DNR slammed with complaints after announcing changes for MacKenzie Environmental Center

2013-02-24T05:20:00Z DNR slammed with complaints after announcing changes for MacKenzie Environmental CenterRON SEELY | Wisconsin State Journal | rseely@madison.com | 608-252-6131 madison.com

The state Department of Natural Resources has been swamped by complaints about the agency’s unexpected announcement this month that it plans to change the focus of the MacKenzie Environmental Center from youth environmental education to training for hunters, anglers and trappers.

As of late Friday afternoon, 45 people had registered to speak about MacKenzie before the Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the DNR, at its monthly meeting Wednesday in Madison, even though the issue is not on the agenda.

"That’s a lot," said Laurie Ross, board liaison, who handles public comment. Ross said almost all of those speaking are against the DNR plan to change operations at MacKenzie. She also said the office has received more than 300 e-mail comments on the issue, so many that she had to get help from an intern to get through them all.

The center in Poynette draws about 16,000 elementary-age students a year for overnight field trip stays and education in everything from predator-prey relationships to adaptation in the face of climate change.

Earlier this month, the DNR announced it will end its contract with the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, which has operated the center for six years, and seek proposals from nonprofit and commercial groups to

manage the property and run hunting, fishing and trapping education programs. Applicants would have to agree to run the programs without state money and to build a small shooting range for training.

Agency officials said the change would allow them to save the $280,000 annually that it takes to run the center.

George Meyer, executive director of the wildlife federation, immediately challenged the agency’s action.

He criticized the DNR for not developing a plan for the center before seeking proposals and for not involving the public in decision-making about the center’s future.

Meyer said the outpouring of public complaints this week shows the agency should have handled the process differently and that most support an emphasis on environmental education for youth.

"It shows these programs are highly successful," Meyer said. "And that people feel they are getting great value from the experience. ... I’ve talked to teachers who tell me that first-, second- and third-graders can’t wait until they are in the fourth grade because they know that is when they can go to the MacKenzie Center. It’s almost a rite of passage."

Spurred by the public outcry, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp issued a news release in which she said the agency is not eliminating environmental education at the center and that the curriculum, with an emphasis on outdoor skills training, will be shaped by the outside vendor the DNR selects at the end of a 30-day proposal period.

Terry Kaldhusdal, who teaches fourth grade at Magee Elementary School in Genesee Station, said he spoke with many parents at parent-teacher conferences last week who were angry about the DNR action.

He said everything from the overnight stays to the live animal exhibit, including two wolves, make the experience special.

"MacKenzie offers what no other place offers," Kaldhusdal said. "The kids can play games that teach them about predator-prey relationships. And then they can go stand inches from a wolf. It takes their learning to another whole level."

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(40) Comments

  1. JackJoe
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    JackJoe - February 25, 2013 12:47 pm
    I hunt and shoot, and have all my long life.

    I am distressed that the DNR has suggested a large public shooting range funded by taxpayer dollars, but what's worse is that it will drain members from "private" shooting clubs, themselves really "public" since the only reason I've ever seen anyone denied a membership is that they consistently won't follow rules about gun safety.
    Many of these clubs have been around forever, and they exist on the barest of margins to keep their dues down. Not only that, but they are a very real social experience to develop a sense of community and get together for fund raising and other activities. Many of their members belong to the Wildlife Federation. I can't think of one that isn't affiliated with the NRA.

    If a portion of their members are drawn off to the new DNR public ranges, they either have to raise dues, or go out of business - probably the latter.

    Why doesn't DNR save the money to staff the proposed MacKenzie Center shooting range and award it to those private clubs and keep the Center for the educational programs that are such a success? The private clubs do their activities on their own at no cost already. Actually, I'm not aware of a single gun club that has gotten public money, so if they're content with their current arrangements, why change that?

    Most hunters and shooters I know are conservationists and environmentalists, that being a large part of our responsibility which we take seriously.

