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Brent Manning: ``I'm heartsick by this''

“I am heartsick by this,” Manning said as we finished a phone interview this week.

On the record, Brent Manning has kept his mouth relatively shut about the gutting of the IDNR under Gov. Blagojevich.

That changed this week. The latest $14 million cut to the IDNR had the man who headed the IDNR the longest talking, on the record.

On Sunday, I had a column in the Sun-Times where Manning outlines an idea for using a commission with a professional director to head the IDNR. It’s idea that came out of the discontinued Conservation Congress. It’s posted here.

Here are other tidbits from his conversation.

“We are in hard, tough times, something has to be cut,” Manning said. “But make it proportionate.”

That the IDNR has taken nearly a quarter cut since Blagojevich took over is out of line. That’s what really grates on most of us.

We understand times are tough, but don’t understand why the IDNR is the whipping boy.

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It’s also galling because apparently, at least some of those cuts could be covered by funds in the Wildlife and Fish Fund.

“There’s no reason those funds couldn’t be used in state parks,” Manning said.

He said funds from there could be used for funding such things as deer check stations, biologists and law enforcement. And other fish and wildlife agencies do it.

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What would he do if he was IDNR director now, facing severe cuts?

“First thing, start talking to legislators and administration and find some semblance of salvation,” Manning said.

Amen.

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What else?

“In the short term, I suggest all wonderful [staffers] continue to do the best they can,” he said. “The state parks and fish and wildlife areas are absolutely wonderful. [The staffers’] commitment goes above and beyond.”

Then he had a couple stories about the dedication of law enforcement efforts I had to keep off the record.

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I confess I am one of those who wondered if maybe the IDNR had become a little top-heavy at the end of Manning’s reign.

He had a thought on that.

“That the agency may be bloated or still bloated shows a profound lack of knowledge of the agency and what they do,” he said.

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On the great cash cow, non-resident deer hunters.

He would use the additional funds and put them toward land acquisitions, an idea raised at the end of his tenure.

He would “take that money, bond it, and use the income to pay out on a yearly basis [for land acquisition].”

That’s an idea that has needed to be implemented about a decade ago when the boom really kicked in.

May it yet be put in place.

And our salvation come.