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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : news : news August 19, 2017

1/6/2017 7:29:00 AM
After Times' questions, DNR web page catches up to policy
Climate-change flap illustrates tension inside natural resources agency

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

News analysis

After questioning from The Lakeland Times, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has changed its climate-change web page to reflect a policy of neutrality on its causes and effects, rather than embracing the dramatic manmade hypothesis the web page has touted since the Doyle administration.

Until mid-December, the agency's climate-change page stated flatly that "(e)arth's climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat-trapping ('green house') gases are the main cause."

That page had been updated in October 2016.

The problem was, DNR officials have been publicly stating for at least three years that the causes of climate change are debatable. That prompted The Times to ask again, in a Dec. 19, 2016, interview with DNR secretary Cathy Stepp and deputy secretary Kurt Thiede, why the climate change page was never changed.

Stepp had just finished saying it was not the agency's role to advocate for policy but to implement directions from the Legislature.

"At the end of the day, the policy direction is ultimately in the purview of the elected officials," Stepp said. "Our jobs as the elected work force is to carry out the will of the elected officials. ... The policy direction is ultimately in their hands. ... I'm very careful about weighing in. It doesn't matter what my personal opinion is. I'm not a policy person like I was in the old days. My job now is to implement."

So who was implementing the climate-change policy, Stepp was asked, since it acknowledged no debate on the cause of climate change, flatly embraced man-made climate change, and linked to some of the more radical climate-change groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Stepp said she did not know what we were referring to but said what we were telling her was concerning and she would check out the climate-change page to make sure she was getting the right information.

"If there is something on our website that I'm not familiar was on our website, I thank you for bringing that to my attention," Stepp said.

Two days later, the page was changed.

Most significantly, the DNR deleted the following language: "Earth's climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat-trapping ('greenhouse') gases are the main cause."

The language was replaced with the following text: "As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth's long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The effects of such a change are also being debated but whatever the causes and effects, the DNR's responsibility is to manage our state's natural resources through whatever event presents itself; flood, drought, tornadoes, ice/snow or severe heat. The DNR staff stands ready to adapt our management strategies in an effort to protect our lakes, waterways, plants, wildlife and people who depend on them."

With the changes, some media outlets used dramatic language to suggest a major shift in policy, rather than merely an update of the website to reflect policy already in place, the latter a fact DNR communications director Jim Dick pointed out to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Dick correctly told the newspaper that the update reflected the DNR's position that it had communicated for years, "that our agency regularly must respond to a variety of environmental and human stressors from drought, flooding, wind events to changing demographics. Our agency must be ready to respond to each of these challenges. Adaptation has been our position on this topic. As you know the causes and effects of any changes in climate are still being debated and research on the matter is being done in academic circles outside DNR."

That's exactly what then communications director Bill Cosh told The Lakeland Times in January 2014 - three years ago.

"It is not DNR's role to confirm nor deny climate change or its potential causes," Cosh said then. "However, it is the agency's responsibility to adjust management strategies and decisions in response to changing environmental conditions, no matter the source. Therefore, DNR has several adaptation strategies in place to help guide management practices when there is evidence of changing environmental conditions."

Who is running the show

The incident, as well as the broader topic of climate change, reflects an ongoing tension - or tug-of-war, if you will - between unelected bureaucrats, many of whom have spent years working inside the agency, and top management officials put in place by an elected governor, Scott Walker.

As reported, top DNR officials appointed by Walker have maintained neutrality on the climate-change debate for years, but in 2013 The Times launched an inquiry into whether the agency's on-the-ground and day-to-day programs and policies actually adhered to that neutrality.

The investigation showed that, in many programmatic arenas, it did not. Instead, the investigation found, DNR staff in multiple areas were pursuing an aggressive implementation of UN-driven man-made climate-change positions, using them to calibrate decision-making on matters ranging from master planning to land use to land purchases to rare species management, dam removal, and rule-making.

During its investigation, The Times posed a series of questions to the DNR about what the newspaper found.

Among the questions asked in November 2013: Why was the agency actively pursuing policy goals in 2013 based on outdated and inaccurate 2007 UN climate-change assessments? Why was the DNR continuing to promote in classrooms, on its website and in public presentations, the U.N. 2007 climate-change assessment, without equally offering alternative points of view? Why did the agency tell this newspaper in 2011 it had stopped issuing a teachers' guide based on the 2007 U.N. assessments, when it continued to do so? Was there any concern about the use of taxpayer facilities and dollars for an unproven and increasingly disputed political agenda, which the DNR continued to do?

The DNR refused to answer a single question, defaulting to Cosh's generic answer that the agency did not confirm nor deny climate change or its potential causes.

