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Les Winkeler: Dear Gov.-elect Pritzker, IDNR needs your attention

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Friday, November 9, 2018  |  Commentary  |  Les Winkeler - Outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan

Conservation (23) , Natural resources (23)
Dear Gov.-elect Pritzker,

I realize you’re pretty new to this governor thing.

I know you technically aren’t in charge for several weeks. And, I know people are going to be bending your ear for this or that. There is that whole backlog of bills thing. The pension issue is going to be a pain in your political side for however long you serve.

And, simply regaining the confidence of Illinois voters is going to be difficult.

But, about the Illinois Department of Natural Resources ...

Could you please appoint a biologist as director? I don’t think that is too much to ask.

It’s not that a director without a biological background can’t be a good administrator. In fact, I think the current director, Wayne Rosenthal, has been effective in that regard. However, the DNR should be headed by a biologist.

The concept of monetizing state parks seems to be gaining traction.
The DNR manager should put the plants and animals of the state first. That includes making appointments to other positions within the department. I am of the belief that when the DNR director is concerned first and foremost with the state’s plants and animals, that attitude will be passed down the chain of command.

A month or so ago I heard a DNR official complain about an endangered species holding up a planned construction project. From where I sit, that was a heretical statement. An IDNR spokesperson should be more concerned with endangered species than a construction project.

Which reminds me — can we drop the whole notion that state parks should be cash cows? I realize the state is still in tough financial condition, but parks and green spaces aren’t meant to be sources of revenue. They’re supposed to be places of refuge for critters, including humans.

If you want to consider user fees — the feds do it — I’m listening. But, ATV tracks? I’m not seeing it.

Finally, the primary reason the IDNR is still afloat is the amazingly dedicated staff you are inheriting. Site superintendents are burning wood in their offices and maintenance buildings to save on fuel costs. They’ve become savants at saving dimes and nickels.

Granted, the ongoing financial issues complicate running the state, but at some point Illinois is going to have to re-staff the DNR.

When boiled down to its simplest level, man’s role on this planet isn’t that complicated.
Wildlife and fisheries biologists are covering five or six counties. They cannot be effective when they are spread that thin. Conservation police officers each cover several counties. When you consider they are working in some of the most remote places in the state, it’s easy to see their job is nearly impossible.

And, the site superintendents ...

Some of these dedicated public servants are administering 10 to 12 sites. That’s beyond ridiculous — it’s irresponsible. Some state parks in our region don’t have a single full-time employee.

We the people deserve better than that. The state employees deserve better than that.

There was a time a couple decades ago when the IDNR was one of the jewels of Illinois. You could polish your own legacy by restoring some of the luster. And, you’d be doing all of us a favor.

Thank you for listening ... but, we will be watching.

 

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / on Twitter @LesWinkeler.