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IDNR Seeks Your Input

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....or sit down and shut up.


SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Department of Natural Resources isonly now beginning the long road to recovery after years of budgetcuts, layoffs and park closures.


In the latest example of Gov. Pat Quinn-style electronicdemocracy, IDNR Director Marc Miller is asking outdoor enthusiaststo fill out an online survey to help find cures for what ails theagency. He's hoping for input in three areas:


-- How can IDNR get more people involved in outdoorrecreation?


-- How can the agency boost public access to recreationalopportunities in a state where 98 percent of the land is privatelyowned?


-- Where can the financially-strapped state find more cash toenhance conservation and recreation?


Visit http://dnr.state.il.us/nrab/cc.htm to take part.


The Conservation Congress will review the results at itsupcoming meeting Oct. 24-25 at IDNR headquarters in Springfield.The congress is a grassroots citizen input structure originally putin place by Brent Manning, director of IDNR during what many viewas the agency's golden age under Govs. Jim Edgar and GeorgeRyan.


The congress is comprised of fishing and hunting organizations,clubs representing non-consumptive pastimes like bird watching andconservation groups. The last congress was held in 2004.


"It (the survey) is a great opportunity for people to tell uswhat they think," said Miller. "We must focus on these three things(public access, recruitment/retention and funding). We have toanswer them or this agency may not be around."


Quinn appointed Miller, his former senior policy adviser, tolead IDNR about eight months ago. They quickly moved to reopenstate parks and historic sites closed by former Gov. RodBlagojevich. Quinn's strong support also helped IDNR to hold itsown during recent budget politicking despite the state's grimfinancial outlook. Money that Blagojevich stripped from fundsearmarked for outdoor recreation and conservation also has beenrestored.


But IDNR needs to find ways to cope with the loss of about halfof its most experienced work force and half of its share of stategeneral revenue funds compared to a decade ago. Manpower is downfrom about 2,600 at its peak to about 1,300 today, Miller said.


Miller said state conservation agencies across the nation alsomust confront the gradual decline in participation, especiallyamong the younger generation, in hunting and fishing, twomainstream outdoor sports. Records show fishing license sales inIllinois peaked at just over one million in 1975. IDNR sold 686,635fishing licenses in 2008. Hunting permit sales peaked at just over556,000 in the mid-1950s, dipped for about 20 years and then roseagain to 511,000 in the mid-1970s. The agency sold less than324,000 last year.


Miller agrees with Richard Louv who noted in his book, "LastChild in the Woods," that kids who take part in less imaginativeplay outdoors have lower marks and more behavior problems inschool. They also suffer from obesity at a higher rate. Over time,fewer people will have an emotional attachment to the outdoors andsee the need to conserve outdoor recreational opportunities andprotect the environment.


"Without them, our future could be imperiled," said Miller,noting the survey probes interest in educational and mentoringprograms.


On the funding issue, views are being sought on whether thestate should raise sales taxes, income taxes or luxury taxes oncigarettes and other items. Hunting and fishing license feeincreases also are discussed.


The General Assembly adjourned without acting on a proposal toboost the cost of a fishing license from $13 to $15 and the cost ofa hunting permit from $7 to $15, the first increase in threedecades. A combination sportsman's license would cost $25, whichMiller said is on par with other Midwestern states. IDNR is stillexploring the idea to institute a parking fee for state parks thatcan be done without General Assembly approval.


Miller said about 3,000 people have responded to the survey. Hehopes more will take part before the deadline later this week.


"Constituents need to be engaged in the agency for the agency tosucceed," Miller said. "It's been missing for years and you can seewhat happens. We need to bring it back."

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