Tony Evers has not yet interviewed candidates for DNR secretary, despite 4 month vacancy

Wisconsin Republicans have passed Gov. Tony Evers' election maps but Democrats in the Legislature are skeptical of the GOP's plan.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

DARLINGTON - Gov. Tony Evers has not yet interviewed new candidates to head the Department of Natural Resources, citing difficulties in finding people interested in taking the position.

Evers said during a visit to Darlington Elementary School Wednesday that he's hoping to fill the position "as soon as possible" but it's been difficult to find someone qualified to take the job.

"If the Legislature's going to kick them around and eventually kick them out, it makes it more difficult," he said. "We are in the process of finding people. I haven't interviewed anyone, but people are doing the beginning work and are going to bring something to me."

The secretary position has been open since the end of October, when the previous secretary, Adam Payne stepped down unexpectedly. Payne was on the job for less than a year, and cited a need to care for his aging parents and spend more time with his family as reasons for his departure.

In his short tenure at the DNR, Payne was vocal in his desire to address water quality issues, such as "forever chemical" contamination. He also waded into the debate on the wolf management plan, which has become a hot topic for Republican lawmakers in particular, who want there to be a set quota, instead of a flexible management plan.

Since Payne's departure, the agency has faced upheaval.

More than half of the Natural Resources Board — which sets policy for the DNR — was ousted by a vote of the Senate in October, followed by Evers appointing new members who have not yet received votes from the Senate.

The department has faced criticism over its wolf management plan, with the Legislature passing legislation that would set a numbered quota for wolves in the state, instead of the more flexible management style proposed by scientists within the department.

More: Appeals court rules former warden must be reinstated, over 5 years after termination for transporting children in state truck

The agency has also faced scrutiny over its treatment of a series of allegations of sexism, racism, homophobia and retaliation within its conservation warden program, with nearly a dozen current and former employees sharing their stories with the Journal Sentinel. In one of those court cases, the state's appeals court sided with a former warden who said he was improperly fired, reinstating his job after more than five years, and granting him back pay, which could add up to $300,000.

The DNR has so far remained silent on the issue, with the Chief Warden, the communications department and Deputy Secretary Steven Little — who is serving as the acting secretary — refusing to answer questions about the issues.

More: 'I was the Black warden': DNR's first African American warden recounts struggle for respect

Laura Schulte can be reached at leschulte@jrn.com and on X at @SchulteLaura.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Tony Evers has not yet interviewed candidates for DNR secretary