April 5, 2017
Wisconsin legislators join the fight to save popular conservation magazine
by Kait Howard
Public outcry over Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s proposal to eliminate a beloved conservation and outdoor lifestyle magazine published by the state’s Department of Natural Resources seems to have made an impression on both the magazine’s readers and at least some legislators.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Lee Bergquist reports that “Republican and Democratic lawmakers say they are fielding an onslaught of complaints” about plans to “pull the plug” on the century-old Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, which is edited by DNR staffers and fully funded by subscriptions. At a hearing on Walker’s 2017–2019 budget bill last week, legislators—including Republican representatives Mark Born, Mike Rohrkaste, and John Nygren and Democratic rep Lena Taylor—voiced concerns that discontinuing the magazine would “tak[e] away an important tool for the agency to communicate to the public.”
“Is the juice worth the squeeze,” asked Nygren, referring to the Walker administration’s claim that the magazine was taking time away from the “core responsibilities” of DNR staffers.
The proposal—which comes amidst wider controversy over the DNR’s decision to remove information about climate change from its website—was widely condemned by former DNR staffers and led to a surge of new subscription orders.
During the hearing, DNR head Cathy Stepp—a climate science agnostic Walker appointee—defended the proposal, arguing that the agency would focus on communicating with the public via social media instead. She also reiterated the Walker administration’s senseless claim that there could be a “tremendous opportunity for someone in the private sector to take this over.”
Meanwhile, in an op-ed published in the Green Bay Press Gazette, one of the magazine’s former editors, Natasha Kassulke, noted that the proposal seems to be the next step in a concerted effort to stop the DNR from sharing information about its conservation efforts, especially as they relate to climate change. She writes:
Despite… signs that the magazine is healthy and appreciated, the governor’s move to kill it comes as no surprise. During my stint as editor, I saw the level of editorial oversight dramatically increase after the magazine ran a 2013 insert on climate change funded by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
From then on, all stories were vetted by officials within the state Department of Natural Resources. They spiked stories having to do with climate change, a federally endangered mammal living near a proposed iron mine, and challenges to the privatization of groundwater.
Still, Kassulke seems to imply, it would be far better to deal with censorship at the magazine than to discontinue it, as it’s still an informative and popular resource for outdoor sports enthusiasts, and the political tides could always change.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.