DNR Secretary: Not giving away the environmental store

Cathy Stepp
DNR Secretary
Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp says her agency will continue tol thoroughly review and approve or disapprove envionrmental permits and applications for large scale farms.

Let's be clear from the start — the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is not going to be allowing large livestock operations to write their own environmental permits. If you have seen or heard that we were, you have been given wrong information. We are not "giving away the environmental store."

True, DNR recently rolled out a plan to better align our current resources with the core work that our dedicated employees do in carrying out our mission of protecting the state's natural resources for all. In some cases, several programs that have overlapping areas of responsibility are being consolidated into one efficient unit that can address issues more effectively and free up time from non-essential work so staff can focus on what this agency has been charged to do.

However, and I can't stress this enough, none of these changes will diminish, relax or loosen the laws, rules or standards currently in place or our commitment to upholding those standards. In fact, this alignment process, which we initiated without demands from outside sources, will give us the ability to strengthen our efforts in upholding those laws, rules and standards. That includes the permitting program, particularly in the area of large livestock operations.

Operations often hire consultants and contractors to help them fill out permit applications with the necessary technical information about their project. More often than you might imagine, when DNR receives these applications, considerable time and effort can be wasted going back and forth with the applicant to get more information or a better description of what they want to do. We are changing that.

What we are actually proposing to do is create an assurance program consisting of qualified consultants and contractors who have a high level of expertise in the area. If we receive a permit application with information submitted by one of these consultants in the program, we can be assured their information is complete and correct and can go ahead and develop a permit. Our staff can do away with the back and forth and get right to the crux of the issue of reviewing the application based on those laws, rules and standards.

DNR will still thoroughly review and approve or disapprove an application. This same process has worked well for several years in the wetlands delineation program. We are now expanding it to the livestock operation area.

I can assure you that we at the DNR take our responsibility of protecting our natural resources very seriously and none of our alignment plans will change that. In fact, this initiative, based on private sector best business practices, will allow us to focus even more on that responsibility.

Like any healthy organization striving to remain relevant and responsive to its customers, we spent more than a year evaluating our assets, liabilities and available human and financial resources. Many of the ideas being rolled out now came from veteran staff members who have expressed frustration with having to spend valuable time on work that doesn't match their field of expertise or their passion for wildlife, conservation or the environment.

We are a customer service agency that also regulates our customers. That's a unique challenge. Our customers include everyone who lives, works, plays or makes anything here. They all expect clean air and water, robust wildlife, world-class trout streams and first-class parks and forests. All of our customers, taxpaying citizens, license and permit holders and visitors also deserve the best possible return on their investment that we can provide. This alignment plan sets us on the path to accomplish that.