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Judge won't let lawmakers, hunters join DNR board lawsuit


Paul A. Smith

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.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge declined to let Republican legislators and a hunting group join a lawsuit seeking to remove the state Department of Natural Resources policy board’s leader from his post.

Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn denied motions to intervene from the legislators and Kansas-based Hunter Nation on Tuesday, online court records show. The legislators have filed a motion asking the judge to stay her decision pending an appeal.

The case centers around Fred Prehn, a Wausau dentist who serves as the DNR board’s chairman.

Prehn’s term ended in May. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, which would give Evers’ appointees majority control of the board. Prehn, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has refused to step down until the Senate confirms Naas. Republicans control the Senate and have made no moves toward a confirmation vote, ensuring that Walker appointees retain control of the board.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit in August seeking a court order forcing Prehn off the board, arguing that Prehn serves at the governor’s pleasure.

The legislators argued that they should be allowed to join the case because the lawsuit could end the Senate’s role in confirming appointees. Hunter Nation said it should be allowed to join the lawsuit because the DNR board regulates its Wisconsin members, which it argues gives it an interest in ensuring that the board is legally constituted.

Kaul countered that the Legislature can intervene only if someone is challenging state law and that in this case, he’s seeking an interpretation. As for Hunter Nation, he argued that the case’s resolution won’t affect the group.