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Natural Resources magazine

Gov. Scott Walker wants to eliminate the Department of Natural Resources' Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, which has 88,000 subscribers that support its operations.

Three Wisconsin-based magazines that cover outdoor recreation said Monday they don’t feel undercut by competition from the state’s natural resources magazine, and they said they didn’t ask Gov. Scott Walker to eliminate it.

Walker’s budget proposal calls for shutting down the nearly 100-year-old Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine to eliminate duplication of privately owned publications, and not as part of an anti-science agenda, spokesman Tom Evenson said last week.

The governor’s office hasn’t specified which publications are being duplicated or who, if anyone, has asked the governor to shutter the state Department of Natural Resources’ 88,000-subscriber magazine, which operates without tax revenue.

Operators of the three magazines contacted by the Wisconsin State Journal said their publications were very different in scope from the DNR magazine, which features articles spanning conservation issues, hunting and fishing, and state recreational offerings.

“I get the magazine and I enjoy it,” said Dick Ellis, owner and publisher of On Wisconsin Outdoors, which focuses on hunting and fishing. “I don’t think they are competition for us.”

Silent Sports editor Kelly O’Day said his magazine delves much more deeply into recreational activities such as cross-country skiing and paddling. “I don’t feel they are cutting into our circulation base,” O’Day said.

Meanwhile, Our Wisconsin has a much broader focus that sometimes touches on outdoors activities but also includes many other interests of Wisconsin residents, such as quilting and cooking, editor Mike Beno said.

“We might have a little bit of hunting and fishing in the season,” Beno said. “But they have professional scientists writing the stories there. Ours is more armchair reading and entertainment.”

Our Wisconsin was launched several years ago by Beno and veteran publisher Roy Reiman, who sold his interest to Beno but still does promotional work for the magazine. Beno said he didn’t know if Reiman, who couldn’t be reached, objected to the DNR publication. Reiman and his wife, Roberta, have donated $87,750 to Walker’s campaigns since 2010, according to figures compiled by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Asked for a comment after the privately owned magazines said they had no objection to the DNR publication, Evenson said Wisconsin Natural Resources is no longer part of the department’s core mission.

“The DNR can effectively educate and inform the public on important issues without publishing a magazine,” Evenson said in an emailed statement.

The DNR recently announced a reorganization aimed at setting priorities after years of budget cuts reduced its staff.

Magazine has been

in jeopardy before

Nearly 20 years ago, the state Legislature considered shutting down the DNR publication at the urging of the private owners of Wisconsin Trails magazine, but lawmakers backed off, said Larry Sperling, who retired as editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources in 2011.

Sperling said he discussed with legislators the differences between the DNR magazine’s broad coverage and Wisconsin Trails’ focus on Wisconsin’s many tourist destinations.

Another effort to kill the DNR magazine failed to gather support during budget discussions two years ago.

Sperling and his successor, Natasha Kassulke, who resigned as editor last summer, said that after Walker took office in 2011 top managers at DNR began insisting on reviewing all magazine articles before they were published. Kassulke said higher-ups spiked one article about the effects of climate change and another about an endangered species with habitat around a proposed mine site.

Department spokesman Jim Dick has denied articles have been suppressed for political reasons. Dick said ending the magazine would allow DNR employees who wrote articles to focus on other work.

But Sperling and others maintained that employees wrote relatively few magazine articles. Most are submitted to the magazine free of charge by freelance writers and nonprofit conservation groups.

Educating the public is an important part of the DNR’s mission because it involves citizens in volunteer conservation efforts and allows citizens to understand the choices the department faces as it regulates pollution and manages wildlife, Sperling said.

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Steven Verburg is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal covering state politics with a focus on science and the environment as well as military and veterans issues.