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IDNR must get sustainable funding to prevent crippling cuts

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Updated: July 1, 2012 11:53AM

Within days or weeks,
LaSalle Lake might be back to a restricted schedule again, a symptom of more economic issues with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

‘‘This is going on throughout the entire system,’’ IDNR director Marc Miller said. ‘‘This isn’t just LaSalle.’’

This adds a sharp backdrop for House Bill 4193, the IDNR Sustainability Package expected to be introduced by Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) by Monday.

Since last fall, Mautino, a House leader with a special interest in the IDNR because of the big public lands with tourist appeal in his district, has brought together key constituent groups to hammer together his package to fund the IDNR at sustainable levels.

I saw a preliminary draft response from one of the core coalitions backing Mautino’s package. It had this set of criteria:

◆ 1. New revenues should be big enough and diverse enough to achieve goals for department operations and program support.

◆ 2. There should be a direct relationship between proposed revenue sources to IDNR services. There must be a balance of burden.

◆ 3. The removal of mandates should strengthen the department’s capacity to protect our resources, not weaken it.

◆ 4. New revenues should not be subject to legislative and administrative sweeps and loans.

Those four bullet points nicely sum up the reservations virtually everybody I have spoken with has with any sustainable funding plan for the IDNR.

The bottom line is the bottom line.

‘‘It is going to be an extremely tough summer,’’ Miller said.

The IDNR already is a shell of its former self. It needs sustainable funding that cash-strapped governors or legislatures can’t raid or borrow against, and it needs that funding just to provide basic public-access opportunities to our public lands and waters.

That brings us back to the
specifics of LaSalle, the cooling lake just south of Seneca.

Because of an arbitration ruling, full-time staff must open the gates to allow access at LaSalle. The IDNR was using and planning on using conservation workers (the fancy term for summer help) to open and close gates.

Two things immediately come to mind. First, that restriction must be negotiated out in the next contract. Second, IDNR leaders need to think more creatively and see if Exelon would be willing to work at unlocking the gate with a security person, similar to what is done at places such as Powerton Lake.

Of more immediate concern is the reduction of access to LaSalle.

‘‘Essentially, we do not have enough staff; we would have to go to five days a week [with full-time staff opening],’’ Miller said.

But Miller said the IDNR would staff LaSalle with fill-in full-time staff to keep it open daily at least through the end of May.

It’s part of a much broader problem, which is about to be complicated even more with pending retirements.

‘‘If there is no change, we will have to adjust schedules across the state,’’ Miller said.

‘‘Adjust’’ is too gentle a word. It would be like ripping a bandage off an elbow to put on an knee.

‘‘There are programs that are going to cease being delivered,’’ Miller said. ‘‘It is going to be a very interesting rest of the month and, probably, summer.’’

That’s not the kind of interesting I want in Illinois outdoors. I await HB4193.

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