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After years of work, 4th waterfowl zone is finally a reality

Callers Rend Lake will benefit greatly from additifourth zone for hunting waterfowl Illinois. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Callers on Rend Lake will benefit greatly from the addition of a fourth zone for hunting waterfowl in Illinois. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 2, 2011 3:12PM

Word filtered out of the Service Regulatory
Committee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on
Thursday that fourth zones for
waterfowl hunting had been

‘‘We got it,’’ said Marc Miller, the director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Decades of battling for four zones for hunting waterfowl finally had been successful. And things moved fast, for a change. By Friday, FWS chief Dan Ashe had signed off on it, and it went to the Federal Register.

The bottom line is that Illinois should have four zones in 2011. And it might be the only state set to
have proposals out in time to do that this year.

‘‘It was a three-year jihad,’’ said Larry Lucas, a member of the Natural Resources Advisory Board.

I was wrong. I didn’t think there was a chance this would happen. When Lucas kept telling me it might go, I thought he was nuts. But he was right. So was Miller, who kept saying it had a chance.

‘‘I am an optimistic person,’’ Miller said. ‘‘I like to think good policy wins out over good politics most times. We worked very hard on this. I will be able to smile and know that the best policy won out.’’

Common sense — make that good sense — won out.

‘‘It made too much sense and didn’t cost the government a cent,’’ Lucas said.

I agree with that, particularly on the too-much-sense part. I never expected it even to come close.

For Illinois, it doesn’t simply mean sense; it means dollars and cents.

Illinois is a goofy long state, even more from a meteorological perspective than a political one. Cairo is closer in climate to New Orleans than it is to Chicago, and Rockford is closer in climate to Rochester, Minn., than it is to Sparta.

As somebody who does statewide fishing reports, I know this firsthand. In spring, hard-cores can be ice-fishing in Lake and McHenry counties at the same time largemouth bass are pulling up to beds in far southern Pope County.

With climate change, the southern part of the state lost the economic boost of the Canada goose migration. There has been a slow shift to duck hunting. A fourth zone in the south should help to make that more of an economic engine for southern Illinois.

We live in a wild and wacky state, and I mean more than just the actions of our political leaders. This time, our political and IDNR leaders did us right.

Lucas thought the bulk of the credit should go to Sen. Dick Durbin’s staff members, who kept the pressure on for years.

Miller cited the efforts of Gov. Pat Quinn, who last year took the extraordinary step of sending a letter to the Secretary of the Interior in support of the fourth zone.

‘‘I am absolutely ecstatic today,’’ Miller said. ‘‘It could have been viewed as a long shot. This is about the hunters and providing more hunting opportunity.’’

On a related matter, the one change Miller suggested to the recommendations of the NRAB was an innovative split for duck
and goose hunting between the north and central zones in northeastern Illinois.

The line for goose hunting will be I-80 in Grundy, Cook and Will counties, while the duck zone will remain the line gerrymandered five years ago.

It works and is part of an extraordinary July in the history of Illinois waterfowling.

‘‘[The fourth zone] is going to be a legacy achievement that will have an impact for years on waterfowlers,’’ Miller said. ‘‘I am very proud of our professionals.’’

That’s the truth, and it’s something I never thought would happen.

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