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  • Patrick Durkin

Wisconsin DNR Depicts State Scenes with East European Photos

Updated: May 8

Details that look trivial to casual observers reveal the essentials to experts and specialists.


In fact, nothing can damn a hunting or fishing impostor more certainly than videos or photographs that look fine to untrained eyes. Infamous examples include former Gov. Scott Walker holding a spinning rod upside down, former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flyfishing with a reel mounted backward, or even former president Bill Clinton simply wearing crisp, straight-from-the box camo clothes to go duck hunting.


It’s not that hunters and anglers are especially judgmental. They warmly welcome newbies who’ve neither cast a fly nor muddied their chest waders. But they roll their eyes at the insult if someone tries bluffing their way into their boat or blind.


Someone should have explained such credibility basics to the Department of Natural Resources’ communications team before letting them work unsupervised in recent months. If you clicked on the DNR’s website (dnr.wisconsin.gov) in late April, for example, you saw a heartwarming photo of a mother and son fishing, along with a reminder that Wisconsin’s general fishing season begins May 7.


But here’s a tip, DNR: Serious anglers tend to be gear geeks. They’ll quickly note that mom and son are gripping a large bank pole without a reel, and they’re fishing several yards offshore. Hmm. Few anglers in Wisconsin use bank poles, with reels or without; and fewer yet go wading while using such cumbersome rigs. They typically sit ashore and anchor these heavy poles in rod holders.


And what’s with the binoculars on the boy’s chest? Who goes fishing with binos?


As you ponder the scene, your BS antennae start rising. Did a DNR staffer just happen to photograph a mother and son fishing with gear seldom seen in Wisconsin? There’s no photo credit, and the next page simply encourages you to create “memories by fishing with family and friends across Wisconsin.”


And so you keep stewing. Then you recall seeing “iStock” photo credits in recent editions of the DNR’s quarterly magazine, Wisconsin Natural Resources. The iStock website features photographers around the world, and sells their work at affordable, royalty-free prices through downloads and subscriptions.


Given that the Legislature gutted the DNR’s information, education and communications offices from 2011-2018, you realize the agency has a scant photo budget. Therefore, you assume it sometimes must use easily searched online photos when it can’t meet its needs from staff biologists and wardens.


Sure enough, a quick search at www.istockphoto.com found the mother-son fishing photo. Unfortunately, it’s not a Wisconsin mother-son, a Wisconsin photographer or even a Wisconsin scene. It’s a photo taken by Marko Pekic in Nis, Serbia. Great photo; wrong continent.


A further look finds an iStock photo on the cover of Wisconsin’s 80-page 2022-2023 fishing regulations. This photo shows a wading angler casting toward a crimson skyline. But if you study the shoreline, you’ll struggle to identify the distinct profile of any common Wisconsin tree.


Why? Because the photo was taken by Jakub Gojda of the Czech Republic, and the angler was fishing the Berounka River near Prague.


Yikes.


What about Wisconsin Natural Resources, the DNR’s magazine? You might recall that some lawmakers and former DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp tried to kill this popular, century-old publication in the 2015 budget. But after a loud, sustained, widespread public outcry, Stepp and lawmakers like David Steffen, R-Ashwaubenon, compromised by reducing the bimonthly magazine to a quarterly.


Even though the guidelines for this revered magazine encourage contributors to focus on Wisconsin resources, landscapes and scenery, the iStock cover photo on the Winter 2021 issue comes from Mikhail Dudarev of Russia. The photo captures a beautiful nighttime cross-country skiing scene but, again, wrong continent.


And if you scroll a few pages into the Winter 2021 issue, you’ll see a photo of an ice angler on Page 12. But this goober isn’t wearing the bibs, parka or hat/hood that Wisconsin ice-anglers typically buy at Scheel’s, Cabela’s, Fleet Farm or Dick’s Sporting Goods. That’s because this 2013 photo was taken by “Bajinda,” or Vadym Boyshenko of Irpin, Ukraine.


Sarah Hoye, the DNR’s communications director appointed by DNR Secretary Preston Cole, also serves as editor-in-chief of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. When asked about these four curious photos, Hoye emailed to say the DNR has used iStock since late 2019, but also uses images from staff and other contributors.


“We strive to use diverse, high-quality imagery in a meaningful and inclusive way to encourage the public to enjoy the outdoors and build creative connections with our readers and customers,” Hoye wrote.


She also verified the photos were taken in eastern Europe. “The images you referenced taken by photographers from Russia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic are coincidental,” she wrote. “While we understand Russia and Ukraine’s current sensitivity, the images were published before the invasion.”


Huh? That’s considerate, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine isn’t relevant. Why must the DNR turn to Eastern Europe photographers to find diverse, inclusive high-quality images that celebrate Wisconsin? With staff working from Kenosha to Superior and Dickeyville to Spread Eagle — and 99.9% of them toting smartphones — you’d assume the DNR’s communications office would overflow with photos of Wisconsinites connecting to the outdoors.


As the DNR’s website says about its magazine: “Wisconsin Natural Resources keeps the public updated and informed about DNR programs, recreational opportunities, partner news, and the state’s bountiful and beautiful natural resources.”


Does Hoye, and by extension, Cole, really think it’s OK to feature the Berounka River near Prague on Wisconsin’s fishing regulations? Is not the Wisconsin River near Portage or Prairie du Chien scenic enough for our creative spirits?


What does that say about the DNR’s respect for its field staff, customers and anyone reading its materials? DNR publications don’t target general-interest audiences. Most readers are serious outdoors-folks who know a pine from a spruce, a bluegill from a crappie, and a spinning rod from a European bank pole.


Unfortunately, this is what happens when fish and wildlife agencies appoint outsiders to key positions, and assume they won’t try to lazily bluff their way past customers they underestimate.


To honestly and respectfully communicate Wisconsin’s natural wonders to savvy outdoors-folks, the DNR should insist on photos from within our borders.

The cover of Wisconsin’s 2022-2023 fishing regulations features a photograph taken in the Czech Republic. All photos from 2021-2022 DNR publications

This photo from the homepage of the Wisconsin DNR’s website was taken in Serbia.

This photo of the Winter 2021 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine was taken in Russia.

This photo from Page 12 of the Winter 2021 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine was taken in Ukraine.

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