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Cathy Stepp file photo

State Department of Natural Resources head Cathy Stepp.

Cathy Stepp should be replaced as secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources because of the agency's poor environmental enforcement record under her leadership, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Falk said Monday.

Falk cited the recent steep drop in DNR enforcement actions reported Sunday in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Also, Falk called for the post of DNR secretary to be removed from the governor's Cabinet and instead become an independent appointment made by the Natural Resources Board.

"Governor Walker has turned our environmental watchdog into a lapdog," Falk said.

Stepp had no comment, according to DNR spokeswoman Laurel Steffes.

A State Journal analysis showed the number of violation notices reached a 12-year low last year. The number of violation notices issued by the DNR averaged 516 a year since 2000 compared to 233 last year.

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Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Kerry Schumann also reacted to the analysis Monday.

"DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said, 'Don't judge us by our words, judge us by our actions,'" Schumann said in a statement. "When the DNR's enforcement against illegal polluters drops from an average of 516 notices in a typical year to 233, your actions say you are allowing illegal polluters to get away with destroying our health and environment."

Officials with the DNR blamed job vacancies and an emphasis on a process of stepped enforcement, in which violators are brought back into compliance before a case reaches the prosecution stage. Stepp told the State Journal that such an approach not only leads to greater environmental protection but also helps businesses create jobs.

Falk said she disagreed that tough enforcement against environmental violators hurts the economy.

"They believe that we have to choose between having a clean and protected environment or growing the economy and creating jobs, but they're wrong," Falk said. "This outdated view is a danger to Wisconsin's future."

In addition to calling for an independent DNR secretary, Falk also asked for restoration of the public intervenor's office, an environmental watchdog post within state government that was eliminated.

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