“It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals, for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant, or a scapegoat.” Richard Hofstadter, American historian 1916-1970

Professor Hofstadter wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book Anti-intellectualism in American Life in 1963. Americans, he wrote, believe that “intellectuals...are pretentious, conceited...and snobbish; and very likely immoral, dangerous, and subversive ...The plain sense of the common man is an altogether adequate substitute for, if not actually much superior to, formal knowledge and expertise.”

This explains much of the destructive, shortsighted, and simply stupid behavior of many people on the pandemic, climate change and other environmental problems.

Having little knowledge of science (or most other subjects) they are unable to recognize half-truths, misleading or false information. As a result many people are easily manipulated by political, corporate or religious hucksters.

There is a group of former Wisconsin DNR scientists trying to provide scientific fact to guide public-policy decisions. Concerned about the budget cuts, staff cuts and disregard for science under the former Walker administration, these former public servants created “Wisconsin’s Green Fire: Voices for Conservation.”

This nonprofit seeks to promote science-based management of Wisconsin’s natural resources. Their volunteer scientists and other professionals have extensive experience in natural resource management, environmental law and policy, scientific research and education. They use this expertise to educate the public and to attempt to affect public policy decisions.

Wisconsin Green Fire’s work includes current environmental protection and natural resources management issues. Some examples include information and recommendations on agricultural nitrate pollution, Line 5 pipeline reroute, energy policy, wildlife management, ground water protection, lakes and streams, wetlands and the impact of climate change.

Below I highlight several reports of interest for northern Wisconsin. To see all their work Google “Wisconsin Green Fire.”

It should be noted that Wisconsin Green Fire is assiduously apolitical and nonpartisan. They strictly base their reports and recommendations on facts and scientific analysis. Any political bias in the following summaries of their work are the result of my interpretations.

Deer management is one issue addressed by Green Fire. It is also a classic example of Professor Hofstadter’s statement that, “...plain sense of the common man...[is considered] superior to formal knowledge and expertise.”

Many hunters (and bar stool biologists) don’t believe the DNR’s estimates of the deer population. Their limited personal observations are superior to the DNR’s field censuses and statistical analysis on deer populations.

This issue became a political divide. Hunters were easily manipulated and voted in large numbers for Scott Walker. His administration responded with a number of deer management changes popular with hunters.

This fit easily with the Walker administration’s anti-regulatory agenda on mining, large agricultural operations, sand fracking and high-capacity wells.

But basing deer management policy on politics rather than science ultimately hurt the environment, the health of deer, public safety and (ironically) the long-term interests of deer hunters.

The Green Fire report “Meeting Wisconsin’s Deer Conservation Challenges,” (July, 2021) discusses the bad results.

The high deer population is causing “widespread habitat deterioration” from deer browsing and an “inability to control deer herd size in Wisconsin’s farmlands.“

Chronic Wasting Disease is expanding and “...state action has been inconsistent and inadequate to stop or reverse the upward trend in prevalence and slow the spread of the disease..”

The report concludes, “Our current deer conservation policy is too inflexible, is too driven by short-term priorities, and is too under-resourced to allow effective response to these threats.”

The report also points out that legislation enacted in 2011 limited the ability of the DNR to control the deer population. The use of special doe seasons and the very effective “earn-a-buck” regulation were prohibited. Normal practice is for hunting regulations to be set by DNR professionals using local population information, not by legislation.

Also after 2011, the DNR (on the advice of an out-of-state consultant) “...largely abandoned efforts to directly slow the spread of CWD...” As a result, in three southwestern Wisconsin counties CWD infects 50% of the bucks. Deer in 32 counties are known to have CWD and probably 25 more counties are infected. The disease is always fatal. So hunters have fewer deer to hunt and an increasing percentage of deer are unfit to eat.

As I said, the long-term interests of hunters were not well served by putting politics over science.
Green Fire has looked at the wolf hunt issue in the report “The February 2021 Wisconsin Wolf Hunt: A Preliminary Assessment” (April, 2021). They found the wolf population and this year’s expected reproduction was severely impacted by the February hunt.

Plus the supposed objective of the hunt – reducing human-wolf conflicts – didn’t happen. Most of the wolf kills occurred on isolated public lands away from humans contact.

The report says, “...there is little evidence that the February 2021 wolf hunt will significantly reduce human - wolf conflicts.”

The politically motivated, legislatively mandated wolf hunt decimated the very small wolf population and did little for the farmers.

The proposed sandhill crane hunting season is a similar situation.

Green Fire concludes, “There is no sustainable level of fall hunting that will significantly reduce spring damage to crops from sandhill cranes.”

Green Fire did not take a position on allowing the hunt. They just provided facts about crane biology and effective management options. There are other strategies for protecting crops that are more effective than hunting.

See “WGF Provides Testimony on Sandhill Crane Hunting Bill, Senate Bill 620” (October 2021)
Public policy should be based on the best available information. Public policy that rejects science, facts and historical experience can only lead to bad results.

Public opinion is important in the democratic process. But for this to work the public must be informed and knowledgeable. Green Fire is one of many organizations attempting to educate the public on environmental issues.

Neil DeGraff Tyson, an astrophysicist and educator, has a good take on the importance of knowledge for good governance. He says, “I dream of a world where the truth is what shapes people’s politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true.”