The cost of publishing the final four editions of the state’s popular, subscriber-supported Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine -- and of then shutting it down -- is estimated at nearly $780,000, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau told lawmakers as they prepared to vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s plan.

The $778,600 price tag includes about $370,000 in refunds to subscribers and an unspecified amount of money to pay a consultant to help close the magazine, the fiscal bureau said.

There would be another $240,000 in publication costs that would have occurred anyway, and an additional unspecified amount for employee salaries related to preparing the final four issues and shutting down the magazine, according to the estimate.

In February the DNR estimated that it would cost about $300,000 to refund subscriptions.

The Legislature’s budget committee was scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to eliminate the bimonthly magazine — which doesn’t receive tax dollars — in the budget it sends to the Assembly and Senate.

After Walker released his proposal in February, the magazine gained more than 1,000 subscribers, and lawmakers from both parties said they had heard strong complaints from constituents about the plan.

The governor’s office said the state shouldn’t duplicate privately owned periodicals, but several magazine publishers told the Wisconsin State Journal they didn’t ask for the DNR publication to be cut, and they don’t see it as competition.

The magazine, which traces its origins back nearly 100 years, explains the science behind DNR conservation programs, including those that have been rolled back by budget cuts enacted by Walker and the Legislature.

Former magazine editors and others say the publication has been a crucial tool in recruiting volunteers for conservation efforts, and plans to eliminate it fit a pattern under Walker of undercutting climate science and environmental education.

The DNR and another state agency recently removed climate change information from their websites, while a third banned employees from discussing the topic in 2015, the same year the Legislature approved Walker budget cuts targeting DNR educators and scientists. The federally funded scientists were considered nonessential because they had examined ways the state could prepare for climate change and compiled studies on the pollution potential of mining.

Spokesmen for Walker and the DNR have denied that shuttering the magazine was part of an anti-science agenda.

In March, DNR secretary Cathy Stepp told the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee her agency can educate the public through online avenues such as social media. Stepp also said publication costs are higher than believed, and a private party could “absolutely” fill any void left by the magazine’s demise.

However, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo cited DNR survey data indicating online media might not reach as many readers with as much information. And the memo stated the DNR didn’t have data backing up Stepp’s statement to JFC that department personnel spend significant time writing articles.

Walker’s budget would leave $408,600 in the magazine budget for 2017-18 to cover staff and consultant costs of the shutdown and publication of four more editions, and nothing after that. The fiscal bureau noted that another roughly $370,000 would be reimbursed to about 85,000 subscribers.

The magazine would have a closing balance of about $184,000 after its last issue was printed early next year, the fiscal bureau said. The money would go to the DNR conservation fund.

The state budget allowed three permanent, full-time employees until 2015 when one was cut. But the DNR left those positions vacant. The magazine until recently operated with one temporary employee. Another was added in March.

The fiscal bureau memo lists three options for the Joint Finance Committee: accept Walker’s plan, continue the magazine with two full-time employees or with one full-timer and some temporary help.

Editor's note: This story and headline have been corrected to make clear that the $778,600 Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimate includes $240,000 and an unspecified amount in employee salaries to publish the final four editions of the DNR magazine. 

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Steven Verburg is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal covering state politics with a focus on science and the environment as well as military and veterans issues.