The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will take over operations of a popular environmental education center on Jan. 2, broadening its focus to include hunting skills but dropping plans to build a shooting range on the property.

The decision to assign state workers to run the MacKenzie Environmental Center in Poynette, announced Thursday by the state agency, comes on the heels of months of controversy.

The leader of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the nonprofit group that now runs the center, said the DNR will need to increase spending dramatically if it replaces employees of the nonprofit with more highly paid state workers and if it adds all the hunting programs it has proposed.

“We estimated the additional work that DNR was asking for would cost a million dollars a year,” said federation executive director George Meyer. “Their proposal was clearly very unrealistic.”

The federation has typically raised money for the center — $200,000 in 2012 — to supplement a DNR appropriation, Meyer said, but that fundraising will probably end.

The DNR sought outside organizations to take over MacKenzie, expand it and cover all costs, but only the federation applied, and its proposal lacked the desired programs for recruiting and retaining new hunters, anglers and trappers, said DNR Land Division Administrator Kurt Thiede.

A DNR review committee on Tuesday formally rejected the federation proposal.

While costs for running the center could increase, the amount probably won’t be in the millions, Thiede said. He said the DNR may scale back its plans in order to control costs. In any case, it’s too early to say exactly how many new programs the DNR will offer when it takes over, or how much they will cost, he said.

“We were looking for a more cost-effective way to run MacKenzie, and now we have to look at another way,” Thiede said. “It’s unfortunate. I’m not going to say spending more money isn’t a big deal, (but) we’re definitely going to look for efficiencies in the way we run it.”

The DNR opened the center in the mid-1970s. After the federation took over, it built up programs, in 2012 drawing 16,000 elementary-age students for overnight field trips and classes on topics such as wildlife ecology and adaptation to climate change, Meyer said.

In February, the DNR sparked scores of complaints when it announced it would end its contract with the federation and seek proposals from nonprofit and commercial groups to manage the site, and switch to offering classes on “outdoor skills” — hunting, fishing and trapping. Applicants were to erect a small shooting range and receive no state money.

Agency officials said the change would eliminate the $239,000 cost of contracting with the federation as well as other expenses.

An uproar ensued, prompting the DNR to promise it would continue a robust environmental program along with the new hunter recruitment efforts.

The center remains open. The federation will keep it open for the rest of the year. The DNR has assigned JD Smith, the former education section chief at the agency, to direct the center starting Jan. 2.

“There was a lot of fear about closing the center, and I hope now people can see that was never our intention,” Thiede said.

Under the state’s civil service rules, the seven federation employees at the center will need to apply to keep their jobs. Thiede said their knowledge and experience should make them competitive candidates.

Ruth Ann Lee, McKenzie Center director, said her six employees were shocked Thursday by the DNR decision.

“We have always felt that the curriculum was compatible with hunting and other skills,” Lee said. “The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation is made up of people who hunt and fish and trap and work on conservation. We’ve been teaching about that all along.”

Smith will form a team to evaluate the facility’s needs and seek input from schools on the programs they value, Thiede said.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. The original version had the incorrect name for the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.]

Steven Verburg is a reporter covering politics with a focus on environmental issues for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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(27) comments

MAGRN

Having just watched a group of "hounders" run a bear right across my property with no respect for the fact that it is posted, and also watching the "if it moves kill it" mentality here in the North Western part of the state play out, along with the "shoot shovel and shutup rule of thumb here. I have to agree with the tooth fairy to a degree, but I am a transplant here from THE city ( not THE CITIES) and a south sider at that, and I stood out there in snow up to my nether regions getting signatures to recall Gov. Wanlker, so puleeze don't pigeon hole all of us here in the NW part of the state, I also hate the terrible trio Stepp, Walker and Fitzgerals, and I hope everyone remembers EVERYTHING they did to our once beautiful state, including the violating of our natural resources.

Comment deleted.
hankdog

fairy:

Sorry, but you are wrong on all counts. More facts: I don't think I have ever intentionally imbibed a Bud Light. No felonies, game violations, no traffic tickets. Have voted in every election since 1972, actually for Nixon.. I'll put my education and experience up against yours any day. Bring it on. Wife is a lovely Norwegian/German from the far NW part of WI. And if provoked she would take you down a rung or two. Make sure you have a good proctologist to remove your head. No carp where we live, still have native species. And I still think you are an idiot.

