Wisconsin DNR: Climate change cause debatable

The Great Lakes in 2013
The Great Lakes on June 14, 2013.
Courtesy Karen L. Nyberg

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has quietly removed language from its website that said humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the website now states the cause of climate change is debatable. Gone are sentences attributing global warming to human activities and rising carbon dioxide levels. Also gone is language saying that scientists agree the Great Lakes region will see longer summers and shorter winters, decreased ice cover and changes in rain and snow patterns if climate change continues.

The new language states: "As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth's long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources."

The blurb goes on to state that the DNR's responsibility is to manage Wisconsin's natural resources through whatever event presents itself and the staff is ready to adapt its strategies to protect lakes, waterways, plants and wildlife.

Most scientists agree burning fossil fuels has increased greenhouse gases and caused global warming. A 2014 United Nations report found that human influence on climate is clear. The report also found global warming is unequivocal and unprecedented.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker controls the DNR. He and his fellow Republicans have been critical of President Barack Obama's climate change initiatives. Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel joined other states in a 2015 federal lawsuit challenging limitations on power plant carbon emissions. The DNR has removed other online information about global warming since Walker took office, including a trove of information compiled by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's global warming task force and a teaching guide on climate change. The agency turned that guide over to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

DNR spokesperson James Dick told the Journal Sentinel that the climate change language revisions "reflects our position on this topic that we have communicated for years, that our agency regularly must respond to a variety of environmental and human stressors from drought, flooding, wind events to changing demographics."

Joel Bammeier, president of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, said he doesn't understand why the DNR made the climate change revisions.

"To me, it looks like they are trying to cover up a debate that really isn't happening."

Paul Robbins, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies said the revisions don't surprise him.

"When climate change gets so politicized" he said, "you can imagine agencies and its leaders haggling over wording."