    Please keep the MacKenzie Center so that my grandkids can go there and learn with other kids in a school setting.
  2. frabjous
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    frabjous - February 25, 2013 2:17 am
    Funny how this article from the NRAblog.com came out on February 19th, the same day that Stepp released her "Setting the Record Straight on Plans For Mackenzie" op-ed. In the NRAblog quotes from her http://www.nrablog.com/post/2013/02/19/NRA-Grants-Helping-to-Improve-Public-Ranges-in-Wisconsin.aspx

    Regarding NRA grants given to the WI DNR at the end of 2012,tThe article reads:
    “These grants, generously given from the National Rifle Association, will really help us to fulfill our commitment to improve and increase public awareness of, and access to, quality, safe shooting opportunities at public ranges,” Stepp said.

    The Pittman-Robertson grant revenues are taxes that are paid by shooters and hunters on ammunition and equipment, “so it’s only fitting we’re putting the money right back into providing more shooting opportunities,” she said.

    NRA Senior Field Representative Scott Taetsch thanked Secretary Stepp and the DNR for having implemented this much needed program, stating that the NRA, with its vast experience and resources in shooting ranges, was proud to assist in building more public ranges in Wisconsin.

    The NRA Public Range Grant Fund was created in 2009 to address the lack of public shooting ranges nationwide. Through this matching grant program, the NRA is working with city and county governments and state and federal agencies to build and improve public shooting ranges across the country."
  3. hankdog
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    hankdog - February 24, 2013 4:10 pm

    I'll argue your statement that the DNR has never given a rat's behind about the environment. Not true in any sense, and a downright lie. You can track the start of the decline to when king tommy made the secretary a political appointee. Things have been down hill since.
  4. Good Gosh
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    Good Gosh - February 24, 2013 2:04 pm
    Has the DNR EVER given a rat's behind about the environment? Even at the best of times, they haven't offered any type of protection for the environment against polluters of any kind. Corporations or small businesses or even individuals have gotten away with reckless behavior while the DNR sits back. But now we have an administration that believes the end-all and be-all of natural resources is to hunt it or fish it (and eventually offer it up for privatization). There are many opportunities for kids to learn to hunt and fish (amazingly even parents can do that, unless, of course, it's too much bother for them), but how many education centers can kids learn about all these things. Why won't the governor and his motley crew just be honest and tell us that Wisconsin needs to be turned into a toilet so they can keep on getting Koch dollars? As they say, Stupid is as stupid does.
  5. Lynne4300
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    Lynne4300 - February 24, 2013 1:46 pm
    I suppose the kids could always go to the Capitol, and learn how to "drum". The facility belongs to ALL people, not just the few.
  6. Steve_R
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    Steve_R - February 24, 2013 12:12 pm
    Keep the MacKenzie Center as it is. Folks have plenty of other places to learn how to shoot their guns. Our DNR acts like a tool of the NRA. Natural Resources are for ALL of us, not just for those who hunt and fish and trap.
    This idea should never have seen the light of day.
  7. witness2012
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    witness2012 - February 24, 2013 11:26 am
    Massive public opposition was able to revise the original republican-sponsored plan to open up the state parks to hunting and trapping 9 months of the year.

    So many people showed up to protest that policy change, that the DNRC drastically cut back the original proposal.

    Now, we have to do it again, and I expect we'll have to do it many times to stop other wrong-headed proposals in the future. Everyone who wants the environmental education program at Mackenzie to continue, email or call the DNR.

    Maybe we can save it that way.
  8. rali74
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    rali74 - February 24, 2013 10:33 am
    Ha! This coming from the anti-wolf troll that has time to post anti-wolf propaganda 24/7 on every wolf story in the country. Are you sure it's not you who is "on the government dole?" I highly doubt you have a job if you can spend all day and night on the internet spreading your misleading propaganda. Right, "reality22," "truthbetold," "missingleshot," "nowolves," etc? Pot meet kettle.
  9. ChugBug
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    ChugBug - February 24, 2013 9:31 am
    The MacKenzie Center is a wonderful, beautiful place. For thirty-four years, we have been taking visiting friends and family there to enjoy the unique environment, mission, and commitment of the place. We will not do this if any part of it turns into a firing range.
  10. array1
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    array1 - February 24, 2013 8:58 am
    Only bad witches are ugly
  11. BananaSplitz
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    BananaSplitz - February 24, 2013 8:06 am
    Did you ever go there when you were a kid? Ever take your children there? Then you might have a different opinion. But that would involve contemplating the environment, nature, and the fact that we should protect it. Never mind....
  12. BananaSplitz
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    BananaSplitz - February 24, 2013 8:04 am
    Rosalie for the win!
  13. BananaSplitz
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    BananaSplitz - February 24, 2013 8:03 am
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. It is really a treasure.
  14. BananaSplitz
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    BananaSplitz - February 24, 2013 8:02 am
    Thank you. Just because you are a hunter doesn't mean you don't care for our land. Awesome commentary.
  15. fleacircus
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    fleacircus - February 24, 2013 7:04 am
    Is this an Onion article?
  16. Delilah_Jones
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    Delilah_Jones - February 24, 2013 7:01 am
    The vast majority of bike trails in State Parks, and the CapCity Trail, require a trails pass, and it costs $20/yr. I buy one every year. They bring in over a million dollars from the fee--not really chump change, is it?

