Attorney General Josh Kaul at Governor Tony Evers’ first State of the State address in Madison, Wisconsin, at the State Capitol building on Jan. 22, 2019. Photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit Tuesday to remove Fred Prehn from the Natural Resources Board.
Prehn, a Republican appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker, has refused to vacate his seat as board chair for months — taking advantage of what he says is a quirk in state law that has allowed him to maintain control over the state’s environmental and conservation policies.
“Dr. Prehn’s term is over,” Kaul said in a statement. “His attempt to remain on the Natural Resources Board indefinitely, in defiance of the will of the voters, is fundamentally undemocratic. We’re asking for a clear ruling that Dr. Prehn is no longer a member of the Natural Resources Board.”
Gov. Tony Evers announced Prehn’s replacement, Sandra Naas, on April 30. Prehn’s six-year term was supposed to expire on May 1. Naas taking her seat would give Evers appointees a majority on the board.
Kaul filed the lawsuit after numerous state and national groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, called for the Democratic attorney general to use his authority to boot Prehn from his seat.
Many of the groups asked for Kaul to take action before the board set the quota for this fall’s wolf hunt, a controversial topic after the hunt earlier this year far exceeded the prescribed limit.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Instead, Kaul filed the lawsuit one week after the quota was set.
“We applaud Attorney General Kaul for stepping up to do what is right for Wisconsin’s citizens, wildlife and natural resources,” Nicholas Arrivo, an attorney for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement. “As demonstrated by last week’s disastrous decision to force through an excessive wolf hunting quota with total disregard for the recommendation of the state’s own expert biologists, the role of the Natural Resources Board is simply too important for Prehn to be playing politics. Prehn’s refusal to vacate his seat not only violates the law, but also violates the trust of Wisconsinites in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan Natural Resources Board that serves the people.”
In a heated meeting last week, Department of Natural Resources staff suggested the quota for this fall’s wolf hunt be set at 130. Prehn and the other Republicans on the board succeeded in setting the quota at 300 — a number scientists say will have a destabilizing effect on the state’s wolf packs.
“It’s outrageous that by squatting in his expired position for months, Prehn was able to vote for the arbitrary slaughter of 300 more wolves this fall,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We commend Attorney General Kaul for taking action. New leadership is long overdue on the Natural Resources Board, and we hope that Prehn’s removal marks the beginning of a better future for Wisconsin’s wildlife.”
After the wolf quota was set at more than double what state biologists had proposed, state Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) accused Prehn and Republicans of thwarting the will of Wisconsin voters by refusing to let go of control over policies on issues such as animal management and the regulation of chemicals in the state’s water.
Carpenter called it “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.”
A week later than environmental groups would have liked, Kaul’s lawsuit — filed in Dane County Circuit Court — asks for a judge to rule that Prehn doesn’t have the right to remain in his seat or to rule that Gov. Evers has the power to remove him.
The next meeting of the Natural Resources Board is scheduled for Sept. 21.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.