Demand was running high for the state’s Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine after a flurry of news coverage about Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to shut down the self-supporting, nearly 100-year-old publication.
The state Department of Natural Resources received 1,394 subscription orders in the eight days between Feb. 13 and last Wednesday, DNR spokesman Jim Dick said Monday.
In a typical week, no more than a few hundred orders come in without a boost from the holiday gift-giving season or a promotional effort, said Natasha Kassulke, a former editor who says plans to eliminate the magazine fit the DNR’s pattern under Walker of undercutting climate science and environmental education.
The DNR recently curtailed the options offered to subscribers and prepared a financial projection based on cutting off new subscriptions in July and publishing the last issue in January.
Dick and Walker spokesman Tom Evenson have denied that the plan was part of an anti-science agenda. Eliminating the magazine would free the DNR to focus on other responsibilities, while it continues to educate the public about conservation issues through other means, they said.
The DNR and another state agency recently removed climate change information from their websites, while a third banned employees from discussing the topic in 2015, the same year the Legislature approved Walker budget cuts targeting DNR educators and scientists.
The federally funded researchers examined ways the state can prepare for climate change and compiled studies on the water pollution potential of mining.
Kassulke and other former DNR personnel have said the magazine was a crucial tool for helping Wisconsin residents understand how they can aid conservation efforts.
Articles in the magazine explore the science behind the department’s work, as well as the options available for protecting air, water and wildlife.
Dick didn’t respond to requests for numbers of subscription orders received at other times. He confirmed, though, that the DNR this month eliminated options for two- and three-year subscriptions.
Shuttering of the magazine is part of Walker’s 2017-19 budget proposal, which the Legislature will soon begin reviewing.
The DNR began limiting subscriptions to a single year after Walker announced his budget on Feb. 8, Dick said.
The DNR isn’t concerned about the possibility that turning away longer-term subscriptions will undercut the magazine’s future revenue in the event the Legislature decides to allow the magazine to continue, Dick said.
The nearly 1,400 subscription orders came in during the eight-day period after articles about Walker’s plan to cut the magazine ran in the Wisconsin State Journal and other newspapers. At the same time, environmental reporter James Rowen urged his readers to subscribe in his blog.
Initially, the governor’s office explained the budget proposal by saying the state shouldn’t duplicate privately owned periodicals.
A spokesman hasn’t responded to requests for examples but three private, Wisconsin-based publishers last week told the State Journal they don’t compete with the DNR magazine and they didn’t ask Walker to eliminate it.
The DNR’s Dick provided the State Journal with a financial projection indicating the magazine can stop accepting new subscriptions on July 1 and still have just enough revenue socked away to reimburse the roughly $300,000 that would be owed to subscribers if the last issue were to be published in January.
But Kassulke, who resigned as editor last summer, said a consulting company told her in 2015 that ceasing publication would cost closer to $700,000 because in addition to reimbursements the DNR would also face costs of sending first-class notices to subscribers, cutting checks, mailing them and administering the process.
The DNR’s projection counts on $9 in revenue from each of 40,000 people who subscribe automatically when they purchase a $165 conservation patron license. But Kassulke said the magazine has received only about $6 per license in the past.
Walker’s budget proposal said conservation patrons would save $375,000 during the two-year budget period. The cost of the license would decrease by $6, Dick said.
The DNR projection was based on publication of 75,000 copies of each issue of the magazine, including about 40,000 for conservation patrons and 35,877 individual subscribers who pay about $8.97 annually for six issues.
Kassulke said the magazine had about 88,000 subscribers before she left last year to accept a job at UW-Madison. The 88,000 included about 40,000 conservation patrons and another roughly 48,000 individual subscribers.
A 2014-15 DNR survey of 660 conservation patron license holders found that 63 percent said they read most or all of the magazine, 25 percent read some of it and 13 percent read little or none. The survey had a margin of error of 3.7 percent.