Outdoors checklist for new year

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Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a prime example of a usable outdoors space near an urban area. | Dale Bowman/For the Sun-Times

BY DALE BOWMAN

For the Sun-Times

The isolation of the colorfully named old pits of Mazonia South — Eagle, Monster, Ponderosa — and the open expanses at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie are the models that come to me when I think about modern wild spaces near urban areas.

With a new governor coming and a new year, I pondered what I hoped for from the new administration. I came up with a basic tenet and a few smaller items that really matter.

The biggest thing is land for general public outdoors use in northeast Illinois.

Two keys are in that.

First, I mean northeast Illinois. The last major purchase for general outdoors usage in the Chicago area was Mazonia South during Gov. George Ryan’s tenure more than 15 years ago.

Second, by general outdoors use, I mean sites that include hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, birding, camping, etc. There’s plenty of private money floating around for purchase of land for restoration and preservation. I am talking about land actually used by ordinary people in 21st-century outdoors. I mean hiking boots on the ground, not pie-eyed restoration dreams.

Mazonia South and Midewin are the two most recent major examples of what I mean.

That’s what I think should be the underlying premise as the new administration comes in.

Here are a few specifics:

◆ Through the years, my opinion has shifted on this. I really don’t care if the new director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is a wildlife professional. I want somebody political enough to understand what the constituency wants and political enough to guide it through the quagmire of Illinois politics. A political wildlife professional would be fine, which is why many pine for the days of yore and Brent Manning.

◆ I want the new administration to think about the long term, not the immediate economic impact, when discussing fracking regulations. I know fracking seems like a Downstate issue, but it eventually will affect us all.

◆ When it comes to regulating perch fishing, there must be a nod to the fundamental role that perch play in Chicago outdoors.

◆ When it comes to deer management, I’m more irked at fellow hunters than at state managers. The loudest complainers about the deer herd basically want deer managed for mature bucks, the objects of trophy hunters. That isn’t the business of the state and never should be, other than on a limited scale or, more pertinently, by private citizens on private land.

◆ It might be too late to go back, but decentralizing the IDNR would be a step in the right direction. One of the few missteps made during Manning’s Hall of Fame reign was centralization in Springfield, epitomized by the massive DNR office building on the north end of the Illinois State Fair Grounds. One of the strengths of the old Department of Conservation was the management of local sites locally. While that isn’t perfect — it can lead to small-town cronyism and local favors — it allows local managers the ability to respond quickly to local problems without awaiting a decree from Springfield.

◆ And absolutely do not combine the Department of Agriculture with the DNR, something Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner hasn’t ruled out. It was an idea floated during Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s reign.

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