Governor Tony Evers announced on November 18 that Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Preston D. Cole would be retiring 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 brought science back to the DNR, we helped ensure Wisconsinites have cleaner, safer water, and we are tackling climate change head-on, all while supporting our state park system and the outdoor recreational economy that so many Wisconsinites and visitors enjoy. He has been a great leader at the DNR, and I thank him for his dedicated, thoughtful service to the people of our state and wish him and his family nothing but the best in his retirement.”
Wisconsin’s state parks saw record attendance in 2019, 2020, and 2021, with attendance topping 20 million visitors. Resident annual park sticker sales increased 43 percent and nonresident annual admission sticker sales increased by 142 percent by July 2021.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with you as your Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, and I will continue to stand with Governor Evers as a Wisconsinite, colleague, and friend,” said Secretary Cole. “Thanks to Governor Evers for ushering in a new era of environmental protections and conservation programs. His efforts to put the well-being of Wisconsinites first continues 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 the DNR, Secretary Cole led the agency to deliver on Governor Evers’ commitment to ensure clean water for all, developing strategies for climate resilience, rural prosperity, outdoor recreation, and public health and safety.
Under his leadership between 2019 and 2021, the Department made significant grant and loan awards to Wisconsin farmers, local municipalities, and stakeholders to promote clean water initiatives including more than $587 million in Clean Water Fund loans for municipal wastewater treatment projects and more than $148 million in Safe Drinking Water loans, with many funded projects occurring in historically underserved communities.
Secretary Cole oversaw the implementation of “Your Pass Now,” an online park admission program, and continued 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, the DNR is co-leading the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, which released an updated report on climate change in February 2022. The report is the most comprehensive assessment to date on the impact of climate change in Wisconsin and includes details on the continued warming and increased precipitation throughout 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 One Trillion Tree Planting Pledge, pledging to conserve 125,000 acres of forestland and plant 75 million trees by the end of 2030. When fully realized, this pledge will result in sequestering an additional 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 serving on the Natural Resources Board after appointments in 2007 by Governor Jim Doyle and 2013 by Governor Scott Walker. Additionally, he served as the Natural Resources Board chair 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 drew distinction for becoming the first Black forester hired by the Missouri Department of Conservation, where he began his career.