Budget worries for DNR
Despite sunny skies and biting fish this week at Rend Lake Resort, budget concerns cast a cloud over a gathering of outdoor writers and Department of Natural Resources staffers.
Though Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget would actually increase the DNR allocation, there is growing concern that the General Assembly will not approve “new revenue streams.”
In the DNR realm that includes a variety of fee increases, some of which require General Assembly approval to be enacted.
If that approval is not forthcoming, Quinn’s office is saying that the impact on DNR could include the closing of 60 state parks, a lay-off of one-third of frontline park staff and closing state museums.
Is this another calculated move in the ongoing chess game that is the state budget? Time will tell and we’ll have more on this subject later in the week.
Until then, here’s the text of a budget-related speech by DNR director Marc Miller, delivered Monday night to the gathered outdoor writers and DNR staffers.
Marc Miller speech to outdoor writers gathering
It is good to be here at Rend Lake – where outdoor recreation is featured front and center.
One of our goals in the months ahead is to make sure outdoor recreation is front and center for more and more of our citizens.
In talking about the future of wildlife and fisheries management – we must acknowledge the need to preserve and expand access to hunting and fishing opportunities.
We know that in a state in which 95 percent of the land is privately owned we need cooperation from private landowners in everything we do.
We need to find new and creative ways of finding places for hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers, and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts to enjoy those activities.
And those new and creative ways will only work if we have a solvent and sustainable Department of Natural Resources in a leadership role.
We need adequate funding – from all sources – to manage what we have.
And we need adequate and reliable funding to be able to even start discussing the kinds of access programs that many of you have advocated for.
We want to encourage our citizens and visitors to Illinois to spend time at places like Rend Lake for all the recreational opportunities available here.
But we also need to make sure these places are well managed and well maintained.
We need to make sure visitors have a good experience when they’re here and at any of our sites.
Outdoor recreation has a huge economic impact.
Recreational tourism is big business here in southern Illinois and in many places in our state.
Hunting and fishing have a $2.1 billion annual impact in Illinois.
Hunting and fishing support 22,000 jobs in Illinois.
Add another $1.1 billion in economic impact from wildlife watching.
Our state parks attract 44 million visitors a year – a $790 million dollar annual economic impact – and support 8,500 jobs all over the state.
Our state recreational surveys point to our traditional favorites.
Fishing and hunting are on the list of favorite activities.
Illinois residents also list walking, hiking, biking, camping, and picnicking among their favorite activities.
Outdoor recreation is big business – and it’s good for our physical and mental well-being.
The “good for us” part is why we are making such a big deal about getting more of our youth involved in outdoor recreation.
The health benefits of outdoor recreation are enormous.
That is important when you consider 30 percent of adults and 16 percent of kids are obese.
Getting more kids outside can help slow or reverse the trend toward a less-healthy Illinois.
Getting kids outside can also be good for the environment and for the economy.
The May edition of Education Leadership magazine focused on what young people know about the environment.
The report looked at how students’ knowledge of the environment affects everything…from clean water and air to their search for jobs in the new economy.
The research included surveys of high school students on their awareness of environmental issues.
The Education Leadership report found that a typical high school student is aware of environmental issues, but perhaps not how they relate to them and their future (and our future).
Students have heard about and talked about climate change and carbon footprints and recycling.
But even kids in the survey who claimed to be sensitive to environmental issues have very little knowledge of the natural world.
The researchers asked high school students to name one songbird they could identify by simply listening for the bird’s song. The most frequent response: None.
Bird watchers and wildlife watchers are among our best conservationists. Are we raising a generation that can’t tell a robin from a swallow – or a duck from a goose?
Who will recognize when a migratory bird arrives in Illinois two weeks later than they do today because of the effects of climate change?
Many of you have heard about or have read Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods.”
Louv’s makes the case for getting kids outside…to cure what he calls Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Even those kids that are online or texting their friends 20 hours a day can be good stewards of the environment if we reach them at a young enough age.
We’re trying – by offering school teachers help in providing easy and fun ways to connect their students with the outdoors.
We need to do more of that.
We cannot let the current trend of teaching to the mandated standardized test push aside environmental and nature education.
We need to expand our assistance to those teachers who want to take their kids outside.
