A different kind of warden to take helm of Wisconsin DNR

A different kind of warden to take helm of Wisconsin DNR

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle is handing over administration of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the state's former Department of Corrections Secretary, Matt Frank, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

Frank, a veteran of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, was appointed following Scott Hassett's July 16 announcement of the termination of his four-year tenure as DNR Secretary. The change will take effect on September 1.

A 1981 University of Wisconsin Law School graduate, Frank served 22 years as Assistant Attorney General for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, mostly under then-Attorney General Doyle. Previous to his appointment by Doyle as Department of Corrections Secretary in 2003, Frank spent six years overseeing the state's environmental defense and enforcement actions. In a press release issued by the Governor's office, Frank is touted as "an avid outdoorsman [who]?enjoys camping, hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and recreational boating with family and friends."

While Hassett (also an attorney and former newspaper publisher, and 2003 Doyle appointee) cited personal rather than political reasons for his decision to leave the agency, speculation among state conservationists attributes his resignation to the Doyle administration's ill-disguised desire to wield more control over the DNR. Hassett's announcement was greeted generally with surprise and curiosity. The Governor's action was greeted generally with skepticism and little surprise.

Frank is not the first Doyle appointment of a political loyalist to a top, current DNR post. In January, the Governor replaced long-time DNR employee and Deputy Secretary Bill Smith with Randy Romanski, Doyle's deputy chief of staff for the previous two years. Although not confirmed by the Governor's office, Doyle apparently believes that managing Wisconsin's natural resources is accomplished best by lawyers with no natural resource management background or experience rather than by actual, professional, natural resource managers.

Before 1995, the authority to appoint the DNR Secretary was held by Wisconsin's Natural Resource Board (NRB), a citizen-based conservation coalition organized in 1928 to reduce the influence of politics in conservation. However, its role was changed 12 years ago by then-Governor Tommy Thompson, who made the DNR Secretary position a cabinet appointment. Doyle's recent political shuffle has prompted many in the conservation community to prioritize actions that would reverse the appointment process. Senate Bill 15, currently before the Wisconsin 2007-09 Legislature, would place the responsibility of selecting the DNR secretary back with the NRB. According to Anne Sayers, program director for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Institute, some 50 independent conservation organizations have endorsed the bill and have selected it as one of four 2007-08 Wisconsin Conservation Priorities (see www.conservationvoters.org/WLCVI/Public/index.php?custID=20).

August 07, 2007