DNR policy board meeting canceled amid leadership fight

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources policy board’s chairman on Thursday canceled a September meeting after a top department official told him no one from the agency would participate amid a partisan fight over whether he should leave his post.

Fred Prehn, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has refused to step down even though his term expired in May. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, a move that would give Evers appointees majority control of the board.

Prehn maintains he doesn't have to leave until the state Senate confirms Naas. Republicans who control that chamber have made no moves toward a confirmation vote. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to remove Prehn from the board.

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Prehn said in a statement Thursday that DNR Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs told him the agency will not propose any agenda items for the board's Sept. 22 meeting, no DNR officials will attend the meeting and that Prehn should cancel it. Prehn said he had no choice but to cancel the meeting, calling the department's stance unprecedented.

"This is an unfortunate decision by the department, as September meetings have historically had a robust agenda in the heart of the hunting seasons," Prehn said. "I am deeply concerned that the department has made this political decision contrary to state statutes, which say that the department is under the direction and supervision of the (board)."

DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye told The Associated Press in an email that the recommendation to cancel was made only because there were no items to consider.

DNR Secretary Preston Cole lashed out at Prehn during the board's August meeting, accusing him of squatting on the board so he can cast the deciding vote on key environmental and wildlife issues.

A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups has filed a lawsuit seeking to block Wisconsin's fall wolf hunt. They argue in part that the board vote setting kill quotas at the August meeting was illegitimate because Prehn presided over the meeting and cast a vote.

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