The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands in Wisconsin is the state’s oldest agency and it’s charged with protecting thousands of acres of forest in the northern part of the state, including controlling the state’s sustainable timber industry, protecting natural areas, and combatting forest fragmentation through development. The agency, which also handles grants to school libraries, has been given a gag order by its leadership: no discussion of global warming.
The board of the agency voted 2-1 to stop discussion of global warming at work.
According to The New York Times:
[Brad D. Schimel, the state’s attorney general and a Republican] said that he did not consider the new rule a “gag” on employees because they could talk about climate change when they were away from the office.
Yes, you read right, a state agency whose role exists to protect public lands cannot discuss global warming or climate change. This seems like a bit of stretch when you consider the fact that the destruction of public lands leads to more carbon in the atmosphere, a phenomenon which directly causes climate change. But according to the Republican controlled board, there’s no obvious connection.
Again, The New York Times:
[Matt Adamczyk, the state treasurer], also a Republican, said that employees could briefly talk about climate change “by the water cooler,” in the same manner they might discuss a Badgers basketball game. Anything beyond that, he said, would be inappropriate.
“Why would the staff have to talk about it?” Mr. Adamczyk said. “I don’t think that’s our role there. It has nothing to do with our agency.”
Actually, it has a lot to do with the agency and banning employees from a subject that seems obvious seems to send a message of climate denial. But according to the one council member that voted against the gag order, that’s actually what council members are trying to do. Doug La Follette, the secretary of state, a Democrat and also a scientist by trade, says climate and forest protection go hand and hand.
“The big important thing here is the attitude and the trend of public officials who, either out of ignorance or out of political expediency, deny the climate issue,” Mr. La Follette said.
It seems completely preposterous that in a time when we need to be acting on climate change, those employed to protect public lands are supposed to ignore the elephant in the room, even as they protect 77,000 acres of public land from development. The tiny agency, made up of 10 employees has been strangely quieted. Though according to The New York Times, Gov. Scott Walker has little to do with the actions of the council in this instance at least. But nonetheless, it’s good to hear that attention has been brought to this issue. It goes to show that no matter how small an agency, when actions like this are taken, people will notice.
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Image of the forest and trees from Shuttershock