Wisconsin attorney general files lawsuit to remove expired chair from Natural Resources board

DNR board member Fred Prehn says lawsuit to oust him is political
Dr. Fred Prehn presides over NRB meeting in June

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit in Dane County to remove Fred Prehn from the Natural Resources board, the committee that sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources.

It’s been more than three months since Prehn’s six-year term expired on May 1 and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Ashland High School agriculture teacher Sandra Naas to replace him. But the Senate hasn’t taken up her confirmation, and Prehn is taking advantage of a little-used state law to dig in his heels. The law requires the senate to approve new appointees to the board; a confirmation hearing has not been set.

“NO change on my part,” Prehn told News 3 Now last week in response to an inquiry of whether anything had changed in his refusal to step down. “Still waiting on confirmation hearing.”

“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,” said Attorney General Kaul in a statement. “We’re asking for a clear ruling that Dr. Prehn is no longer a member of the Natural Resources Board.”

In a June interview, Prehn told News 3 Now he had gotten hundreds of “threatening emails” about his decision, including death threats.

In the complaint filed with the Dane County Circuit Court, Kaul said Prehn can be removed by the governor, and that by “continuing to claim to be a Board member…Prehn has usurped, intruded into, or unlawfully held or exercised a public office.”

The court records note that state officers serving a limited term and appointed by governors can be removed at any time for cause, under state law. Additionally, state law does not allow for a “holdover period”, according to the complaint, which seeks an expedited hearing to remove Prehn “as soon as possible”.

Last week, Prehn presided over an NRB meeting that more than doubled this fall’s wolf hunt quota from what the DNR had recommended, on a vote of 5-2. The DNR had recommended a quota of 130 wolves; the board set a quota of 300.

In a statement after the meeting, board member Sharon Adams said her vote had been a mistake, and that she had misunderstood what was being voted on. The implications of a mistaken vote mean Prehn’s vote as chair could have otherwise been the tie-breaking vote on a controversial board decision.

Prehn was not immediately available for comment.

This coverage will be updated.