNR's responsibility is to manage our state's natural resources through whatever event presents itself; flood, drought, tornadoes, ice/snow or severe heat. The DNR staff stands ready to adapt our management strategies in an effort to protect our lakes, waterways, plants, wildlife and people who depend on them,” the Wisconsin DNR website concluded.

Walker denied any nefarious plot against climate change scientists. Instead, he said, the DNR’s new website language reflected the fact that bureaucrats should not write policy but should follow the direction of the legislature.

"Well, I think from our standpoint, the Department of Natural Resources should be upholding the law and not creating new law or policy," Walker said. "That's up to the people elected to do that.”

Keith Reopelle, who chaired a state global warming task force, told Wisconsin Public Radio that scientists have no doubt that humans are responsible for climate change and the new language on the Wisconsin DNR website was wrong.

"I would assume the governor thinks it's a bad idea for the DNR to intentionally confuse or mislead the public. But that's essentially what they're doing," Reopelle said.

James Rowen, the blogger who first noticed the absence of climate change content and links on the DNR’s website, was blunter. He accused Gov. Walker of redefining “chamber of commerce mentality” and cited “Walker’s deliberate destruction of the DNR.”

While climate change scientists may be transferred to other duties, and the DNR website’s attitude toward global warming has changed, Gov. Walker has been unable to pull the plug on one of the state DNR’s most storied traditions — the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

Walker’s budget proposal would have eliminated the outdoors magazine.

"We are stewards of the resources, not magazine publishers," DNR spokesman Jim Dick said.

Democrats and Republicans rebelled. The magazine, which has been in publication since 1919, has been cut back from six issues a year to four, but it will survive.

One of the magazine’s two employees will also be fired.

Although the DNR publication’s circulation fell from 122,400 in 2000 to around 84,500 in 2016, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported subscriptions increased after Walker announced plans to write the magazine out of his budget.

Denny Connor of Madison became a new subscriber this spring.

“I don’t know why, after 40-plus years of living in Wisconsin, I never subscribed to it, but I sure as hell did today,” Connor said.