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Flex conservation muscle

Considering how close Illinois' gubernatorial race was, I wondered if Gov. Quinn's strong support on conservation issues might have been a deciding factor.

In other words, do we as the outdoors crowd have some political capital- So I asked Mark Brown, the Sun-Times' lead columnist and the best political sort I know.

''You know, in an election this close, everybody pulls out one factor in isolation and says that's the reason he won, when actually, it was all those factors combined,'' he said. ''So to that extent, you've got as much right to single out your issue as do the folks who say it was suburban women who preferred his position on abortion. My only question would be the extent to which the public identifies Quinn as someone who is strong on conservation issues.''

I don't know that conservation concern comes from Quinn's heart, but on a practical level, he has a long good history on conservation, especially related to water and rivers.

From pitching in to help preserve Plum Island, the famous island where eagles roost by Starved Rock, to naming Marc Miller, a wildlife professional, to head the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in his first major move as governor in February 2009, Quinn has a proven record on conservation issues.

I'd like even more. From Quinn and Miller both. I understand money is tight, and offer these priorities with that in mind.

**The core issue in Illinois outdoors is access. While attempting more public access on private land, such as the new Illinois Recreational Access Program, is good, it doesn't solve the real problem. The only way to solve that is to get more land, actual acreage, for the general public.

That's a long-term issue, one that will take generations to solve. But we can chip away at it. I would like to see a commitment from Quinn and Miller to complete some land purchase every year. Even if it is just another piece for a pheasant habitat area or addition to a state park or fish and wildlife area.

**Tight times are perfect to negotiate with the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees on operating rules, especially with regard to volunteers. There has to be an easing of the rules to allow volunteers to manage smaller areas such as the public hunting areas, volunteer crews to do maintenance work, and volunteers to take over some jobs now filled by summer help.

**We have a president from our state, so if ever we are going to force the feds to take over the Asian carp problem, now is the time. I'm sick of our biologists being pulled away to monitor Asian carp, a battle I don't think can be won. It is an international issue. It should be solved at that level. I want our biologists studying perch and salmon on Lake Michigan and walleye and smallmouth on the Fox, Des Plaines and Kankakee rivers, not endlessly being pulled for another electro-shocking expedition on the Chicago River.

**Use existing lands better. LaSalle Lake is a perfect example. It could and should be open year-round and have a concessionaire.

**Don't just sanction another white paper on why we shouldn't stock a native fish like walleye in Lake Michigan. Instead, figure out how to let interested groups fund and carry out trial stockings.

**Open July to perch fishing on Lake Michigan. Nobody is asking to have the limits lifted, just for the proper access to the most fundamental outdoor activity on the Chicago lakefront.

**With grudging support, at least from thinking sportsmen and women, Miller and Quinn pushed through fee increases for fishing and hunting. We have seen some of the results with the return of a turkey biologist and an ag and grassland wildlife program manager. Considering how much of those fee increases come from the Chicago area, we should have seen at least one, possibly even two, positions returned to the Lake Michigan Program. And I do think we have the political capital to ask for that.

There's much to do, even in these tight times.