Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said Thursday that federal officials overstepped their bounds in closing some jointly managed natural areas.
“After close review and legal consult, DNR has clarified areas where the federal procedures are over-reaching by ordering the closure of properties where the state has management authority through existing agreements,” Stepp said in an email to department employees.
Republican efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act have led to an impasse in Congress that forced a federal government shutdown Tuesday.
The DNR is keeping public access open at certain places — such as the state portion of Horicon Marsh — where there are overlapping federal and state land interests, Stepp said.
“Many customers have had difficulty finding answers to their questions due to the furloughed federal employees, and have alternatively contacted state agencies for assistance,” Stepp said.
“The DNR has had a similar challenge in obtaining concrete information regarding the federal shutdown but assembled a team to help provide answers to inquiries that focus on state managed lands and the enforcement of state regulations.”
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Stepp said state facilities remain open, as do state access points to the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, while certain federally controlled lands, access points and islands in the river are closed.
The secretary said she respected the magnitude of the task the federal government has had to undertake in closing its properties.
The DNR on Wednesday issued a press release saying “the federal government shutdown has closed federal properties in Wisconsin, such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the Chequamegon and Nicolet National Forests and some national wildlife refuges.”
Stepp’s email on Thursday said that hunting access will be allowed in the Chequamegon-Nicolet forests, although forest service campgrounds are closed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website states that “National Wildlife Refuges will be closed to public access.” Stepp said the public could use state, local or private access points to reach resources such as the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
The public affairs office of the U.S. Department of Interior, which includes the fish and wildlife service, could not be reached for comment.
The federal agency closed the national refuge portion of Horicon Marsh, but the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area and Horicon Marsh Visitors Center are open and scheduled events haven’t been canceled, DNR officials said. However, scheduled work days on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail were canceled — the program is a state, federal and nonprofit partnership. The DNR website —