Land of Lincoln and Springfield could use some wisdom for the IDNR director pick

SHARE Land of Lincoln and Springfield could use some wisdom for the IDNR director pick

May the next director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources be as wise as the man commemorated here in Springfield.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker proclaimed in his inauguration speech, “I believe in science. To that end, as one of my first acts as Governor, Illinois will become a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance, upholding the goals and ideals of the Paris Climate Accord.”

Good, that matters in the long view for Illinois outdoors.

But more than that grandiose proclamation, I would like a simple declarative sentence from Pritzker, “I believe a wildlife professional should head the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.”

Unfortunately, I am losing faith.

Rumors have had Downstate legislators or former legislators as likely to be named director of the IDNR. The latest came earlier this month when the O’Fallon Weekly reported that state representative Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) is “likely to be appointed the next Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.”

That was one of the two Downstate legislative sorts I heard mentioned most.

Attempts to reach Costello by phone and email were unsuccessful this week.

A veteran IDNR staffer said that rumor had died down, but noted the rumors are “like firecrackers going off.”

We just came through nearly four years of a former legislator, Wayne Rosenthal, being IDNR director. I was vehemently against it from the beginning when former Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the hire.

But Rosenthal was exactly as advertised, an able administrator. He kept the department together through brutally tough years without a budget and he managed to keep morale up, too.

While I value competent, I want more. I want vision in the outdoors.

To the credit of Rauner, he did the right thing when it mattered most. Two bills that really mattered in Illinois outdoors crossed Rauner’s desk and he made the right decision on both.

In July of 2015, he signed HB352, which allowed a restricted bobcat season. Decades of data and research by the IDNR and Southern Illinois showed how bobcats were doing in Illinois and is why the IDNR backed the limited season.

That’s making a decision based on science, rather than personal feelings.

In September of 2018, Rauner vetoed the bizarre SB2493, which would have allowed selective supplemental feeding of wild deer and would have forced a study of supplemental feeding of wild deer. The veto barely survived a lame-duck session override vote in the Senate in November, 2018.

A former IDNR staffer observed last summer that the bill would have never made it out of committee if there had been a wildlife professional–such as Brent Manning or Marc Miller–as IDNR director.

Day to day stuff of heading the IDNR can be handled by an administrator or politician.

But there are moments, crucial ones, when somebody with a science background matters. Then it matters much and for more than political reasons.

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