We need to encourage programs like the one coordinated by the Illinois Conservation Foundation that provides donated funds for outdoor field trips.
We need to work with schools to beef up their outdoor offerings.
Research shows that at-risk youth who spend time in outdoor education programs have measureable increases in mastery of science course work – not to mention higher self-esteem and fewer behavior issues in class.
A study in Canada found that schools that incorporate more outdoors activities for their students saw benefits including better student health, better nutritional habits, and students who fare better in classroom course work.
The Education Leadership report found that more and more studies show exposing kids to nature helps them score better on tests, expands their cognitive abilities, builds self-confidence, and reduces health-related problems.
Focusing on kids is one element of our push to put outdoor recreation and the services were offer at the DNR front and center.
We need to revive and strengthen out constituent relationships.
Many of you participated in the old Conservation Congress process.
While it may not look the same, I am working with our Natural Resources Advisory Board on ways to re-establish the kinds of constituent links the DNR once built through the Conservation Congress.
Some of the best ideas and initiatives in Natural Resources in recent years have come from our constituents.
We need their ideas and their support – now more than ever.
Many of our supporters in recent weeks have stepped forward and asked how they can help as we work to rebuild the DNR and restore public faith in the DNR.
We have been encouraged by the support for our proposed budget initiatives.
While there has been a lot of talk about budget cuts, we have made the case that the DNR has taken far too many cuts in recent years.
Our budget plan includes some modest fee increases.
No one likes to pay higher fees, but we are committed to using the revenue from higher fees for the purposes intended.
We’ll use a modest parking fee for state parks to manage, operate, and improve state parks.
We’ll use a modest increase in deer permit fees for deer management – and to work for more access for hunters.
We’ll use modest increases in hunting and fishing license fees for wildlife and fisheries purposes.
We believe our constituents will be able to live with some additional costs if we are straight with them on using the added revenue for the intended purposes.
Many of you are aware of suggestions that state general revenue support should be cut by 25 percent and worse in some cases if no “NEW” revenue is found.
Just today…Governor Quinn illustrated the consequences of “inaction” by our state legislature.
If Lawmakers can’t agree on new funding sources then drastic cuts will need to be made through out state Government including the IDNR
Without new revenue…We will be forced to cut $41.5 million dollars from our FY10 budget.
That means closing 60 parks throughout the state and every state owned museum in Illinois.
LET ME BE CLEAR-This plan is NOT supported by Governor Quinn…and it’s NOT supported by me or this agency.
We feel that the responsible and reasonable approach is, at the very least, use the Governor’s proposed budget as a framework for avoiding these kinds of drastic cuts to DNR and other state agencies.
We believe the DNR has taken far more than its share of budget cuts already.
The Blagojevich veto of $19 million in general revenue for DNR last year was just the latest, most severe cut.
The state Historic Preservation Agency, which becomes part of DNR this summer, took a $7.7 million cut in general revenue.
Cutting even more will have dire consequences.
Our Land Management office – the frontline staff in our parks – has lost 215 employees since 2002.
At one of our busiest parks – Illinois Beach – a staff of six is trying to manage a site that had 28 employees in 2002.
And Illinois Beach attracts more than a million visitors a year.
Reductions in Conservation Police will have a big impact on fish and wildlife enforcement – and on public safety.
Reductions in hunting and boating safety and youth education programs will affect public safety and would work against our efforts to get kids outside.
Cuts in general revenue could shut down our state forestry division.
The cuts could shutdown our state tree nurseries – hurting habitat projects on public and private lands.
Cuts in general revenue would also hinder our mine safety program – and our mandated permitting of mine operations, waterway projects, dam safety, and environmental reviews that would impact local economic development projects.
We’re hearing from constituent groups that they want to help us avoid these damaging budget cuts.
They understand our needs.
They don’t like higher fees, but understand we need them.
Many of the good things we hope to do are dependant on adequate, sustainable funding.
I want to encourage those who enjoy the outdoors in Illinois to let us know – and let their legislators know – that the DNR is important to them.
Thanks again for your interest and advocacy for the outdoors and outdoor recreation.
Thanks to you – our efforts at improving outdoor recreation for all Illinois citizens is front and center for your readers and listeners.