Still, the fingerprints of those who believed in anthropogenic climate change were all over DNR policies and programs. For example, the newspaper found, the DNR was still partnering with the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, WICCI, the Wisconsin link to the United Nations global-warming agenda. WICCI was formed in 2007 by the DNR and the University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Among other things, WICCI projected that, by the middle of the century, statewide annual average temperatures were likely to warm by 6-7°F. The problem was, WICCI climate projections used 'likely' scenarios developed by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which have been largely discredited, even by the IPCC.

Indeed, in 2013, in its Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC adjusted its likely scenarios downward, though there are still criticisms that even those are too high. Specifically, the 2013 assessment slashed its 30-year temperature projections, largely because the 2007 report did not consider the now accepted "hiatus" in global warming since 1998.

"However, the implied rates of warming over the period from 1986-2005 to 2016-2035 are lower as a result of the hiatus: 0.10°C to 0.23°C per decade, suggesting the AR4 (2007 IPCC) was near the upper end of current expectations for this specific time interval," the Fifth assessment states, quietly correcting the 2007 assessment.

Indeed, the IPCC is now preparing a special report for its 2018 Sixth Assessment, which will focus on the effects of a likely 1.5 degree Centigrade rise in surface temperature if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations double. The lowest projection from the 2007 assessment was a rise of 2 degrees Centigrade.

DNR played along

Though WICCI proclaimed in a 2011 benchmark report that it used the 2007 modeling to come up with Wisconsin projections, it made no adjustments to its data based on the Fifth Assessment and continued to promote the original report on its website. All the while, the DNR logo was prominently displayed at the bottom of the WICCI website's home page, as was that of the Nelson Institute.

In addition, despite denials, the DNR continued to promote on its website a teacher's guide to climate change, which the agency distributed to educators as a printed booklet upon request. It could also be downloaded.

The guide, which was aimed at students in the seventh through 12th grades, also began by regurgitating a quote from the 2007 IPCC report:

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level," the guide quotes the IPCC, ignoring the lack of any significant rising temperatures over the past 15 years.

Then, too, as late as August 2011, the DNR was pitching WICCI climate projections at a presentation at the UW-Stevens Point, and the DNR's Tim Asplund was doing the same thing in March of that year at a meeting of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Planning Association.

In October, 2012, Asplund conducted a presentation for new DNR employees that started with the same 2007 IPCC quote: "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level."

All of which brings us back to the DNR website and specifically to its climate change page updated on June 18, 2012, and at that time the agency was still embracing the U.N.'s 2007 policy agenda and projections and still proclaiming its partnership as a current effort, albeit with fewer pages.

"WICCI formed in 2007 and is a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies," the website proclaimed. "The goal of WICCI is to assess and anticipate climate change impacts on Wisconsin's natural resources, ecosystems, regions and industries (including agriculture, tourism and other human activities) and develop and recommend adaptation strategies that can be implemented by businesses, farmers, public health officials, municipalities, wildlife managers and other stakeholders."

Now what?

In the wake of the December 2016 changes to its website, the same question now applies: The DNR officially touts neutrality in the scientific debate over climate change, and it has now followed suit on its website, some three years later.

But how about the rest of the agency's policies and programs, which have real-life economic consequences?

There are increasing signs that, when she discovers advocacy inside the organization, Stepp is indeed removing the biases and steering the course away from bureaucratic activism, and it appears to be more significant than mere cosmetic changes on the website.

The climate change guide for teachers, for example, has been removed from the agency's teacher pages on its website, and Stepp says the agency's partnership with WICCI has come to an end.

The agency was heavily involved in the 2011 assessment by WICCI that still serves as the group's benchmark, but Stepp says those days are long gone.

"That was a study that was done through a lot of different partners and the former DNR under the past administration was very involved in that," she said. "We are not involved in that anymore."

Indeed though WICCI still lists the DNR as a partner on its website, the agency is not listed as a stand-alone partner in its August 2016 assessment, Climate Wisconsin 2050, which continues to circulate highly controversial temperature models for Wisconsin.

Future articles will continue to explore the use of evidence-based data (in other words, actual real-world data and trends versus computer models) in a variety of DNR programs.

Richard Moore is the author of The New Bossism of the American Left and can be reached at www.rmmoore1.com.

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, March 4, 2017
Article comment by: Tom Givnish

Mr. Moore labels himself an "investigative reporter". Mainly, however, it appears that he is in the business of patting himself on the back for medieval witch hunts while leading the good people of Vilas County astray with false information.

Climate scientists, ecologists, and oceanographers around the world agree – with a degree of unanimity seen only rarely in science – that global warming is happening, and that human activity is the main cause. Anything that Mr. Moore represents otherwise is simply a lie or the self-delusion of an ideologue. I know – I'm professional ecologist and read the scientific analyses and reports in this field on a regular basis, understand their methods and approaches, and have critically examined their conclusions.

