Cool Hand Luke Makes Appearance at Feb. 27 NRB Meeting on MaKenzie Environmental Education Center by Tim Eisele 3-9-2013

Tim Eisele

Tim Eisele

Cool Hand Luke makes appearance at Feb. 27 NRB meeting on MaKenzie Environmental Education Center

The 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke” is known for the saying, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

I’m wondering if that is what happened in February to the DNR.

At the Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting in Madison on Feb. 27, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp had just finished giving a yearly wrap-up reflecting on the successes the agency had in 2012.

The report was glowing, about how the agency is using more “interactive tools,” such as the internet, Twitter and Facebook, to reach the public. The DNR drew praise from NRB members for its efforts to be more customer friendly, but one wonders if perhaps it is also a way to go around the traditional news media and present their case (and their spin) directly to the public?

Is it possible the agency issues more news releases now to encourage editors to pick up those releases and run stories on the DNR that show big accomplishments without sending reporters to meetings. Or, for that matter, without including details of controversy or public questions in those press releases?

Shortly after the secretary’s presentation, the traditional 1 p.m. citizen participation session saw an overflow crowd of 46 people signed up to raise questions about a decision that the DNR made to end its contract with the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation for providing environmental education at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center in Poynette.

The Federation came through and saved the DNR’s skin in 2006 when the DNR had proposed closing the facility due to budget constraints.  The WWF hired staff and built a successful environmental education program that attracts 16,000 grade school students a year.

Yet the DNR called a meeting on Feb. 11 and announced that it was terminating the contract.

Don Hammes, member of the Yahara Fishing Club and Dane County Conservation League, reports that at the meeting the WWF was told the program was being terminated because it was getting too costly for DNR to support the program.

“The decision was made without any comprehensive plan to replace the current education activities, without any public input meetings with local people, local businesses, local governments or other stakeholders, and without any business or organization expressing a strong interest in conducting a new outdoor skills program.”

All but one of the citizens expressed reasons why they were either concerned or opposed to the DNR actions cancelling the contract.

Some think this shows that the DNR’s actions are clues to nefarious things going on in the puzzle palace in Madison, with Gov. Scott Walker apparently allowing groups like the Hunters Rights Coalition, Wisconsin Bow Hunters, and Wisconsin Bear Hunters to take over the DNR. Mainstream sportsmen fear that this will result in MacKenzie being operated by a large organization that may well come from out-of-state.

By the end of the NRB meeting it appeared that the DNR seemed to soften its stand and said that it would continue environmental education at Poynette, in addition to adding a program to teach hunting, fishing and trapping mentors But how much of a part and who will do it is still a question, as is why they would throw cold water on the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation after it has so often come to the aid of the DNR.

Had they wanted an outdoor skills center, couldn’t the DNR have talked to WWF about what is needed and wanted?  Is it really just about the bottom line: dollars and cents?  Is it really politics, or could it be a “failure to communicate?”

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