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DNR director urges sportsmen to speak out on behalf of conservation

February 27, 2011 at 08:23 AM

The State Journal-Register

Illinois Department of Natural Resources director Marc Miller urged attendees at the state Ducks Unlimited Convention to speak out on issues related to conservation and its funding.

“We want and need your help as a voice for sportsmen and conservation,” Miller told a lunchtime audience at the Par-A-Dice Hotel in East Peoria last Saturday.

In return, Miller pledged DNR would be a good steward of the dollars contributed by sportsmen and women. “We need to ensure the money you raise and the fees that you pay are used as intended,” he said.

DNR often partners with groups such as DU to marshal forces of manpower and money to get conservation projects done.

After Miller’s talk, a bus tour took DU members to see some of those projects, including Wightman Lake near Sparland.

DU and a variety of partners purchased and restored Wightman Lake, and then transferred it to DNR for long-term management.

Like the rest of state and federal government, the Illinois DNR is facing harsh budget realities that may put a serious dent in resources available for projects like Wightman Lake.

“That is a strong concern,” Miller said during an interview in his office Tuesday. “How will it affect our conservation partners? I can only say it will be negative if HR 1 becomes official policy.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1 a week ago. It significantly reduces or zeroes out some federal conservation programs tapped by DNR and private conservation groups.

Miller said the cuts may put private matching funds at risk, and DNR can’t do it all alone.

“We realize we have to leverage all the different sources in lean times,” he said. “It will impact the total picture. Some things may not be possible.”

DNR faces several challenges in the coming years, including a backlog of maintenance at state parks, the retirement of conservation police officers who are not being replaced, and increased pressure to run more agency functions on funds generated by license sales, permits and fees.

Special funds

Miller said revenues from hunting and fishing licenses, boating fees and other permits add up to about 40 percent of the agency’s budget.

“The legacy of conservationists and sportsmen that want to pay their own way is still there,” he said.

The Wildlife and Fish Fund — a repository for hunting and fishing license dollars — will contribute $18 million in fiscal 2012, according to the proposed budget.

“All of our funds are being utilized and all are under pressure,” Miller said. “But we are using them wisely and according to their best use.”

In more flush budget times, general revenue funds (state tax revenue referred to as GRF) could be used to pay salaries and some expenses. Those now must be covered by license and permit fees.

That leaves less money available for projects.

For example, Miller said funds allocated to Partners for Conservation (formerly C2000) once were distributed as grants to ecosystem partnerships formed around the state. Now those funds are used to pay staff.

Beyond fish and game

Another challenge for DNR is the breadth of its mission.
Illinoisans most often come into contact with the agency when they visit state parks or buy a license.

However, the state museum system is under DNR’s umbrella. The agency also regulates mining in Illinois, granting permits and governing mine safety. Drinking water comes under the agency’s purview, especially in northeast Illinois.

And all of these expenses by law cannot be covered with income from licenses and stamps.

Conservation Police

A new conservation police officer training class was left out of the budget proposal for 2012, saving $2 million.

Officers begin their careers as a class, and when they retire, they tend to leave as a class. Miller said he expects about 10 officers a year to retire.

Currently, DNR has 117 officers in the field and employs about 30 support staff members.

Miller said he would like to have more.
“It would be nice to stay where we are, but it would be nice to have 20-30 more officers,” he said.

State parks

Miller was circumspect about the prospect of new entrance or parking fees for parks. A bill has been introduced to give DNR authority to charge them, but the agency already has the authority under the administrative rules process.

The agency has not yet taken a position on the issue.
For years, DNR has had to delay maintenance at state parks. Miller says critical maintenance issues are ranked every month and those affecting public health and safety are dealt with first.

“Every month we prioritize things that might degrade the public’s property,” Miller said. “There are several hundred million dollars worth of projects that could be started if funds were available.”

Daily maintenance is taken care of by park staff but infrastructure, including road and building repairs, have been put off.

“We hope at some point we will be able to address that,” he said.

So far, funding issues have not translated into a drop in attendance he said.

And many issues, such as a reduction in invasive species control, are not readily apparent.

“Those with a trained eye will notice,” Miller said.

Miller said volunteers are able to contribute, but not replace state employees.

“If we are eroding a position, that is where we have to stop and draw the line,” he said.

Focusing on youths, helping with fishing programs and hunter safety classes are good places for volunteers to get involved.

“One of the first and easiest things to do is take a child to a state park or take them hunting or fishing,” Miller said.
“We really do need to focus on our kids,” he says. “That in the long run will help conservation.”

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

B.S. .... Bunch of liars…they’re going to do whatever they want to do, no matter what we say…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/27 at 05:23 PM

Lets see they raise the permit fees for deer permits then promise that they would charge for people to use state parks so all of the burden isn’t just on the hunters,  Then they sweep the funds that we were told would help staff and maintain the DNR.  No thanks you now have a deaf ear.  Lets do what Missouri did and privatize the DNR so the money stays where it is suppose to be because the crooks cant keep their paws out of the cookie jar.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/28 at 08:45 PM

?Every month we prioritize things that might degrade the public?s property,? Miller said. ?There are several hundred million dollars worth of projects that could be started if funds were available.?

Are you kidding me, how could you justify asking for more funding when the State of Illinois just increased the State Income Tax by 67%!  The unmitigated gall of some politicians!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/02 at 10:12 AM

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