Since becoming secretary of the Department of Natural Resources 12 short months ago, I have been awed by the talent and dedication I have seen here. I have learned much, and I have been privileged to work with my DNR colleagues on many exciting projects.
In August, DNR was designated as Wisconsin state government’s first and only enterprise agency. Gov. Scott Walker gave us unprecedented authority to implement ideas from our staff on ways to save money, improve processes and better serve the public.
In deer management we suspended earn-a-buck, implemented research projects to assess the impact of predators on the deer herd, and began work with the state’s new deer trustee, James Knoll, better known as Dr. Deer. Deer harvest and working with hunters has taken a turn for the better. There is still work to do.
We took an aggressive stand in pushing for federal delisting of the gray wolf. The gray wolf population now numbers eight times Wisconsin’s recovery goal, and it is long past time for our biologists to actively manage problem wolves plaguing many farmers. I am pleased our leadership has led to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s very recent announcement removing the wolf from federal Endangered Species Act protection. Wisconsin’s long fought battle to manage growing wolf populations within its borders is nearly over.
We welcomed 13 new participants with 102 facilities into Wisconsin’s innovative Green Tier program, which has at its foundation the idea that by working WITH business we can achieve environmental excellence. In addition, we established an Office of Business Support and Sustainability to provide a single point of contact for businesses looking to locate or expand in Wisconsin.
We worked together with state and local partners to eradicate marijuana grows on public lands, respond to the Oak Creek bluff collapse, and cleanup and salvage valuable timber from the massive blowdown in the northwestern part of the state.
We have begun rebuilding a DNR staff hobbled by retirements and long position freezes — including recruiting a new class of conservation wardens. And we have made customer service – working with our publics as partners – as the priority for every one of our staff. In January, we will announce plans to open many of service centers for more customer-friendly hours.
As I travel the state, I am proud of the comments I am hearing that people like "the new DNR" and direction we are taking. DNR’s dedicated staff and I look forward to another year of serving Wisconsin’s citizens.
Cathy Stepp is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.