Governor Tony Evers announced on November 18 that Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Preston D. Cole will retire from the Evers Administration on November 23 after a long and dedicated 35-year career in public service.
“Preston has been an integral part of my administration since day one, and we are sorry to see him go,” said Governor Evers. “With his help, we’ve brought science back to the DNR, helped ensure Wisconsinites have cleaner and safer water, and tackled climate change head-on, all while supporting our state park system and outdoor recreation economy on that so many Wisconsinites and visitors enjoy. He has been a great leader at the DNR and I thank him for his dedicated and thoughtful service to the people of our state and wish him and his family the best in his retirement.”
Wisconsin’s state parks saw record attendance in 2019, 2020 and 2021, with attendance exceeding 20 million visitors. Annual park sticker sales are up 43% and annual non-resident admission sticker sales are up 142% through July 2021.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside you as Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, and I will continue to stand with Governor Evers as a colleague and friend from Wisconsin,” said Secretary Cole. “Thank you Governor Evers for ushering in a new era of environmental protection and conservation programs. His efforts to put the well-being of Wisconsinites first continue to resonate in every corner of our great state. I have no doubt that in his second term he will continue to put the people of Wisconsin first.”
During his tenure at DNR, Secretary Cole led the agency to deliver on Governor Evers’ commitment to clean water for all by developing strategies for climate resilience, rural prosperity, outdoor recreation, and public health and safety.
Under his leadership, between 2019 and 2021, the Department awarded significant grants and loans to Wisconsin farmers, local municipalities and stakeholders to advance clean water initiatives, including more than $587 million in Clean Water Fund loans for municipal treatment projects of wastewater and over USD 148 million. in safe drinking water loans, with many projects funded taking place in historically disadvantaged communities.
Secretary Cole oversaw the implementation of “Your Pass Now,” an online park admission program, and continued the implementation of electronic payment kiosks, making it easier than ever for park visitors to purchase their park passes.
Following the direction of Executive Order #52, DNR co-leads the Wisconsin Climate Change Impacts Initiative (WICCI) with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, which released an updated climate change report in February 2022. The report is the most comprehensive assessment to date of climate change impacts in Wisconsin and includes details on continued warming and increased precipitation across the state.
Under Secretary Cole’s leadership, in 2021, in collaboration with public, private and non-governmental partners, the State of Wisconsin joined the national pledge to plant one trillion trees, pledging to conserve 125,000 acres of forest and plant 75 million trees until the end of the year. 2030. When fully realized, this commitment will result in the sequestration of 28.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 50 years.
Governor Evers appointed Secretary Cole to the DNR in December 2018. Prior to his appointment, Secretary Cole spent 11 years on the Natural Resources Board, following appointments in 2007 by Governor Jim Doyle and in 2013 by Governor Scott Walker. Additionally, he served as President of the Natural Resources Board in 2013 and 2014.
Secretary Cole previously served as Commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services and as Director of Operations for the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works. He distinguished himself by becoming the first black ranger hired by the Missouri Department of Conservation, where he began his career.