Mr. Moore mentions the "now accepted 'hiatus' in global warming since 1998". Folks, there is NO hiatus. That goes for average land surface temperature and average planetary temperature. Keep in mind that 90% of the added heat being trapped by the greenhouse effect is going into the ocean short term fluctuations in air temperatures about the rising mean – caused by things like El Niño, volcanoes, and the half-percent cyclical fluctuation in the Sun's radiation – are just that, short-term blips.

As a long-time citizen of Wisconsin, an ecologist, and an educator, I am greatly concerned that misinformation with a clearly desired political aim is being spread by a reporter at a newspaper. Newspapers are to report THE FACTS. Not the "altnerative facts" = lies. A functioning democracy depends on newspapers and other media outlets telling their readers and listeners the truth, so that we can make informed decisions. No matter what your political party, that is the American way. I therefore appeal to keep opinion and politcally driven commentary off the newspages. Put it on the editorial page if you must. But that still won't make Mr. Moore's narrative correct.

Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2017
Article comment by: Mark Doremus

So you guys at the reporter don't believe NASA, among others?


Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Article comment by: Glen Ecklund

As Jim Spice mentioned, the "hiatus" never happened.

Anyone can see the warming in an impressive graph, here:
It will be even more impressive in a week, when the 2016 temperature is added, which will be even higher than 2015.

Posted: Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Article comment by: Jeff Schimpff

This article reveals that the DNR is currently controlled by political hacks with low levels of intellectual integrity. The "debate" about the realities of climate change is a myth. That the DNR refuses to acknowledge this, or to do anything about it except "adapt" (maybe...) is a clear dereliction of duty and a major disservice to the people of Wisconsin.

In southern Wisconsin, we are again enduring the mid-winter, snow-destroying rains that climate change models predict will be more common.

While I know there are some good, clear-minded, public-spirited people in northern Wisconsin, I refuse to spend a penny in any area where a majority of voters habitually elect state and federal representatives and a governor, and support a newspaper, who ALL deny the realities of climate change.

I did just make a very enjoyable trip to cross-country ski - but I "escaped from Wisconsin" and went to the U.P., where a majority of people seem less hostile to people who put faith in science-based reality. What has happened in Wisconsin with this Republican government spewing ignorance and arrogance is ugly and unacceptable.

Jeff Schimpff

Posted: Sunday, January 8, 2017
Article comment by: Lisa MaKarrall

This DNR decision was all over national news and was described as backward and ignorant. Good to see Comrade Moore is once again conducting the Backwards Wisconsin train.

Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2017
Article comment by: Tom Paine

Global Warming Neanderthal's -- You beg for science and rational inquiry. OK, time for self-edification

consider the views of Matt Ridley


Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017
Article comment by: Andy Olsen

You have force a a political process, not a scientific process. This is immoral and reckless behavior by the DNR on behalf of an ideological newspaper.

With the overwhelming consensus from the scientific community that global warming is occurring now and caused by human activities it is dangerous and reckless to ignore this gathering storm.

Propagandists like Mr Moore and politicians like Stepp and Walker operate on belief and cannot be persuaded by science, logic or facts. But the evidence that climate change is upon us is abundant.

We have a huge chunk of new evidence about to break off of Antarctica and float away.

"An enormous rift in one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves grew dramatically over the past month, and a chunk nearly the size of Delaware could break away as soon as later this winter, British scientists reported this week."


Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017
Article comment by: Jim Spice

"... did not consider the now accepted "hiatus" in global warming since 1998."

And for good reason. There was no such thing. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38513740

Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017
Article comment by: Bill Dunn

Mr. Moore is also the author of "How the DNR Stole Wisconsin" and "The New Bossism of the American Left" (Highland House). Just sayin'.

Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017
Article comment by: Cheryl Nenn

So the article above states that DNR ignored the "lack of any significant rising temperatures over the past 15 years"? Where do you get your data to justify that statement? The first 6 months of 2016 were the hottest on record since 1880. Also, 5 of the first 6 months of 2016 set records for lowest extent of sea ice. What year was the second warmest? 2015. But maybe you don't believe NASA because they are "bureacrats"? https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/climate-trends-continue-to-break-records

Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017
Article comment by: Perry Govier

The deliberate disinformation in this article is alarming. 98% of the earth's scientists are saying man made global warming is real, and already happening exactly as their models predicted. The remaining 2% are holding out for more evidence on the cause or are on the payroll of oil companies. It's no different than cigarette companies in the 80's and 90's, except we're talking about the viability of our planet, not lung cancer.

Mr Moore's analysis suggests that he is aligned with that 1-2% of corrupt disseminators of disinformation. Rather than conducting thoughtful, fact based journalism, he's shown himself to be a pundit, and a disingenuous one at that.

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