Changes are coming to how the state Department of Natural Resources operates. Agency officials rolled out a reorganization plan for workers earlier this week, which involves condensing the current six DNR divisions into five. It also includes splitting off some services that are used to review business projects into a single entity.
Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede says the changes are about improving efficiency at the agency and are the result of a review process not unlike what happens in the private sector. “Organizations that want to be successful in their operations, from time to time, will take a look at their structure, as well as their processes and systems, and try to find efficiencies and figure out ways that they can better align and integrate their functions.”
Environmental groups are concerned that the move could weaken enforcement efforts though — especially with a plan to split up watershed management and water quality monitoring. Clean Wisconsin government affairs director Amber Meyer Smith says it could mark a move away from the “integrated approach” the DNR has long taken to environmental issues. She says that ensured related issues, such as clean water and fish management, were managed under the same principles.
The DNR has also seen numerous staffing cuts in the last decade, with the most recent state budget trimming about 60 positions, several of which were in the science division. Smith admits that could have just as much of an impact on the work of the DNR as a new structure for the agency. She notes the agency is facing new challenges with the expansion of frac sand mining, agricultural runoff, and many other issues they just don’t have the resources to address. She says it’s part of an “ongoing challenge” facing natural resources management in the state.
Thiede contends the DNR will still “enforce the law.” He says the effort is really about “running a more efficient organization…and focusing in on our core work.”