- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The leader of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says she hopes lawmakers won’t break up her agency.

Secretary Cathy Stepp told the Wisconsin State Journal for an interview published Saturday (http://bit.ly/2jbIMiy ) that she would be pleased if the Legislature gave her department a chance to implement its reorganization plan before acting on a proposal to scatter its programs among other state agencies.

The reorganization resulted from more than 18 months of planning, Stepp said, and it and calls for wide-ranging changes aimed at cutting costs and making the department more effective by consolidating functions.

The proposal for breaking up the department comes from Balsam Lake Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow. He has proposed placing wildlife and fisheries management in a new Department of Fish and Wildlife and handing pollution control over to a new Department of Environmental Protection. The Department of Natural Resources’ other duties would be spread across three existing agencies.

Jarchow has said he’s pushing for the split because businesses and outdoor lovers say the department isn’t working in its current form. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has said the plan is worth pursuing.

Stepp said Jarchow didn’t consult with her department and didn’t contact her until after his proposal became public last month.

Planned changes to the department’s parks, wildlife, fisheries, water quality, conservation, endangered species, property management or law enforcement efforts couldn’t be accomplished if the agency were split up, she said.

For example, a single group of employees would be in charge of providing law enforcement for hunting, parks and forestry operations - instead of the current practice of each operation fielding its own group of armed officers. The change is intended to allow better training and supervision of employees with arrest powers. Jarchow’s plan would make that impractical by placing parks, forestry and hunting in separate departments.

“My hope is that the Legislature and the governor would give our alignment plan a chance,” Stepp said. “That’s my hope.”

Stepp has been criticized for remaining quiet in public as Walker and the Legislature cut the department’s staff, eliminated tax support for state parks and rolled back environmental regulations. She says her department must defer to the authority of elected officials.

“I’m not telling them what to do,” Stepp said. “All I’m telling you is what my hope is, which is that they would let this (reorganization) process play out for a couple of years so we can demonstrate the successes that we can see on the ground.”

Stepp said Walker reviewed and found no serious problems in the agency’s reorganization before the department announced it in late November.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

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