Have a good weekend.

Quando porci volante.

bog candle

The point is fees. You don't have to buy a license to watch birds or dragonflies or photograph wildflowers or appreciate nature. You do have to buy one to hunt, trap or fish, so let's try to create more hunters, trappers and fishermen. If you build it, they may NOT come!

array1

"Smith will form a team to evaluate the facility’s needs and seek input from schools on the programs they value, Thiede said."

......... and when no schools request hunting and trapping programs???
Man, everything the republicans are doing these days is controversial.

Walleye Willie

I remember going here on a field trip in the early Seventies, it's a beautiful area run by people that are passionate about the facilities. I don't see why they need to take over this facility to promote hunting, fishing and trapping by state employees at a higher cost.

uspotme
uspotme

Currently run by people who have a passion for this to be replaced by rank and file worker's who's main goal will be to get out of there by five and to the nearest watering hole by ten after. God I hate Walker and his ilk. They are no good rotten to the core scum bag scoundrels. You can quote me on that.

truthzeeker

We would like to create private jobs....Walker has stated. So let'g get rid of the WWF privately run MacKenzie center and fill it with government jobs. Good job again Walker! Walker does now understand the definition of conservative. Somewhere in his mind greedy has replaced that word. Like all the other far right nuts who use conservative to advance their greedy agendas.

The Truth Fairy

So instead of an educational center run on privately-raised funds, this will become a taxpayer-funded huntin' anda shootin' holler anda fishin' hole? Will they also be selling chewin' tabaccy and moonshine? Maybe they'll have one of dem der fancy resteerants where you can take your bestest cousin a courtin'. You know, the ones with the fancy kool-aids and fried squirrel dishes.

Walker and his allies are turning Wisconsin into Alabama or Arkansas or Mississippi and the backwoods, inbred hillbillies north of Madison that voted him in love him for it. Not the "special" romanticy way that they love their sister or their cousin, but more like the way they love the white race, cars on blocks in the front yard, double wides, walmart, anybody who knows book-learnin' is for fools, and jesus.

hankdog

fairy:

Boy, are you a piece of work. Comments like yours will sure bring the undecided over to the side of intelligence and reason, and vote walker out.

Your description of the state north of Madison could also be describing Waukesha County and the Milwaukee suburbs as well. But you failed to mention that.

In the spirit of full disclosure I will admit to the following: I live in far NE Wis. as do all my family. I have all my teeth. I have never voted for walker. I have never dated any of my cousins. I do like to fish and hunt. I prefer craft beer to moonshine. I hope JD does a good job. And I think you are an idiot.

Roy Ellefson

right on hankdog...blaming Northern Wisconsin for Scott Walker is ridiculous especially when his power base is suburban Milwaukee and parts of the Fox River Valley---hardly backwoods.

Observer5

Replace non profit employees with state employees? What happened to Scooooter"s mantra of smaller state government?

bluffsinview

It doesn't fit with his dictatorial mentality.

Galileo

Suder didn't have time to write the request for one of his buddies--or George Meyer didn't donate enough to Scooter.

Stuck In The Middle With You

The realistic outcome is a no bid contract to an Alec or Koch brothers approved organization, some highly paid jobs for either top donors or their kids with no related experience. Promoting redneck hunting shoot anything that moves mentality as being good and Indian treaty rights as being bad. Wetland preservation, shoreline protection, mining regulation, water and air quality standards as being to restrictive for Walker's were Open for Business mantra for developers and polluters. Walker's world.

MelissaPrettyonTop
MelissaPrettyonTop

Exactly.

bluffsinview

You got it.

idunoe

Thiede says this was a way to save money. Now it is going to cost a bunch more. So now they will change the rules of the contract that they let out. How about allowing people to rebid the contract? This just sounds like a move to get back at a group.

