DNR sees public input rise during the pandemic, credits virtual hearings and meetings as reason

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 2:40 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Public involvement is a key element to adopting or changing rules and regulations pertaining to our state’s natural resources.

Leaders within the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say since the pandemic began a year ago, they’ve been pleasantly surprised in that regard because public input has soared.

The way in which the DNR gathers public comments and feedback has changed dramatically over the past year.

“We would host these meetings and welcome people in, gather them around, have the meetings at libraries or town halls or wherever, but now since Covid broke and things changed in March of last year, we’ve been needing to host these meeting then over the internet and electronically,” says Jean Romback-Bartels, the DNR Secretary’s Director who oversees the Northeast region.

According to Romback-Bartels public participation has never been greater.

“That’s opened a whole new door, we offer remote testimony all the time from anywhere, you can do it right from your own home, your kitchen or your living room, and all you have to do is sign-up, say that you want to speak and you can do that now, you don’t have to travel, you don’t have to go to a specific location, and we’ve seen that a lot of people are taking advantage of that,” explains Romback-Bartels.

It’s not just the convenience though that’s leading to the surge in public engagement.

When hearings or meetings are over Zoom, there’s no standing up in front of a crowd.

“Now they feel a little bit more comfortable in being able to speak their mind and say exactly how they feel about an issue, the peer pressure, the fear of standing out and being the only one that says you know what, I actually agree with this or I don’t agree with this at all, it provides them with a little bit more security,” says Romback-Bartels.

And moving forward, whether it be deer management, fishing regulations, air quality or environmental concerns, Romback-Bartels expects this new way of communicating with the public to have a permanent place within the DNR.

“It’s a neat opportunity and one I would really hate to see go away after Covid and I don’t think you will,” says Romback-Bartels.

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