The “mission” of the environmental agency on its website sounds comforting, almost idyllic. It reads:

“To protect and enhance our natural resources:

our air, land and water; our wildlife, fish and forests and the ecosystems that sustain all life.

To provide a healthy, sustainable environment

and a full range of outdoor opportunities.

To ensure the right of all people

to use and enjoy these resources in their work and leisure.

To work with people

to understand each other’s views and to carry out the public will.

And in this partnership

consider the future and generations to follow.”

That’s the “mission” of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as revised on their website less than one month ago (Feb. 27, 2013). But when their leaders appear in public, they make statements that appear very much at odds with those laudable notions.

When DNR Deputy Secretary Matt Moroney made a presentation recently at the Agricultural Community Engagement seminar last week, the Agri-Views news site reported this tidbit: “The DNR is no longer a strong advocate one way or another on environmental issues, [Moroney] told local rural officials and farmers.”

How does this position reflect the mission of the agency?  Now, mind you, ACE is comprised of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Towns Association.  But I have to wonder if Mr. Maroney was simply playing to his audience or, far worse, reflecting the mindset of the agency.  He is, after all, the second in command.

The threat that CAFOs pose to our state are well-detailed. But let’s look at just one practice mentioned in this article that threatens to harm our air and water quality: manure spraying. The article sheds some light on some meetings over the last year that most residents know nothing about:

“Moroney said the DNR is supportive of the concept of precision manure irrigation. The practice is already allowed under DNR rules, but there hasn’t been a lot of research. He thinks it’s a viable alternative to spreading manure in spring and fall, but he cautioned, there’s need to ensure human health is protected. Disease-transport research with the UW College of Agriculture and Live Sciences at the Marshfield Ag Research Station will look at how far manure vapor goes under different conditions. The department, said its deputy secretary, has the goal of finalizing technical standards on precision manure irrigation by June 1. Discussions with producers were held last year, and UW-Extension is facilitating continued talks.”

Technical standards established by June 1 on a topic for which “there hasn’t been a lot of research”? June 1 is right around the corner.  Shouldn’t we as citizens be concerned that these conversations are taking place, and that no rules are in place to assure transparency and input from all comers? The article further states, “If any regulations are necessary regarding precision manure irrigation, they’ll be science-based, he stressed.”   There is too much at stake here to rush to a decision. And, as we have often seen over the last two years, the public is often the last to know about actions that will affect their health and quality of life in Wisconsin.

The enormous challenges and threats to our natural resources include sand mining, mineral extraction, CAFOs, and high-capacity well usage.  If the DNR is no longer an advocate on environmental issues, as Mr. Moroney points out, the ending to this story has already been written.  I hope that the good citizens of Wisconsin will hold the DNR accountable to its mission.  We deserve nothing less.

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