Splitting DNR wrongheaded idea
Written by Tomah Monitor Herald   
Friday, 04 March 2005 02:49

What do poachers and toxic spills have in common?

They both kill wildlife and degrade the environment. It's a distinction that eludes two area state Senators.

State Sens. Ron Brown (R-Eau Claire) and Dave Zien (R-Gilman) issued a press release last week questioning how hunting and fishing fees from the Department of Natural Resources are spent. They also want to split the DNR into two agencies -- one for "environmental protection" and another for "fish and game."

"The DNR has confused the distinction between sportsmen's activities and environmentalists' activities," Zien said. "The DNR is forcing conservation wardens to spend less time catching poachers and more time watching to see what kind of chemical runs out the end of a drain pipe."

It's not the DNR that's confused, it's Zien and Brown. To claim a distinction between sportsmen and environmentalists is absurd. It's impossible to be a knowledgeable sportsman without being an environmentalist and recognizing that enforcing bag limits is just as important as protecting habitat against toxic assault. Another fish kill catastrophe in Wisconsin, the third in less than a year, drives that point home.

An avalanche of manure that slid down an icy hill has ruined the west branch of the Sugar River in Dane County, which was a prized trout stream just a week ago. The spill obliterated $900,000 worth of federal and state grants and thousands of hours of volunteer labor, and it illustrates the tight connection between "sportsmen's" and "environmentalists'" activities. DNR officials have recovered over 100 dead trout, and they expect that number to rise considerably. Even the most determined poacher would have difficulty killing that many trout.

The problem isn't how the DNR uses license fees, it's years of reckless spending cuts and environmental deregulation. A powerful case can be made that habitat destruction threatens fish and game populations more than over-harvest. If that's the case, then the DNR needs flexibility to pursue the most immediate threats -- whether it's an angler who keeps 100 bass or a factory that allows toxic material to ooze from its drain pipe.

If a DNR warden observes a toxic element entering the eco-system and takes action, he's performing a vital service for anyone who buys a hunting or fishing license. There is no distinction to be made between a sportsman and an environmentalist, and no reason to split a battered DNR.

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