Wisconsin DNR board member calls lawsuit to oust him 'political'

The chairman of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources policy board said Wednesday, Aug. 18 that a lawsuit seeking to remove him from the panel is politically motivated and that he has a right to continue serving.

Fred Prehn said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' administration sees him as a roadblock to its wildlife and environmental agenda. He said he won't give up his seat until the state Senate confirms his replacement. He pointed to May 25 analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau that concluded the state Supreme Court ruled in 1964 that holdover appointees can continue to serve until their replacement wins Senate confirmation.

"I still believe I'm a duly nominated member of this board," Prehn said. "You read that memo and I think you'll go ‘wow.’ It's so on point with what we're doing."

Former Gov. Scott Walker appointed Prehn to the board in 2015. His term expired May 1. Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, a move that would give his appointees majority control of the board. But Prehn has refused to step down, insisting he can remain in place until the Senate confirms Naas. The Republican-controlled body has yet to schedule a hearing on Naas' appointment.

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A host of environmental groups concerned that conservatives are illegally maintaining control of the board, allowing them to shape outdoors and pollution policy, asked Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul last month to file a lawsuit demanding a judge force Prehn out.

Kaul filed an action in Dane County Circuit Court on Tuesday seeking a court order removing Prehn from the board, arguing the governor can remove gubernatorial appointees at any time.

Prehn said he was "shocked" that Kaul is suing him in light of the Legislative Reference Bureau analysis.

"That fact (the state Department of Justice) won't wait for the traditional confirmation process just shows you how political this is," Prehn said. "What's the emergency here, Josh? They don't like what this board's doing so their answer is get rid of me. I will definitely defend myself (in the lawsuit)."

Democrats' frustrations with Prehn's refusal to step down came to a head last week when the board voted 5-2 to set the quota for this fall's wolf hunt at 300 animals. DNR biologists recommended setting the limit at 130 wolves, saying the impact of a February hunt on the wolf population isn't yet clear.

The state's Chippewa tribes are entitled to half of the quota but they refuse to hunt wolves. That means the working quota for state-licensed hunters this fall will likely be 150 wolves. DNR Secretary Preston Cole — an Evers appointee — blasted Prehn after the vote, saying he denied Naas a voice in the debate. Prehn pointed out that even if Naas had been on the board instead of him and voted against the 300-quota it still would have passed 4-3.

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Board member Sharon Adams, an Evers appointee, voted for the 300-wolf quota but said later she didn't understand she was voting on the final quota. If she had understood she would have voted against it, she said.

Prehn scoffed at that Wednesday, saying he clearly explained what the board was doing.

"Somebody took some heat and now somebody wants to change their vote," he said. "You don't like the vote about the wolves so your answer is to get rid of me."

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