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Wildlife group: Wisconsin environmental fines down sharply

Wisconsin collected dramatically less in fines for environmental violations last year, according to data released this month.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation obtained figures tracking forfeitures the state Justice Department has collected for infractions involving air and water pollution, farm animal waste from both small farms and factory operations and hazardous waste between 2006 and 2015.

The data shows the agency collected $306,834 last year, down 86 percent from the 10-year annual average of $2.2 million and down 78 percent from a year earlier, when the state collected almost $1.4 million.

The data shows that in 2015 the department collected no forfeitures for animal waste violations at factory farms, for hazardous waste violations or for public water violations. Air pollution penalties were down 79 percent from the 10-year average.

The DNR refers environmental cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. The group’s data didn’t show how many referrals DNR made to DOJ or how many cases DOJ may have settled without forfeitures. Federation executive director George Meyer wouldn’t give specifics on the source of the group’s data.

“The federation does not know whether the dramatic decrease in environmental penalty violations is the result of lack of inspections of regulated facilities by the Department of Natural Resources or follow-through on discovered violations by that agency or lack of vigor in prosecution ... by the Department of Justice, but the general public deserves answers,” said Meyer, a former DNR secretary.

DNR spokesman Andrew Savagian said in an email that the DNR tries to resolve infractions first by educating violators. He noted the agency made 35 referrals to DOJ in 2013, 35 in 2014 and 39 in 2015.

Savagian added that the agency’s environmental enforcement positions are currently fully staffed and it has plans to hire another enforcement specialist and seven investigators to handle complex cases.

DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said in an email that the total amount of penalties don’t tell “the full story” about how the department ensures environmental violations are resolved, noting that some cases end with violators agreeing to undertake environmentally beneficial projects. Asked how many cases end short of financial penalties, Koremenos said the agency doesn’t keep a running tally.

The federation is a group of hunters, anglers, trappers and others who work to sustain hunting, fishing and shooting sports for the future.

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