Alex Tinder via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) went to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board meeting in Milwaukee on Wednesday, where he approached the board chair, Frederick Prehn, who has refused to step down even though his term expired on May 1 and the governor has replaced him with a new member, who Prehn refuses to allow to be seated.
Prehn, Carpenter indicated, has also been refusing to return his phone calls.
Prehn’s reaction to a state senator trying to speak with him, according to Carpenter, was to refuse to talk other than to tell him to leave the public meeting — which any member of the public is allowed to attend under not only the open meetings law, but also under NRB policy, which states, “The public is welcome to attend any Natural Resources Board meeting.”
Part of Wednesday’s agenda was focused on the highly controversial wolf hunt. Arguments and heated discussions took place, as board members, DNR Secretary Preston Cole and DNR staff traded accusations of fake news and spin over whose suggested wolf quotas numbers were reasonable. The department recommended 130, while Republican appointees were pushing for 504 and many of the 55 speakers at the public hearing requested no hunt. The final vote by the Board, with Prehn’s support, was to set the wolf hunt quota at 300, “more than double the DNR scientists’ recommendation to responsibly maintain the wolf population,” as Carpenter put it.
Prehn — a Wausau dentist, cranberry marsh owner and frequent Republican donor — was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker six years ago and confirmed by the Senate. Because the Republican-controlled Senate has refused to consider any number of confirmations — including several of Gov. Tony Evers’ cabinet members — Prehn has refused to leave, claiming he does not have to respect the tradition of allowing his replacement by the Democratic governor to be seated. The new Evers DNR board appointee who Prehn is blocking is Ashland High School agriculture teacher Sandra Naas.
Prehn’s has told reporters his continued presence at the August meeting was to preside over the controversial wolf hunt for the fall, for a public hearing on setting wolf quotas. In the spring, the Department of Natural Resources was forced by a lawsuit to hold a wolf hunt in which hunters killed almost twice as many wolves as the 119-wolf quota set by the DNR during breeding season and with no input from the state’s Native American tribes.
State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) has a petition requesting that Senate President Chris Kapenga hold a hearing to approve Evers’ nominee “so that Mr. Prehn will no longer be able to be a partisan squatter thumbing his nose at peaceful democratic transition.” During the open forum section of Wednesday’s meeting, three people testified asking Prehn to step down. One of them, Elizabeth Ward, representing the Sierra Club of Wisconsin, said she was delivering 423 signatures calling for his departure. She said his refusal to turn the seat over to the new member “represents a dirty turn where Wisconsin’s natural resources are falling victim to political games.”
Adrian Wydeven, who worked for 23 years as a wolf biologist at the DNR, testified on behalf of Wisconsin’s Green Fire, saying, “Removing 300 wolves in another hunt would likely have a de-stabilizing effect on almost every wolf pack in the state. There is no other wildlife species where that level of reduction would be acceptable. And it’s highly likely it would trigger a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review of state management.”
Prehn responded to News 3 that there has been “NO change on my part,” adding, “Still waiting for confirmation hearing,” and said he was waiting to hear testimony to determine whether the 130 wolf-quota by the DNR for the November hunt was acceptable to him.
After a back and forth voting on how many wolves to set the hunting quota at, the board voted for 300, Cole let his displeasure at the situation be known, “I wonder what the vote would have been with Sandy Naas, sitting in that chair,” the DNR secretary said. “You never will know what her discussions and debate would have been. Now you now know why he’s sitting in this chair.” Prehn objected to Cole’s comments, responding, “I think you’re out of line for commenting and editorializing.” To which Cole rebutted, “I’m out of order? I’m out of order? You’re sitting in somebody else’s chair.”
“Dr. Prehn and the Republican leadership of the Wisconsin State Senate are disregarding the will of the people of our state who elected Tony Evers as governor in 2018 to fulfill all the duties of that office, including making appointments to boards across our state government,” said Carpenter in a statement. “The State Senate has deliberately stalled Governor Tony Evers’ appointments, with some designated cabinet secretaries having performed their duties for years without confirmation.”
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Although all past members have departed when a new person was appointed after their term expired, Prehn claims that a Supreme Court case from the 1960s allows him to stay because the Senate won’t confirm his replacement, in what appears to be an attempt to hold on to power.
Carpenter is now demanding Prehn’s resignation. Until he steps down, Republican appointees control the board and have the votes to control the fall wolf hunt, as well as overseeing regulations on other controversial topics such as PFAS pollution.
“It is cowardly that the Natural Resources Board Chair refuses to return phone calls regarding his service to the people of our state and would ask a public attendee of a board meeting to leave,” said Carpenter in his statement.
Several groups, including the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity, have asked Attorney General Josh Kaul to intervene to remove Prehn. The letter came via their attorney Christa O. Westerberg with the Madison-based Pines Bach law firm.
Humane Society attorney Nicholas Arrivo told the Wisconsin Examiner at the time of the letter that Prehn is wrong and argues the statutes that outline appointments to the NRB don’t allow for members to hold onto their posts past the end of their term — a possibility specifically allowed for other public positions.
“Had the Legislature wanted to allow NRB members to hold over, they knew how to do so and made the decision not to. It’s a straightforward argument from the statute that he can’t stay in this position after his term has expired.”
Carpenter called Prehn’s behavior “an utterly cynical ploy to deny the consent of the governed so that radical right wing Republicans can set the terms for the upcoming wolf hunt and other crucial environmental decisions to be made by the Natural Resources Board.” Carpenter continued: “This behavior is completely unacceptable from any public official. Dr. Prehn should resign immediately. Any problems with the future wolf hunt lie squarely at his feet.”
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