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One big mess and one big cleanup for IDNR this summer

The implementatiWater Usage Stamp is mess for administratiIDNR director Marc Miller while signing recreatiliability bill August is legacy-changer for Miller

The implementation of the Water Usage Stamp is a mess for the administration of IDNR director Marc Miller, while the signing of the recreation liability bill in August is a legacy-changer for Miller and a major improvement for public access by reducing la

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Updated: October 2, 2013 6:32AM

Two actions this summer make Labor Day weekend a good time to reflect on the job done by Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Nature Resources.

The implementation of the Water Usage Stamp, which began July 1, was a mess, while the signing of SB1042 (recreation liability bill) by Gov. Pat Quinn is a major plus.

The WUS is a minor piece of the DNR Sustainability package, which may be the best legacy of Miller and Quinn. But implementation of the WUS, beginning to end, makes me wonder how connected the department is to a key constituency and how competently staffed it is.

WUS was badly thought out and badly written in how it would be instituted, then poorly publicized. Blowback, legitimately, started almost immediately.

Point-of-sale vendors were stuck with printing the $6 annual stamps for a 50-cent vendor fee. It cost more in employee time than the 50 cents. And WUS buyers are not typically buying $10 in bait and $20 in terminal tackle while in the store.

Then came the ridicule over who had to buy a WUS. Legislators, who haven’t had much to legitimately gripe about with the IDNR under Miller, attacked the requirement for a WUS for inner tubes. Inner tubes were quickly exempted.

Paddlers, particularly serious ones, had deeper complaints. Out-of-state paddlers were required to buy the WUS to participate in events here. The estimate on out-of-state paddlers in an event like the venerable (56 years) Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon is about 30 percent.

There was the silliness of printing the WUS out like a fishing license, then having an adhesive. And there were computer difficulties in processing and discounting large numbers for canoe liveries and rentals.

Some of that is just difficulties of starting something new.

What irked me was what seemed a whiny response from the IDNR, basically implying its constituents were not appreciating the effort to get more money for paddling access through the WUS.

Access is the link to the recreation liability bill.

On Aug. 23, Quinn had another showy signing, this one for SB1042 at the McCormick Place Bird Sanctuary. This might have been worthy of the fuss.

The recreation liability bill might end up as significant as the DNR Sustainability package.

In 2005, a court ruling opened up landowners to liability from recreational users on their land. The response law basically protected landowners who allowed hunting but left landowners at risk for other recreational uses.

That changes under SB1042, for which The Nature Conservancy of Illinois, Openlands and the Illinois Environmental Council, with Sen. Don Harmon and Rep. Ann Williams, did the long political work. The new law broadens landowner protection for more outdoor recreational uses: paddling, sledding, hiking, fishing, climbing, conservation work and beyond.

Passage was vital for a group like TNC, which has major holdings, such as the innovative and evolving Emiquon Preserve, where people hike, fish, watch birds and sightsee.

‘‘[With] this law in place, there will be additional opportunities for people to touch, smell and feel the beauty of Illinois’ greatest treasures,’’ said Michelle Carr, state director for TNC in Illinois.

The bill takes effect Jan. 1, but impact is already building.

‘‘With this legislation in hand, we’ll be reviewing our policies related to public access at existing preserves and will be much more proactive toward incorporating public access and educational opportunities within future natural area acquisitions,’’ said Dave Eustis, HeartLands Conservancy president.

This could be another legacy bill.


Twitter: @BowmanOutside

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