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Tomahawk Leader

By Tom Colstad

August 6, 2013


DNR Secretary in Tomahawk: Stepp in the Right Direction


Rep. Mary Czaja hosted a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Roundtable meeting at the Tomahawk Library Wednesday featuring DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, who gave an overview of the efforts of the DNR to become more customer friendly and responsibe and then took questions from those in attendance.  Stepp stressed that the DNR is in the customer service business and the state's natural resources are the products.


Most of the more than 80 people at the meeting represented ATV/UTV, snowmobile, multi-use and silent sports trail organizations, while others represented wolf hunt opponents, Louisiana-Pacific (L-P) Corp. in Tomahawk, the City of Tomahawk, fisherman, foresters, and other sportsmen and women.


Jim Wise, proprietor of the Tomahawk Surplus Store and representing the Hiawatha/Bearskin Trail group, presented a case for completing the junction of the two trails, a mere half-mile stretch that had been tabbed for funding, but whose funding was vetoed by Gov. Walker this year.  Wise noted that the completed trail would provide a 30-mile corridor from Tomahawk to Minocqua for hikers and bicyclists and boost the local economies of both communities.


Tomahawk Mayor Bob Lee explained to Stepp that L-P recently filed for permits that would allow expansion of its business to the extent that 16 new permanent jobs would be created, which in turn would boost the local economy.  He asked if there is a way to speed up the permitting process.


Stepp remarked that the DNR's permitting process is not a prohibiting process.  The long-term good of the environment is weighed against benefits to people/businesses in all cases.  Although the department looks for ways to say, "yes" to permit requests, that isn't always possible.  However, the DNR is streamlining the permitting process to speed up "yes" or "no" decisions.


Area snomowbile clubs made pitches for help in getting their trail systems funded and completed, while ATV clubs petitioned to be able to use the Hiawatha/Bearskin Trail system as a multi-use trail. 


In the meantime, silent sport enthusiasts (hikers and bicyclists) commented that their outdoor experience would be ruined if they had to share the trails with motorized vehicles.  "I'd probably quit using the trail," said one bicyclist.


Opponents to the upcoming wolf hunt shared their views on why there shouldn't be a wolf hunt and wondered why there were all anti-wolf people on the DNR wolf management team.  Stepp assured them that wasn't the case and added that the state legislature directed the DNR to have the wolf hunt.  There is nothing the DNR could do to stop the hunt if it wanted to.


The topic of walleye management was brought up, and Stepp was quick to address it.  She said that she has been in negotiations with the various Indian tribes about their "take" of the walleye resource, so that both the tribes and sports anglers are satisfied.  Stepp said that state and tribe hatcheries will produce more walleye fingerlings to larger sizes (6-8 inches) before they are planted in Wisconsin lakes, rivers, and flowages.  The larger fingerlings have a much better survival rate and should contribue to larger walleye harvests in years to come.


Stepp shared that the DNR is looking at ways to help fund projects like the trail systems in this area without going to the taxpayers.  She said that the DNR purchased many large tracts of land in the past, and only a small portion of each was of planned management value, like a marsh or a buffer zone along a river.  Stepp remarked that portions of those parcels that don't fit DNR's management purposes could be sold. 


While Stepp was unable to say "Yes" to specific requests at Wednesday's meeting, she was sincere in her "I'll see what I can do to make it happen" responses. 


"I am so impressed with the passion and commitment of the people of Tomahawk regarding environmental and economic values.  I look forward to returning to Tomahawk soon," Stepp concluded.