Wisconsin Senate committee votes against confirming four DNR board appointees

Republicans on a state Senate committee voted against confirming appointees Sharon Adams, Dylan Jennings, Sandra Dee Naas and Jim Vandenbrook to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board.

Associated Press

September 29, 2023

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Sandra Dee Naas sits in a wood witness stand mounted with multiple microphones and speaks while looking at a sheet of paper, with another person seated in the background next to double-doors with glazed glass windows and brass handles.

Wisconsin Natural Resources Board appointee Sandra Dee Naas addresses a state Senate committee during a confirmation hearing on Sept. 21, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. On Sept. 28, the Republican majority on the committee voted to reject Naas and three other appointees (Credit: AP Photo / Todd Richmond)

AP News

By Todd Richmond, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the state Senate’s sporting heritage committee voted Sept. 28 against confirming four of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ appointees to the Department of Natural Resources policy board, a move that could delay a board vote on the agency’s contentious wolf management plan.

The committee voted against confirming Sharon Adams, Dylan Jennings, Sandra Dee Naas and Jim VandenBrook on a 3-2 vote for each appointee. All three committee Republicans voted against confirmation for each appointee. The two Democrats on the committee voted to confirm the appointees. The committee voted unanimously to recommend confirming Evers appointee Paul Buhr.

The DNR’s board is made up of seven gubernatorial appointees. All of them are Evers picks, giving the governor full control of environmental and wildlife policy. The full state Senate has confirmed two of them: chairman Bill Smith and Marcy West.

Gubernatorial appointees can serve until the full Senate votes against confirming them. A vote to reject confirmation equates to termination. The sporting heritage committee’s votes against Adams, Jennings, Naas and VandenBrook suggest that the full chamber will likely vote against them.

The committee votes come as the board is preparing to approve a new wolf management plan. The plan does not include a hard population cap, despite hunters and farmers’ demands for a specific numerical limit. The plan instead recommends keeping the population at around 1,000 animals, a number hunters and farmers say is far too high.

The DNR’s current wolf management plan, approved in 1999, caps the number of wolves in the state at 350 animals. The agency estimates as many as 1,200 wolves may roam the state today. Farmers have complained that wolves are decimating their livestock, and hunters have pointed to the 350 number as justification for higher kill quotas during the state’s annual wolf season.

Wisconsin law mandates an annual wolf hunt. But wolves in the lower 48 states are currently on the federal endangered species list, making hunting them illegal and prohibiting farmers from killing nuisance wolves. The state management plan would go into effect if wolves come off the endangered species list and hunting resumes.

The sporting heritage committee’s chairman, Sen. Rob Stafsholt, has introduced a bill that would mandate the DNR include a hard population cap in the plan. The agency’s board is expected to vote on the plan Oct. 25.

Stafsholt and the other committee Republicans, Sens. Cory Tomczyk and Mary Felzkowski, grilled Adams, Jennings, Naas, Vandenbrook and Buhr whether they support a hard population cap. Adams, Buhr and Jennings wouldn’t say; the other appointees said they don’t believe in a firm population limit.

The Senate’s Republican leaders have yet to schedule a confirmation vote for any of the five appointees. If the Senate were to vote to reject Adams, Jennings, Naas and VandenBrook, the board wouldn’t have enough members to vote on anything. If the rejection vote comes before Oct. 25, the board wouldn’t have enough members to approve the wolf plan and action could be delayed for weeks or longer until Evers picks their replacements.

“It’s outrageous that four dedicated and qualified public citizens who are volunteering their time, energy, and expertise to serve our state continue to be subjected to the political ire of Wisconsin Republicans whose own resumes wouldn’t pass muster for filling these very roles,” Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback said in a statement on the evening of Sept. 28.

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