Gov. Tony Evers appoints southwestern Wisconsin farmer to Natural Resources Board

Buhr will fill the seat after board member Bill Bruins resigned last year

Wisconsin DNR
Melissa Ingells/WPR

Gov. Tony Evers says he’s appointing Viroqua farmer Paul Buhr to the board that sets policy for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Buhr has been nominated to fill the seat of Bill Bruins on the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board. Bruins agreed to resign immediately at the end of last year, according to a DNR email.

“Paul has deep roots as a Wisconsin dairy farmer and dedicated himself to ensuring our farmers and resources are getting the protection they need,” Evers said in a statement. “He is a strong advocate and champion for land and water conservation, and he understands that protecting our environment and family farms is a priority for Wisconsin’s future. I look forward to working with him and have no doubt he will bring a vast amount of knowledge to the DNR board.”

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Buhr owned and operated the dairy farm Rabur Holsteins for 45 years in southwestern Wisconsin. He’s been honored with the Wisconsin Master Agriculturalist Award and received the Dairy Farm of the Year Award in 1998. The farm has since transitioned to raising cash crops.

Buhr currently serves on several boards, including the Wisconsin Technical College System Board. Evers said he will resign from that position before assuming a role on the Natural Resources Board next Friday, Jan. 20.

Paul Buhr
Paul Buhr, a Viroqua farmer, has been appointed to the Natural Resources Board.
Photo courtesy of the DNR

“I am honored to represent the farmers of Wisconsin on the DNR Board,” Buhr said in a statement. “Preserving our natural resources while producing our food is a challenge and a goal of everyone in agriculture.”

Buhr’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the GOP-controlled state Senate. Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week that lawmakers will vote on Evers’ nominations. Even so, he told the paper some appointments to the DNR board were too political for lawmakers, warranting a closer look.

The Senate has yet to confirm around 180 people appointed by Evers. That includes fellow DNR board nominees Sharon Adams of Milwaukee and Drummond school teacher Sandy Naas. The two have experience in conservation and natural resources policy.

While Adams has assumed a position on the board, former board chair Fred Prehn had blocked Naas from taking a seat until recently. Prehn, who was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker, resigned last month after refusing to step down for more than a year after his six-year term ended in May 2021.

Text messages released last fall showed that Prehn sought to maintain conservative control of the board. His presence ensured a 4-3 conservative majority of Walker appointees.

As first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Prehn sought advice from conservative lobbyists, state senators, Walker and former Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch about his tenure on the board. In a text, Prehn wrote, “I’ll see if I can hang on till Becky gets in.” The text appears to be a reference to Kleefisch, who was defeated in the August primary election by Republican Tim Michels.

Prehn’s decision to remain on the board sparked a lawsuit from Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul seeking to remove him. The lawsuit was dismissed by a Dane County judge. Kaul appealed the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The court’s conservative majority ruled in June that Prehn could remain on the board indefinitely.

The terms for two other Walker-era appointees, Greg Kazmierski and Terry Hilgenberg, are set to expire in May.