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DNR policy board meeting canceled amid leadership fight

September 9, 2021 GMT
In this Dec. 10, 2019, photo is Fred Prehn of Wausau, Wis., who is facing increasing calls to vacate his seat on the Natural Resources Board. His term expired May 1, 2021, but a rarely-used rule allows him to stay on until the Senate confirms his replacement. Department of Natural Resources officials have taken the unprecedented step of refusing to participate in its policy board meeting this month amidst a fight over whether the panel's chairman must step down. (Paul A. Smith/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
In this Dec. 10, 2019, photo is Fred Prehn of Wausau, Wis., who is facing increasing calls to vacate his seat on the Natural Resources Board. His term expired May 1, 2021, but a rarely-used rule allows him to stay on until the Senate confirms his replacement. Department of Natural Resources officials have taken the unprecedented step of refusing to participate in its policy board meeting this month amidst a fight over whether the panel's chairman must step down. (Paul A. Smith/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
In this Dec. 10, 2019, photo is Fred Prehn of Wausau, Wis., who is facing increasing calls to vacate his seat on the Natural Resources Board. His term expired May 1, 2021, but a rarely-used rule allows him to stay on until the Senate confirms his replacement. Department of Natural Resources officials have taken the unprecedented step of refusing to participate in its policy board meeting this month amidst a fight over whether the panel's chairman must step down. (Paul A. Smith/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources policy board’s chairman on Thursday canceled a September meeting after a top department official told him no one from the agency would participate amid a partisan fight over whether he should leave his post.

Fred Prehn, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has refused to step down even though his term expired in May. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, a move that would give Evers appointees majority control of the board.

Prehn maintains he doesn’t have to leave until the state Senate confirms Naas. Republicans who control that chamber have made no moves toward a confirmation vote. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to remove Prehn from the board.

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Prehn said in a statement Thursday that DNR Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs told him the agency would not propose any agenda items for the board’s Sept. 22 meeting in Superior. No DNR officials will attend the meeting and Prehn should cancel it, Ambs wrote. Prehn said in his statement that he had no choice but to cancel the meeting, calling the department’s stance unprecedented.

“This is an unfortunate decision by the department, as September meetings have historically had a robust agenda in the heart of the hunting seasons,” Prehn said. “I am deeply concerned that the department has made this political decision contrary to state statutes, which say that the department is under the direction and supervision of the (board).”

The state’s bear season opens Wednesday, the geese season opens Sept. 16 across much of the state and the deer bow hunting season opens Sept. 18.

DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye told The Associated Press in an email that the recommendation to cancel was made only because there were no items to consider.

She said no DNR board meeting has been canceled since January 2000. “Some meetings may have been rescheduled due to weather, building issues, COVID-19, etc., or held via conference call, but no meetings were canceled in full,” she said.

DNR Secretary Preston Cole lashed out at Prehn during the board’s August meeting, accusing him of squatting on the board so he can cast the deciding vote on key environmental and wildlife issues.

A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups has filed a lawsuit seeking to block Wisconsin’s fall wolf hunt. They argue in part that the board vote setting kill quotas at the August meeting was illegitimate because Prehn presided over the meeting and cast a vote.

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This story has been corrected to show the chairman canceled the meeting, not the DNR.

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