The Wisconsin Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to remove the GOP-appointed head of the Department of Natural Resources after the chair refused to relinquish the position to Evers’ appointee for months.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, announced Tuesday that the Wisconsin DOJ filed a complaint in Dane County Circuit Court to prevent Frederick Prehn, a then-Gov. Scott Walker appointee whose term expired in May, from continuing to unlawfully serve on the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board.
“Dr. Prehn’s term is over. His attempt to remain on the Natural Resources Board indefinitely, in defiance of the will of the voters, is fundamentally undemocratic,” Kaul said in a statement. “We’re asking for a clear ruling that Dr. Prehn is no longer a member of the Natural Resources Board.”
Prehn, a Wausau dentist, was appointed to the DNR board by Walker in 2015 and has served as chair since 2019.
When his six-year term expired May 1, Evers tapped Ashland High School agriculture teacher Sandra Naas to replace him on April 30. He also appointed Sharon Adams to replace Julie Anderson, another Walker appointee whose term ended on May 1. The moves would give Evers appointees a 4-3 majority on the board.
But Prehn has refused to vacate his position, subverting traditional customs for appointees by citing a state law that allows him to continue to serve until the state Senate confirms Naas as his replacement. The Republican-controlled Senate has not yet done so.
As long as Prehn remains in the position, Walker appointees retain a majority on the board, which has the power to approve, tweak or kill DNR initiatives and regulations on everything from deer hunt quotas to manure restrictions.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to Kaul requesting legal action to remove Prehn, arguing state statute prohibits him from continuing to occupy the seat because members must “serve for terms prescribed by law.”
“Dr. Prehn’s continued presence on the NRB undermines the integrity of the succession process and harms the interests of individuals and organizations concerned with the sound, responsible, and accountable management of natural resources held in the public trust,” the Humane Society said.
Other environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club of Wisconsin and Wisconsin’s Green Fire, have come out in support of the lawsuit to remove Prehn. Both organizations called on Prehn to step down immediately and let Naas take his place.
Senate Republicans have yet to schedule a confirmation hearing for Naas or Adams.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.