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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

June 1996

Trying to keep the customer satisfied

How DNR is reorganizing to provide better, more logical service to its human and natural customers.

by the WNR editors

The pace of change is picking up. Wisconsin's conservation programs, well over a century old, evolved slowly reacting to decades of overfishing, heavy logging, uncontrolled hunting. State environmental programs started as public health programs to stem waterborne diseases. It has taken decades to develop an environmental ethic to now reclaim rivers and tame billowing smokestacks.

Environmental laws in the last 25 years cast out a regulatory net to control the largest sources of pollution. We set standards and worked with big business to change the way they do business. Though at times the regulatory programs were confrontational, we've been largely successful in protecting the public from pollution sources and restoring fisheries, forests and wildlife from historic sources of harm. Over time, both business and regulator learned that it is much more costly to clean up than to prevent air pollution, fouled water, hazardous spills and chemical dumping.

To further restore the environment, we no longer just point a finger at big business. We are re-examining our community decisions and our individual habits.

Where and how communities expand determines what else can live on the land. Where we place roads determines where we will build homes and how fragmented the landscape will become. Development shapes the habitat we leave for animals. Our activities can sustain or tear apart the fabric of nature's safety nets in soil, wetlands, landscapes and watersheds.

We are also beginning to appreciate the collective costs of seemingly benign individual decisions. The combined effects of fertilizing suburban lawns may be as polluting as some industrial discharges. The consequences of 20-minute commutes between communities are as serious as smokestack emissions. What we discard in household trash poses some of the same concerns as the byproducts of business.

Preserving our environmental gains will require new approaches. We know that individual action on private and public property can threaten the land in ways that are difficult to quantify: small amounts of pollution from one region can cause problems as it drifts downwind and flows downstream. Sophisticated technology gives us tools to detect low levels of toxic contaminants whose effects may not be apparent for decades.

As we examined what we needed to do to sustain Wisconsin's natural resources and environmental quality, DNR managers clearly saw that we needed better connections: better links between our management programs, better approaches to show people the consequences of their actions, new ideas to foster better lifestyle choices. We also knew these changes would have to come in an era of less government spending and more limited public resources.

To better mesh DNR programs, we took a fresh view of our work. Should we manage fish, game and forest species separately or should we organize to manage habitats? The challenge is, we need both. A second challenge in leaner times is to involve people more in our work while making business easier for our customers. To do more with fewer funds requires tremendous cooperation among government, private business and other public services. We'll maintain traditional regulations and enforcement, because they are still needed, but we will also seek more partnerships to prevent problems and encourage innovative solutions to protecting resources.

A new view of customer services

To offer customers better service and to give them ways to help themselves, DNR offices will be revamped and staff responsibilities will change a bit. The plan calls to open 35 service centers during the next two years. Most of these will be retrofits of existing offices. The aim is to locate offices within a 30-minute drive of most state residents and to remain open for business at hours that are more convenient. What we mean by "open evenings and weekends" will depend on how comfortable customers become with technology and what services customers truly need outside of normal business hours. Recreational licenses and permits might be easily managed through automated kiosks at convenient locations, just as automated tellers allow simple banking transactions.

The front desk at service centers will change too. We plan to equip stations with computers that give better statewide access to data now stored in files or in our headquarter offices. We aim to answer 80 percent of customers' questions right at the service desk. For those questions that cannot be answered quickly, the person providing customer service will guide you to the proper quarters and will stay with you until you get the information you need.

Offices will gear up to swiftly handle the transactions that currently bring you to our offices like buying fishing licenses, reserving campground sites, submitting hunting applications and registering recreational vehicles. Then we'll start taking on your home improvement projects that require an environmental permit – putting in a dock, riprapping a shore or developing near a wetland. We'll adapt to provide the right on-site expertise, so if you need to consult with an environmental engineer, a well specialist or a community forester, you will know when those specialists will be available at a service center near you.

Service centers will also be home to some of the technical staff our business customers need – a metals plater planning wastewater systems, a printer who anticipates air emissions, a body shop that wants to establish in a small town – could all find out how to meet environmental requirements at a service center.

