August 3, 2015Client Alert

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Announces Reorganization

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), the state administrative agency charged with environmental and natural resource protection and programming, recently announced a major reorganization, dubbed a “strategic alignment effort.” The effort is designed to better align agency services to its customers, improve workload management and efficiencies and increase internal integration to deliver on the agency’s mission. WDNR has undergone several reorganizations over the years as agency demands, staffing and budget limitations and focuses have evolved. This would constitute, however, the first major reorganization of the agency during Governor Walker’s administration and under the guidance of WDNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.


WDNR announced the launch of the reorganization process on July 28, 2015 and expects the project to be fully implemented by the start of the agency’s next fiscal year, July 1, 2016.  Although the reorganization or “alignment effort” will be implemented over time, an interim reporting structure, described and depicted below, was immediately implemented. WDNR leadership will be conducting outreach sessions with employees in road-show fashion throughout early August.


Here are some of the highlights of the recently announced reorganization and interim reporting structure:

  • The agency’s Water Division no longer exists. Rather, many of the Water Division’s programmatic functions, including bureaus of drinking and ground water, water quality, and the Office of the Great Lakes, have been moved to a newly named division titled “Environmental Management,” formerly known as the Division of Air and Waste. Still led by Division Administrator Mr. Pat Stevens, the Environmental Management Division now houses most all of the agency’s air, water, remediation and redevelopment and waste material management programs under the supervision of Deputy Division Administrators Mr. Bart Sponseller (air) and Mr. Eric Ebersberger (water).
  • The remaining water programs, such as the watershed management programs, stormwater, runoff management, wetlands/ shorelands and the CAFO program, move into the newly created “Business Support and External Services Division,” to be led by Division Administrator, Mark Aquino. Mr. Aquino was formerly the Regional Director of the agency’s South Central Region. The position of Deputy Division Administrator for the newly created Business Support and External Services Division is currently open.
  • The Business Support and External Services Division will focus as a “key integration point between externally focused programs that provide multi-program support to customers, local governments and business.”
  • Mr. Russell Rasmussen, formerly the Division Administrator of the Water Division, has assumed a role in the Secretary’s office as a Special Policy Advisor to Secretary Stepp.
  • The interim reporting structure is depicted below:


These changes come on the heels of Secretary Stepp’s promotion of Kurt Thiede to the position of Deputy Secretary and naming Mike Bruhn as Assistant Deputy Secretary.


Secretary Stepp has been quoted that the reorganization is necessary to allow the agency to focus on its “core work” while operating a “leaner DNR.” 


If you have questions about how this realignment may affect your project or would like to provide input, feel free to contact David A. Crass at or 608.283.2276, Todd E. Palmer at or 608.283.4432, or any member of the Michael Best Environmental Team.
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