Illinois adds turkey, upland biologists
Paul Brewer laughed when told he was the most qualified hire in Illinois Department of Natural Resources history.
He understood the humor.
After all, the process of hiring Brewer as turkey biologist has spanned more than eight years. That’s how long ago Jared Garver retired from the position he held for 34 years.
Unfortunately, the DNR didn’t spend eight years combing the country for the most qualified gobbler guru. Until recently, the administration didn’t care enough to hire a turkey biologist.
What’s worse is that during that same span numerous deputy directors and assistant directors came and went.
That pretty much summarizes the state of our DNR. What’s more important, biologists who manage critters? Or cushy jobs for political pals? You know the answer.
So it’s encouraging to welcome Brewer to Springfield. The same is true for Mike Wefer, a local wildlife biologist tabbed to become the state’s new grasslands biologist. He replaces John Cole, who retired in 2009.
With these hirings DNR Director Marc Miller is starting to fulfill a promise to bring natural resources professionals to his agency. If he can hire another 20 biologists and lop off a deputy director or two, that will really be something — particularly if staff come aboard as fast as Wefer, who starts July 1 in a job posted this winter.
“For state government that’s lightspeed,” said Wefer, who spent the last decade as wildlife biologist for Marshall, Woodford, Putnam and Stark counties.
Brewer, 54, is a long-time district biologist who helped with several turkey releases in east-central Illinois. While he hasn’t turkey hunted in recent years, he “understands the thrill of the turkey hunt.”
Foremost among his chores will be reviewing permits allocated for spring hunting — a number many contend should be higher.
Interviewed on his first day in Springfield, Brewer wouldn’t commit.
“Given the last few years of bad reproduction we’ve had we may not move forward real rapidly until we see what the data is telling us,” Brewer said. “One thing I don’t want to do is shoot from the hip to seem like a miracle man.”
He said it’s too early to gauge turkey reproduction this spring. “It’s been wet, but it hasn’t been cold and wet so maybe this won’t be quite as bad as the last few years,” Brewer said.
Whatever the data says, Brewer should be able to add permits in several counties and to expand the counties offering a fall shotgun season.
Wefer faces a more daunting task: Trying to put a happy face on grim realities facing Illinois upland game hunters.
“There’s not a bunch of positive signs out there, but there are a few,” Wefer said. “One is we’re finally going to get a general sign-up for (the federal Conservation Reserve Program).”
And while pheasant numbers are expected to decline yet again, Wefer said “Quail are not in near as bad of shape as pheasants.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but at least there’s someone in Springfield keeping an eye on the uplands. Maybe someday Wefer can enjoy a moment like the one Iowa pheasant biologist Todd Bogenschutz just experienced.
After yet another wet spring washed out many pheasant nests, Iowa passed legislation prohibiting mowing and haying before July 15 in the right of way of most state highways and secondary county roads.
“From the standpoint of pheasant production, this is a significant change especially this year because of the weather conditions we experienced during prime nesting season,” Bogenschutz said.