Emily Pedersen BS’11 and Henry Bauman BS’98 know just how quickly our water, air, and picturesque landscapes can be spoiled by human activity. But with years of experience and wildlife ecology degrees from CALS, they also know the sizable difference good people can make in protecting those natural resources.
As an environmental enforcement specialist at Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Pedersen manages pollution and contamination cases statewide. Bauman, a DNR conservation warden, serves on the front lines in responding to such incidents and enforcing a vast array of public safety and environmental laws. Together, they and their colleagues provide a vital — often inconspicuous — layer of protection for habitats and public health and safety in every corner of the state.
Pedersen came to the UW–Madison campus undecided, but that quickly changed after she took Introduction to Wildlife Ecology with faculty associate Jim Berkelman. She later completed an internship with the Student Conservation Association, which placed her with a DNR field crew that performed invasive plant management on state lands.
“I could feel a really good energy from the people I worked with,” Pedersen recalls. “It solidified that I wanted to do something at DNR.”
Pedersen started in customer service at the agency in 2011 and moved into environmental enforcement in 2015. From her Eau Claire office, she evaluates alleged violations of Wisconsin’s environmental standards and collaborates with individuals and businesses to bring them back into compliance.
For Bauman, the itch to work for the DNR can be traced back to when a warden visited his Madison primary school with a trove of animal pelts and gear. While at UW–Madison, he was a field technician for wildlife toxicologist Michael Meyer PhD’89 (who had him climbing into osprey and bald eagle nests to study PCB and dioxin loads), and he served as a member of the Midwest Peregrine Falcon Recovery Team. Bauman intended to become a wildlife biologist, but after learning how rare and competitive those job opportunities could be, he retrained his sights on what he now considers the best of both worlds: conservation law enforcement.
During an internship with DNR warden LuAnn Kuzma BS’78, mentors encouraged Bauman to attend a law enforcement academy and apply for an upcoming temporary warden position. He got the job, and, in 1999, he was made full-time. He has held his post in Madison since 2011.
It’s difficult to define the bounds of Bauman’s duties. He works closely with environmental enforcement specialists like Pedersen, and he enforces wildlife and fish and game laws. You might also find him doing educational outreach at Fleet Farm’s Kid’s Fishing Day or patrolling Madison’s lakes for intoxicated boaters. And as a credentialed state law enforcement officer, with watercraft and off-road vehicles that other police agencies might lack, it’s common for him to assist on search and rescue efforts and on evidence recovery missions. He has been called to the state capitol to keep the peace at protests, and he has investigated assaults and homicides.
Then there are the bizarre calls for service: abandoned hamsters in Capital Springs State Recreation Area; a rattlesnake removed from Devil’s Lake State Park that Bauman recovered from an apartment full of dozens of dangerous vipers and cobras; and landlords indirectly harming hawks by managing a rat infestation with poison rather than dealing with overflowing dumpsters.
“It all boils down to three things,” says Bauman. “Protecting the natural resources, protecting public safety, and educating the public.”
To that end, it’s environmental cases — like those that Pedersen and Bauman encounter — that the agency increasingly gives high priority to preventing and containing.
“A huge part of our work is managing people [because] it’s [human] activities that are having a tremendous impact,” says Bauman. “I can go out and catch people with a few too many fish or a few short fish all day, but one chemical spill or manure spill can wipe out an entire river, stream, or ecosystem in one event.”
Pedersen emphatically agrees. “I need to know environmental laws and statutes, but I have to be able to work with people.”
Whether the issue is lack of permits, improper disposal, or poor record-keeping, she uses the DNR’s formal process to ensure fairness and incentivize voluntary compliance at early stages. The goal is to avoid more significant enforcement actions, such as orders, citations, or referrals to the Department of Justice for prosecution.
In 2015, the DNR conducted a focused enforcement effort on haulers of septage — wastewater from septic tanks, holding tanks, grease traps, and portable toilets — in the Eau Claire region. The following year, with instrumental help from local wardens, Pedersen conducted a large-scale compliance audit of those businesses and found issues with improper landspreading of the waste, ranging from failure to mitigate pathogens to the spreading of septage in areas where it’s not permitted.
Pedersen guided several businesses through the enforcement process and recalls, “A lot of them ended up opting to haul their waste to the wastewater treatment plant as a means of [compliant] disposal rather than landspreading.”
The results speak for themselves: From 2014 to 2020, the amount of septage disposed at the wastewater treatment plant in nearby Chippewa Falls increased from about 2 million gallons to more than 10.2 million gallons per year, very likely mitigating the damage some of that waste could have caused elsewhere.
“You don’t realize what a luxury it is to have access to safe drinking water until you don’t have it,” Pedersen says. “These are really important things that we deal with. I went into the wildlife ecology major because I loved wildlife, being out- doors, hiking, hunting, fishing, kayaking. If I truly want to make an impact and make sure that other people can enjoy those things as well, then this is the way to do it.”This article was posted in Economic and Community Development, Fall 2021, Healthy Ecosystems, Offshoots and tagged Alumni, Emily Pedersen, Forest and Wildlife Ecology, Henry Bauman, Jim Berkelman, law enforcement, LuAnn Kuzma, Michael Meyer, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.