We will further streamline services to communities and individuals whose environmental and natuarl resource projects qualify for financial assistance. Our partners in building sewage treatment plants, building recreational trails, reducing runoff, restoring dam and cleaning up tire piles will find that most grant and loan programs are consolidated in the new Bureau of Community Financial Assistance. Staff will suggest ways to package loans, apply for grants and suggest other incentives to stretch environmental protection funding.

Wisconsin's major businesses are important partners in maintaining environmental progress. As such, DNR environmental specialists will be trained to better understand the unique processes of each business type. These "sector specialists" will concentrate on papermaking, foundries, engine manufacture and other enterprises to find areas where wastes can be further reduced, to try new ideas, and to understand industrial processes well enough to coordinate applications for environmental permits. Environmental practices which prove to be cost savers for one business might be applicable elsewhere. The sector specialists will promote sharing such tricks of the trade that are not deemed trade secrets.

Pollution prevention/waste reduction tasks at DNR will be consolidated in a new Bureau of Cooperative Assistance. One of its tasks is monitoring environmental practices nationally and overseas that might help Wisconsin firms operate cleaner, more economical manufacturing lines.

Moreover, we are mindful that our recreational customers – anglers, hunters, campers, bicyclists and others – still expect quality resources and strong enforcement, when necessary.

Get yer programs here!

The new structure has fewer staff anf supervisory layers. Our headquarter operations are still designed to form policies and support field offices. As with any new team, it helps to have a scorecard to sort out the players. Here goes:

  • The Division of Lands combines most of the resource management programs except for fisheries – forestry, wildlife management, endangered resources, facilities and lands, parks and recreation. Field employees in forestry, wildlife management and parks will maintain field posts. Some field staff will relocate to the new service centers in nearby communities. Staff who formerly managed one property will become member of teams that will manage all DNR properties within a natural boundary like a watershed or a forest.


  • The Water Division consolidates programs that were formerly housed in environmental quality, enforcement and resource programs. A Bureau of Watershed Management will oversee runoff management, discharge permits, floodplain/shoreland management, Great Lakes issues, water quality standards and modeling. A Fisheries and Habitat Protection Bureau will combine the talents of fisheries managers with those who monitor water quality in lakes, wetlands and rivers. Programs to maintain the quality of drinking water and groundwater will be combined in one bureau.


  • An Air and Waste Division houses the air quality and waste management programs. The air program will organize to manage air emissions from four different kinds of sources – combustion processes, painting and coating, small business and general manufacturing. Duties in the waste management programs had expanded so significantly in recent years that it made sense to split the group into smaller work units. A Bureau of Waste Management will inspect and license solid and hazardous waste facilities, develop strategies for reducing wastes and continue recycling programs. A new Bureau of Remediation and Redevelopment will oversee cleaning up and returning contaminated lands to fruitful uses. Their work will include environmental incentives to recover polluted lands, removing contaminated sediments and oversee remedial work at old dump sites.


  • A Division of Enforcement and Science coordinates work of the warden force with recreational safety programs, environmental reviews, research and technical laboratory services.


  • A Division of Administration and Technology combines many of the department's internal support services (personnel, human resources, budgeting, mail, aeronautics, safety and finance) with DNR expertise in computer services, data storage and electronic mapping.


  • A Customer Assistance and External Relations Division combines the communications, financial assistance, waste reduction, licensing and customer service programs previously discussed.

DNR field offices will have new names and will realign boundaries to follow natural ecological features. The former six "districts" will be realigned into five "regions." The Northern Region, for instance, covers northern Wisconsin's forest and lake belt. The Fox-Wolf River basin will be located in the new Northeast Region. All counties will still have regional contacts, and the large Northern Region will maintain offices in Spooner and Rhinelander.

How long will it take to make all these changes? The first customer service centers are being tested now in northeastern Wisconsin. Another 15 or so centers will open by the end of the calendar year and remaining centers would open by the end of 1999.