June 4, 2012
By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Last month, I was proud to have been awarded the title “Conservation Champion” by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. The honor came as welcome surprise. I have never supported environmental conservation for a title or and honor. I have supported Wisconsin’s environment because I have felt responsible for the health of Wisconsin’s citizens.
Wisconsin has been blessed with a rich and beautiful natural environment. We have the prairies in south, the Northwoods, and some of the most stunning lakes in world. Sometimes, I think that Wisconsinites have such an abundance of fantastic natural resources that we have come to take God’s gifts for granted.
Here in Milwaukee, we have learned to cherish every tree and city park. Make no mistake, I love city life, and I would never dream of living anywhere else. Still, on those occasions when I have been able to spend time at Devil’s Lake or Peninsula State Park, I could not help but wonder at the irresponsibility of the bureaucrats who fail to protect our lakes and forests.
Our lakes and forests do not exist merely for their beauty. Critics sometimes wrong-headedly claim that conservationists value trees and rivers more than men or women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Above all, I believe conservation helps to keep our loved ones safe and healthy. We eat plants and animals raised in Wisconsin. We drink water from Wisconsin’s wells. Pollution in our environment endangers our health.
I have become disappointed with the Department of Natural Resources and their lackluster efforts protecting the health of our citizens. In the last year, the DNR has displayed a severe lack of leadership in environmental protection. Led by Scott Walker’s political appointees, the agency has suffered scandal after scandal.
Last month, a sand spill in the St. Croix River devastated wildlife and cast doubts on the DNR’s inspection practices. DNR leadership claims that they were unable to inspect sand mine safety because of staffing cuts. If staffing cuts lead to environmental disasters, can we afford the cuts?
Though I found the staffing cuts to DNR disturbing, I have lately been more concerned with the possibility of corruption. Despite the recommendations of agency staff, executive assistant Scott Gunderson failed to refer a waste violator to the Department of Justice. The violator, Richard Herr, had spread excessive amounts of human waste on several fields.
Nearby wells could have been poisoned, but Gunderson felt it appropriate to put politics above health. Richard Herr and his wife had been contributors to one of Gunderson’s political campaigns. Gunderson refused to hand Herr over to the DOJ and instead issued a minimal fine.
Gunderson has sent out a loud and clear message. When polluters contribute to the Republican Party’s campaigns, they may do as they wish. Meanwhile, both the DNR and Herr have refused to pay for testing of the endangered wells. Walker’s political appointees have betrayed the DNR’s core principles.
The long-term results of political intervention into our environmental protection could be nothing short of devastating to the health of Wisconsin’s citizens. We deserve a more agile and capable Department of Natural Resources. I pledge to do everything in my power to ensure that we will once again have the DNR Wisconsin deserves.