MelissaPrettyonTop
MelissaPrettyonTop

Can it get worse? Yes.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation is another trapping and hunting lobby group that take some rather extreme right wing postions. However, the center does an great job actually educating people about wildlife. What's wrong? Their proposal wasn't barbaric or bloody enough for this DNR? I do feel sorry for George Meyer, except that he's getting a little taste of his own medicine, aligning himself with the GOP, extreme trophy hunters and the bear hunters on many other issues But make no mistake about it, his opposition to the mine is the reason. No doubt about it, and that's totally pay to play politics. But I also didn't hear Mr. Meyer speak up for the wolf hunt which also came about the same way. Can he understand that these same powers that be, ignored reason and science behind that as well?

. I certainly feel bad for Ruth and her great staff. They work in advocating for conservation education, which requires support from both ethical fair chase hunters and non-consumptive users. Its an wildlife education center, to learn about wildlife and should not be about learning how to EXPLOIT wildlife or how to shoot a gun. The first step in being a good hunter or fisherman is learning to appreciate and understand wildlife and the issues surrounding them. But who am I kidding? The GOP doesn't even believe in Science, unless it's math, that you need for counting stacks of money..

They have many resident animals including wolves. Maybe we can have the education exhibit of the foxes, racoons and otters languishing away in traps so they can show us how this really is. Here kids, come watch us bludgeon this raccoon to death only for it's pelt to sell in China!!!! Or here check out our captive penning (legal in Wisconsin) bring your own dog and watch him fight this bear! Cool!

What will it say outside the wolf exhibit now? Will the exhibit just show how to teach your dogs to fight wolves, like we plan to do this upcoming season? "Here is the vermin wolf. They take way all our deer and eat our hounds dogs, we care so little for. We like to shoot and trap them for no real scientific reason. Quit being a tree-hugger. They look great on coats" -enclosure sponsored by GTAC, The Bob Welch Group and the Koch Brothers. *pictured above Scott Suder laying in a bed of cash on top of wolf pelt.*

The best thing they can do is hand this on over to United Sportsmen Alliance so when you register at your polling place, they'll know what ballots to destroy. And if you don't sing our registry, well Castle Doctrine we spent all our money lobbying for! You're on our turf. Bring your 8 year old kid over here, you should see what this AK47 does to blow up a coyote mother. Those pups she has, who cares, more vermin. "The only thing to learn about the environment is how to rape it here at Mackenzie!"

This DNR agency is at the epicenter of corruption and there is NO WAY you can work there at this point, and not know this. How can these administrators sleep at night? I'm truly disgusted. We are in REAL trouble. These people want to destroy the environment so that there is absolutely nothing left to enjoy or protect.

bluffsinview

Truer words were never spoken.

bluffsinview

Yet another example of Walker's and his minions' vindictiveness. He is a small and petty man with evil intents. If the WSJ can't see that, then they are not paying attention. When will the media stop soft-peddling all the corruption and say it like it is. This state is being ruined more and more every day because of this administration. How Walker got two votes is beyond me.

newprogressive

Couldn't have said it better myself!! Well done!

Slithy Tove
Slithy Tove

Will likely get run by the GOP lobbyist group "United Sportsmen" Just another way to punish perceived enemies and reward cronies.

thedude25
thedude25

God I loath these people - Walker, Stepp, Fitzgeralds....

They taught about adaption to climate change & respect for non-human life as well as hunting, etc.

Sounds like balance to me. Can't have that. Less information, more bullets.

Great.

irisK

Punish Walker's "enemies", and ruin everything they love.

Crow Barr
Crow Barr

There will be a gun range with a berm, the overnight camping will be on the backside of the berm! Cathy Stepp logic!

witness2012

Looks like the DNR is going to punish a legitimate wildlife organization and its director, George Meyer, for speaking out against many of the initiatives rubberstamped by the DNR this last year- the mine being the preeminent issue.

The WWF did a wonderful job running the Mackenzie Environmental Center and this decision is a real shame. Too bad they didn't put one of the former chiefs of staff of one of the Republican legislators in a position of power. Then, they could have made sure that, qualified or not, they received a significant amount of taxpayer money without any follow-up.

What a vindictive administration.

Greggar

Who's Vision? Why is the Vision not stated in clear words? And how/where was the Vision created? Or is this Job Creation?

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