Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Preston D. Cole will be retiring from the Evers administration on Nov. 23 after a 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,” says Gov. Tony 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.”
During his tenure at the DNR, Cole led the agency in developing strategies for climate resilience, rural prosperity, outdoor recreation, and public health and safety. Under his leadership between 2019 and 2021, the DNR made 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.
Wisconsin’s state parks saw record attendance in 2019, 2020, and 2021, 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. 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.
The DNR is co-leading the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts with UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, which released an updated report on climate change in February 2022. The agency notes this report is the most comprehensive assessment to date on the impact of climate change in Wisconsin.
Under Cole’s leadership, in 2021, 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.
Evers appointed 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 Gov. Jim Doyle and 2013 by Gov. Scott Walker. Additionally, he served as the Natural Resources Board chair in 2013 and 2014.
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 also became the first Black forester hired by the Missouri Department of Conservation, where he began his career.