Wisconsin’s DNR Secretary…Where Are You?
By Craig Sandell © 2013

Like me, many of you received the insulting form letter from DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp regarding the DNR’s position on tribal spearing. (Click Here to see the form letter.)

The letter was another in the same old line of crap that the WDNR management has spooned out each year on important fishery issues related to Musky.

In response to the form letter from Secretary Stepp, I asked the following question:


Dear Ms. Stepp;

Thank you for your Email regarding winter aboriginal Muskellunge spearing. You indicated in your Email that;

"The Department takes its role as manager of the fisheries of the state seriously, and makes every effort to adjust its management strategy when appropriate and necessary. The Department is and remains committed to working with the Bands on this and all other issues related to the management of the joint fishery."

Your statement begs the question as to whether the DNR believes that adjustment in its management strategy is appropriate and necessary in the face of the current aboriginal spearing activity?

I know from the hundreds of Emails that I receive each year that the issue of spearing is on the front burner of many of Wisconsin's Musky anglers and the resort businesses that service them during the summer season. If the DNR is currently actively engaged in activity that will address the concerns of the Wisconsin Musky community at large and also the concerns of the tribes, I believe that it would be useful to place such activity into the public eye.

Rep. Swearingen sent me a link to a 2005 article on the DNR website, http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/html/stories/2005/aug05/treaty.htm which generally addressed the issue as it existed then.

About 9 years have passed since that DNR paper. Is there any current information that is available that can be shared with the Musky angling and tribal community at large regarding the winter aboriginal spearing of Muskellunge?

Craig Sandell


As you might suspect, the DNR Secretary has been unable or unwilling to give me the courtesy of a response…something that I am confident many of you have experienced also.

The deafening silence on matters of fishery management of Musky and Walleye in the ceded territory has become a hallmark of top level WDNR management for decades.

I should mention that I am not criticizing anyone’s local "rank and file" DNR people. As a whole, they are folks just like you and I who are trying their best to do the job of natural resource management while having to answer to the bureaucratic indifference coming out of Madison.

While the DNR Secretary sits comfortably in Madison self-insulated from the problems in the field, we and her employees are saddled with that bureaucratic indifference.

Why is it that we never see the DNR Secretary visit the annual Musky shows to hear the concerns of Musky anglers?

Why is it that the DNR Secretary has blocked the tribes from spending millions of dollars to re-stock Walleye and Musky fisheries?

Why is it that the DNR Secretary refuses to consider instituting a Musky Tag for fishing licenses to get a better handle on anglers who actually fish for Musky?

Why is it that the DNR Secretary actively seeks people from outside Wisconsin to fill local management positions while ignoring the obvious benefit in local knowledge and expertise that comes from hiring from within?

The answer to these questions is, once again, likely bureaucratic indifference. It is easy to not address the important issues associated with fishery management if the DNR Secretary never gets into the field to see and hear firsthand the circumstances that exist.

It is very frustrating for all of us out here when all we get is form letters and platitudes from the DNR Secretary. Almost as frustrating is the unwillingness of organizations like Muskies, Inc. and print outlets like Musky Hunter Magazine to take the DNR Secretary to task on these issues…they too have been conspicuously silent.

The other aspect of the DNR Secretary’s responsibility is to foster amity between the State and the Tribes…the fisheries are, as pointed out in the Secretary’s form letter, after all a joint responsibility. By ignoring this responsibility, the DNR Secretary has perpetuated the mistrust and misgivings that have been festering since the ugly confrontations between non-native and native peoples in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Now is the time for the DNR Secretary to put her finger on the pulse of the issues most important to native and non-native peoples alike.

There is a DNR panel scheduled on March 2nd in Wausau at the Wisconsin Musky Expo. I am quite confident that a seat at that panel could certainly be made available to the Secretary if she is interested enough to attend.

If she does decide to get out of that comfortable office chair and attend the panel in Wausau, it is only a short drive to the LDF and Red Cliff reservations where she can meet one-on-one with tribal leaders to get their perspectives first hand.

Leadership in fishery management is the one thing that Wisconsin’s fisheries need most of all. Non-native peoples look to the DNR Secretary to provide that leadership through "hands on" involvement in the management of the fisheries.

The DNR Secretary, as the State representative, is expected by the tribes to provide respect for and genuine concern with the treaty rights and the spiritual traditions of native peoples in the ceded territories.

Nothing will change until the DNR Secretary decides to engage in the fishery management leadership that the residents of Wisconsin, through their tax dollars and license fees, pay her to perform as DNR Secretary.

The Email address of the DNR Secretary is:

DNRSecretary@Wisconsin.gov - DNRSecretary@Wisconsin.gov

You can click on the link to send her an Email or copy her Email address into your Email program. It is time for you to be heard. It is time for you to act.

Don’t Wait…The time for pressing the DNR Secretary to do her job is NOWIt is up to the DNR Secretary to exercise some leadership or explain why she finds it impossible to do so.