Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources came into existence in its current form in 1967, under Republican governor Warren Knowles, but it has much deeper roots. Territorial laws governing fishing, trapping, water navigation and wildfires date back to the 1700s.
In 1915 and 1917,the legislature created the Conservation Commission and many of the modern natural resource laws that still govern today. By the time Congress enacted the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, the DNR was ready and assumed additional responsibilities for protecting the state’s waters, lands, and air.
In recent years, however, particularly since the election of Scott Walker in 2010, the once-proud agency has been whittled away, science staff let go, and a dubious environmental protection record under former Secretary Cathy Stepp.
Some retired DNR staff and other conservationists, dismayed by the agency’s fortunes, are starting an alternative: Wisconsin Green Fire: Voices for Conservation. Bob Martini worked for the DNR for thirty years before retiring in 2008, heading up the agency’s Wisconsin River Task Force and the Clean Water Act Task force. Jim Perry retired in 2011 as the Dean of the University of Wisconsin Fox-Valley, where he taught botany and plant morphology. Bob and Jim are charter members of Wisconsin Green Fire, and they join Eight O’Clock Buzz host Brian Standing by phone.