  17. kooler
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    kooler - February 24, 2013 12:56 am
    this is the fascist right wing trying to establish a paramilitary experience for their version of "hitler youth". those little tikes will learn about conceal and carry at such a young age it will seem only natural. i have been a hunter and fisherman my whole life and have paid my fair share to the DNR--i'm about ready to give it up. there is hardly $hit left for a quality hunting/fishing experience in this state now and with the rape of wisconsin facilitated by the GOP, the end is in sight. i used to laugh when i heard the RW nutjobs refer to the DNR as "Darn Near Russia" but i'm not laughing anymore.
  18. Hogzilla
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    Hogzilla - February 24, 2013 12:46 am
    I am generally a Walker supporter on more things than I am against him on, but this should stay the way it was before. This is an excellent facility and people really get a lot out of it.
  19. bluffsinview
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    bluffsinview - February 24, 2013 12:34 am
    As for the MacKenzie Center - tell them to leave it alone! The NRA and the fake United Sportsmen of WI (the group without members, that's a lobbying group for Walker and the mining bill that sent cards to voters during the recall asking them to send their absentee ballots to a fake address), can fund a shooting range somewhere else. God knows they can afford it.
  20. bluffsinview
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    bluffsinview - February 24, 2013 12:29 am
    Walker appointed Cathy Stepp as head of the DNR. She had no experience or education in natural resources. She was a building contractor and developer. She did, however, contribute to his campaign. They are voting on the mining bill soon, with the Republicans saying we can trust the DNR to maintain our clean air and water standards, but they do not tell us that this bill allows exemptions to those regulations and puts the laws in the bill above other state and federal laws. It says that in any conflict between state and federal law, this bill controls. It also forbids any citizen suits if wells go dry, are contaminated, or property destroyed. The mining co. nor the DNR can be sued for any damages. Read the bill! Look at the campaign contributions from Gogebic Taconite (Cline Corp) to the Republicans and you'll see why they support the mine. We must petition the Republican senators to vote it down...we need only one more Replublican senator to kill it. Please write to Sen. Luther Olsen and Sen. Mike Ellis. They may still have a soul.
  21. Oscar
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    Oscar - February 23, 2013 11:23 pm
    deernut has added some gross errors that simply must be corrected. Kayakers and canoeists pay boat launch fees the way that everyone else does. Bike riders pay fees on the bike trails. I am one of the complainers he talks about. I am a deer hunter and a fisherman. I pay license fees. Just because someone is a liberal, a democrat, doesn't mean that we aren't taxpayers, patriots or good citizens.
  22. Tricolor Dog
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    Tricolor Dog - February 23, 2013 10:53 pm
    As long as right-wingers want to shoot live rounds in close proximity to other right-wingers, I'm all for it. They typically can't get through a complete day without shooting each other. Pass the popcorn.
  23. persia
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    persia - February 23, 2013 10:49 pm
    Why do we have to choose between environmental studies and hunting? Why can't they leave the MacKenzie Center alone and develop the hunting facility at a new location?
  24. River
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    River - February 23, 2013 10:08 pm
    Kids don't smoke pot and fish like they used to. Now it's doing meth and heroine in grocery store parking lots.
  25. Beingbucky
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    Beingbucky - February 23, 2013 10:06 pm
    Hey, I had the chance to go to a place with a shooting range when I was young. It was called basic training. It didn't 't do a thing for my interest in hunting. The DNR is much more interested in cutting environmental awareness than it is increasing outdoor skills. The right wing mind is a marvel, half wishful thinking and half desperation, with no regard for reality.
  26. uspotme
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    uspotme - February 23, 2013 9:22 pm
    It's getting back at Meyer for being an outspoken critic of the current regime. Vindictive scoundrels.
  27. reality22
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    reality22 - February 23, 2013 9:17 pm
    Sounds to be like the Walker bashers are looking for things to bash him about...... I agree how many of the complainers have purchased a license in the last few years! I'll bet most of the bashers are on the dole for some form of government handouts or overpaid government underworker!
  28. witness2012
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    witness2012 - February 23, 2013 9:08 pm
    DN, anyone who purchases a park pass to bike, camp, or hike through the state forests helps to support wildlife. Many of those people learned to appreciate it from environmental education programs.

