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Environmental Issues At Forefront Of 12th State Senate District Race

Candidates Spar Over DNR Funding And Staffing, Local Control


Environmental issues have taken center stage in northern Wisconsin’s 12th state Senate District race.

Incumbent Republican Tom Tiffany and his Democratic Party challenger Bryan Van Stippen are squaring off on last year’s staffing cuts to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the issue of local control over lakefront property.

At a debate hosted by WXPR, an independent public radio station in Rhinelander, Van Stippen slammed Tiffany over last year’s firing of 17 research scientists at the DNR.

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“Sen. Tiffany originally ran on decimating the DNR. Recently, in one of (his) advertisements, he stated, ‘I’ve taken on the DNR and won,’” Van Stippen said. “…I don’t believe that the decimation of our DNR and the removal of our scientists from the DNR have been beneficial for the northwoods.”

Tiffany defended the cuts, saying the researchers weren’t focused on the DNR’s core mission.

“They messed up the deer herd in northern Wisconsin, and all you have to do is talk to the hunters about that,” the Republican senator said, “So some of those things were as a result of their work. It was time to get them within the discipline of the rest of the agency.”

Tiffany has been criticized for his legislation that took control of shorelines from counties so that they couldn’t enact stricter rules than the standards set by the state. Tiffany argued lakefront homeowners were being hurt by local governments.

“Both the department of natural resources and some county zoning departments were denying the people to be able to maintain and repair their home,” Tiffany said. “I just reject that. …I believe we should be able to protect people’s private property rights.”

But Van Stippen said the loss of local control is leading to unwanted development on northern lakes.

“I was speaking to an individual that lived on a 33-acre lake,” Van Stippen said. “There was going to be 14 more homes that were going to be provided on that lake because of development opportunities. And that’s one of the things that individuals in the northwoods strongly disagree with.”

Van Stippen said he found it interesting as a Democrat he was campaigning on more control for local governments, which used to be a Republican issue. But Tiffany said some local governments had been infringing on individual rights.

The 12th District covers Langlade, Oneida, Lincoln, Florence and Forest counties, and parts of Vilas, Marinette, Menominee, Oconto, Shawano and Marathon counties.