Agency Primer: Department of Natural Resources

Agency Primer by IRG:

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources

Like many other state agencies, the Department of Natural Resources has a long history that dates back to a time when its functions were organized under multiple smaller agencies. In 1874, Wisconsin enacted its first conservation laws by creating the Board of Fish Commissioners. Over the following decades, Wisconsin would add more oversight over fish, game, and forestry. In 1907, Wisconsin created the State Park Board and gave it the authority to acquire and manage state land for recreational use. By 1915, the state moved to consolidate all of these functions into what would be called the Department of Conservation. Much like the Department of Conservation, the Department of Resource Management originated from the consolidation of several smaller agencies that had overseen air and water regulations.

In 1967, the executive branch was reorganized. As a result, the Department of Conservation was combined with the Department of Resource Management to form the Department of Natural Resources. The Department was directed by a board until 1995 Act 27 made the Secretary a gubernatorial appointment with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Today, the Department regulates air, land, water, forests, wildlife, fish, and plants. It is responsible for both federal and state regulations in these areas. In 2015, Governor Walker’s administration instituted a realignment of the divisions and services within DNR to address the needs and expectations of hunters, citizens, and business. By updating technology, cross-training staff, and merging divisions, the Department became more customer service focused and cut response times. DNR shifted many of its customer facing services to an app where residents can now buy any number of common licenses.

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