With new DNR director Marc Miller (left) looking on, Gov. Pat Quinn signs legislation restoring $9 million to funds established by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. Money had been taken from those funds last year, jeopardizing $16 million in federal funding this year.
Why trust new DNR director?
More about Miller
Click here to read Dale Bowman’s column about Marc Miller in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Here’s a quick question-and-answer session with Miller, moments after he was named director of the Department of Natural Resources.
Are any deputy directors or other people in DNR going to be dismissed?
“We’re going to have to understand where we stand before we start looking at personnel issues. Reviewing positions as well as the finances will be the first order of business. The emphasis will be on finances. We’ve got to figure out where we’re at.”
What are some of the first things you plan to do?
“Reaching out to constituent groups and working with the employees and making sure they are enabled to give us honest input without fear of retaliation. And working on science-based decision making. Those are going to be our first few things.”
Any plans for a golf trail?
“We want to make sure if we’re taking any actions they are pursuant and consistent with the mission of the agency, which is to protect manage and enhance our natural rescaources.”
How can you reach out to constituents?
“I don’t want to be overly simplistic, but you start by talking to them.That’s been a problem over the last many years. And they know Pat Quinn has been a champion for the outdoors and they know I’ve been working with Pat Quinn on those issues. And we’re going to be talking to them and meeting with them. And together, it will have to be togther, we can get the job done.”
There has been talk of qualifications for this job. Have you ever worn a coonskin cap?
“I have taken water samples, I have not worn a coonskin cap. Being a natural resources professional is important to this agency. And whether it’s going hunting, going fishing, taking water samples, being a turkey biologist—all those things are important. We’ll bring it all together and listen to everybody, field trial interests, everybody will have a seat at the table and we’ll be talking to them.”
Did you say you are going to hire a turkey biologist?
“That’s one of the things that I’m concerned about, is that we are missing very key components of the mission. We’ll have to assess and go from there.”
You can’t blame folks for being guarded about Marc Miller’s recent appointment to lead the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
After six years of cuts, abuse and ineffective leadership, the DNR is in a precarious position. Morale is horrible. The agency’s reputation has been tarnished. Compounding the difficulties of the rebuilding job Miller faces is a $9 billion state budget deficit.
So while various conservation groups may be lauding Miller’s appointment and praising him as a “natural resources professional,” there’s still many who say, “Why should we trust this latest political appointment?”
Here’s a starting point: He’s not taking this job to boost his pension, to secure employment for other members of his family or so he can jet off to South Dakota to hunt pheasants.
Miller cares. He gets what DNR does and means. And he’s willing to work hard.
How do I know this? In a lot of little ways.
Moments after he was tabbed by Gov. Pat Quinn, Miller said two words that stunned me: “turkey biologist.” We haven’t had one since Jared Garver retired in 2003 and I don’t think any of the past few directors realized that. Or cared.
Miller does. He realizes there’s money to be made by selling more turkey hunting permits. But first we need someone to determine how much hunting pressure can be handled by the state’s growing turkey flock.
Miller calls that “science-based decision making.” To me it’s just common sense that has for too long been lacking at DNR. Here’s hoping Miller starts applying the same common sense to the sale of non-resident deer permits — a well of money that needs to capped and tapped in creative ways to benefit resident hunters.
Here’s another small way Miller has impressed. Months before he received his appointment, Miller called Chad Franklin of the National Wild Turkey Federation. He wanted to talk to NWTF’s state biologist and asked to attend that group’s Illinois awards banquet.
After six years of not even getting calls returned from DNR, Franklin was understandably surprised. “That impressed me,” he said. “He introduced himself to us without us even asking.”
Don’t misunderstand, Miller is not turkey crazy. He has called on Ducks Unlimited, Prairie Rivers Network, the Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources and Pheasants Forever. He even called Migratory Waterfowler Hunters, Inc. of Alton, whose president Scott Bryant said, “One thing I know is there will be an open-door policy, unlike the past six years.”
Miller also opened that door to former director Brent Manning. And he sought advice from some of Manning’s top aides, including Jerry Beverlin. The former director of land management, Beverlin has been working on a program to improve access for resident hunters.
Access is a thorny issue that has no easy solution. Maybe that’s why former director Joel Brunsvold once said it was, “an issue this agency will not pursue.”
Not so Miller. “Access is one of the critical issues we face,” Miller said. And he’s not mouthing platitudes. While he currently has a deer hunting spot in Cumberland County, Miller said he has lost other ground over the years due to land leasing or the sale of farms he once hunted.
Compare that level of understanding to Kurt Granberg. Granberg had a year to ponder the DNR. When he was tabbed as director, the first concrete idea he brought with him was to create a golf trail in southern Illinois.
Never mind that DNR has nothing to do with golf. Granberg was convinced his idea was a great one. And while he quickly came up with better thoughts after being named — including a few Miller would be wise to pursue — Granberg never saw the flaw in adding golf to DNR’s plate.
Miller said the golf trail is not something he will pursue.
“We want to make sure if we’re taking any actions they are pursuant and consistent with the mission of the agency, which is to protect, manage and enhance our natural resources,” Miller said.
It’s nice to finally have a director who understands that mission.