    Many, like me, also buy fishing licenses. I didn't go to a professional clinic to learn how, either. I learned from my father and grandfather which is why I continue to do it. I don't know if I would have learned and loved fishing from a clinic- it would have been a poor substitute.
  29. witness2012
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    witness2012 - February 23, 2013 9:04 pm
    MOR, that's what the current staff offered to do when they first had their lease pulled early. Fishing & hunting clinics would happen on the weekends anyway, which would mean the environmental education programs could still continue.

    The DNR said no. They wanted to go a different way with a different vender.
  30. lloll
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    lloll - February 23, 2013 8:52 pm
    Im not sure if the kids pay anything. But there's an idea about hunting floating around that also applies to this situation. If you get the kids interested when they are young, they will become adult hunters. So if a kid gets hooked on using the parks when they are young it stands to reason that they will in the future. And they will participate in activities that require a fee to be paid.
  31. Rosalie
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    Rosalie - February 23, 2013 8:41 pm
    The less kids know about the environment, the less-inclined they will be as adults to challenge any projects which will harm it
  32. Bluff Country
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    Bluff Country - February 23, 2013 8:39 pm
    I agree deernut.
  33. deernut00
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    deernut00 - February 23, 2013 8:14 pm
    How many of the complainers are paying money to the DNR in the form of license fees? Likely a very low percentage. They are the ones like the canoers that get so much from the DNR but don't pay any fees. Or the bike riders with the free bike paths. Give the DNR the benefit of the doubt here and make the Center both a place for youth to learn and at the same time grow up to enjoy the outdoor hunting skills that benefit the DNR programs through license fees.
  34. Observer5
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    Observer5 - February 23, 2013 7:27 pm
    This makes perfect sense since Scooter views the environment as a resource to be plundered and wildlife as a sacrifice for sport.
  35. Lancer
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    Lancer - February 23, 2013 7:16 pm
    It wan''t bad enough for Cathy Stepp and Walker to allow hunting in our state parks.

    Now they are changing an educational institution for children into a shooting range.

    Stepp should change the DNR's name to the DNRA.
  36. Report Abuse
    - February 23, 2013 7:14 pm
    Why couldn't they keep the center open and continue providing the programs for kids AND use it for their hunter training center too? Get more use out of the one facility. Wouldn't this be More cost effective? I've been there a few times and rarely is it busy. Surely they have plenty of time between kids visits to schedule the additional activities.
  37. Stan
    Report Abuse
    Stan - February 23, 2013 7:11 pm
    Kids can learn about hunting and fishing from Scouting, summer camp, or any number of non-profits outside of school hours. Yet in Lynne's fantasy world, kids just sit around and smoke pot all day. There's not much hope a rational argument will get through Lynne's pall of right-wing propaganda anytime soon.
  38. Lynne4300
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    Lynne4300 - February 23, 2013 6:49 pm
    Yes, some of us believe it is a good idea. Why not teach youngsters how to enjoy fishing and hunting? It might keep kids off the streets and from just sitting around smoking pot all day.
  39. jimatmadison
    Report Abuse
    jimatmadison - February 23, 2013 6:48 pm
    Screw the kids. Walker has NRA campaign money to chase.

    What a filth-hole Wisconsin has turned into.
  40. Fairness and Justice
    Report Abuse
    Fairness and Justice - February 23, 2013 6:10 pm
    Bad idea Walker, call off your hounds on this. Is anyone ever happy with a DNR "action"?

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