Natural Resources Board won’t hold September meeting amid succession fight

By: - September 9, 2021 4:17 pm

Frederick Prehn | YouTube

The September meeting of the Natural Resources Board (NRB) has been canceled after the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said it had no pending agenda items that required the board’s action. 

The cancellation comes as the board has been in the middle of a game of political tug-of-war between current chair Fred Prehn and the administration of Gov. Tony Evers. Prehn’s term expired on May 1 and Evers has nominated his replacement, but Prehn — a Republican appointee with the backing of GOP legislative leadership — has refused to step down. 

Were  Prehn’s replacement — Ashland educator Sandra Dee Naas — allowed to take her seat, the NRB would be controlled by a majority of Democratic appointees. 

Earlier this summer, Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit against Prehn seeking to boot him from the seat. Meetings of the NRB this summer have often been contentious — including arguments between Prehn and DNR Secretary Preston Cole.

“This is an unfortunate decision by the Department, as September meetings have historically had a robust agenda in the heart of the hunting seasons,” Prehn, a Wausau dentist and cranberry farmer, said in a letter first published in the Wheeler Report. “I am deeply concerned that the Department has made this political decision contrary to state statutes, which say that the Department is under the direction and supervision of the NRB. The NRB operates as partners with the Department, and without their participation we cannot do the work of the people of Wisconsin. I am therefore forced to cancel the September NRB meeting. I do not believe in the history of the NRB the Department has ever made such a decision. Nothing like this happened the last time NRB members held over, pending senate confirmation of their successors.”

As he has held onto his seat for four months past its expiration, Prehn has repeatedly insisted that only those seeking to replace him are acting politically. A number of Prehn’s emails, reported last month in the Wisconsin Examiner, show that his decision to remain was heavily influenced by his desire to increase the quota in an upcoming and controversial wolf hunt. 

Among the environmental and conservation groups pushing for Prehn to be ousted is the Humane Society of the United States, which pressed for Kaul to file his lawsuit. Nicholas Arrivo, a Humane Society attorney, says the meeting’s cancellation is a sign Prehn’s refusal to leave is holding up important work. 

“For months, the public’s right to responsible management of Wisconsin’s air, water, and wildlife has been steadily eroded by Prehn’s unlawful refusal to step aside,” Arrivo says. “It reached new lows last month, when the Prehn-led NRB brushed aside scientific experts and public opinion to force an excessive wolf hunting quota through a process more akin to used car negotiation than a reasoned deliberation. Today’s news confirms that state natural resources management will remain broken until Prehn is off the Board. We are hopeful that Attorney General Kaul’s pending lawsuit will get that result before too much more damage is done.”

Prehn has said he will remain in his seat until the Republican-held Senate confirms Naas but no confirmation hearings have been scheduled.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.