MADISON, Wis. - Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding that a judge remove the GOP-appointed chairman of the Department of Natural Resources policy board from his position, a move designed to give Gov. Tony Evers control of a key entity that decides state environmental policy.
Former Gov. Scott Walker appointed Wausau dentist Fred Prehn to the board in 2015. His term ended May 1. Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, which would give Evers appointees a 4-3 majority on the panel.
But Prehn has refused to step down, arguing that he can continue to serve until the state Senate confirms Naas. Republicans control the Senate and have yet to so much as hold a hearing on Naas' confirmation.
A host of environmental and conservation groups, including the Sierra Club, Midwest Environmental Advocates and the River Alliance of Wisconsin asked Kaul last month to take legal action to force Prehn out. They fear his presence on the board prolongs conservatives' control of the DNR, leading to more decisions that favor businesses and farms rather than the environment and wildlife.
Kaul did just that, filing a complaint in Dane County Circuit Court late Tuesday afternoon. He argues in the filing that the governor can remove any gubernatorial appointee at any time regardless of whether the position requires Senate confirmation. The lawsuit seeks a court order forcing Prehn off the board or at least a declaration that Evers can remove Prehn at his pleasure.
"Prehn's unlawful claim to the Board member office has usurped and intruded upon the Board member office, effectively preventing Naas from taking a position as a Board member, contrary to Governor Evers' lawful appointment," the lawsuit said.
Prehn didn't immediately return a voice message left at the answering service for his dental office early Tuesday evening. DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
DNR Secretary Preston Cole, an Evers appointee, became irate with Prehn during the board's meeting last week, accusing him of denying Naas a vote on setting the quota for this fall's wolf hunt and accusing him of sitting in someone else's chair. Prehn told him that he was out of order.
The board set the quota at 300 wolves, 180 animals more than DNR biologists recommended to protect the population. Hunters killed 218 wolves during a February hunt, blowing past their quota of 119 animals. The state's Chippewa tribes are entitled to half of every wolf quota but refuse to hunt the animal, likely resulting in a working quota for state-licensed hunters of 150 wolves, but conservationists contend that's still too many animals.