Saturday, January 29, 2022

Legislation Filed to Abolish the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Advisory Board

Hunters, Anglers, Outdoor Enthusiasts - I write to you today regarding a piece of legislation filed this year.  My experiences with NRAB and the IDNR have spanned many years. My opinion is complex with lots of backstory.  If you wish to read the bill for yourself and form your own opinions, please do so here.   This article contains many of the same thoughts that have been expressed to me from IDNR employees, hunters, anglers and many who enjoy the outdoors. 

HB 4713 / SB 3908 was filed to Abolish the DNR Advisory Board.  The bill states the following: "Amends the Departments of State Government Law of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois by repealing the Section that created the Department of Natural Resources Advisory Board. Makes corresponding changes in the Wildlife Code and the Illinois Open Land Trust Act. Amends the Department of Natural Resources Act. Authorizes the Department of Natural Resources to conduct regional yearly public forums to obtain public input and comments on subjects, matters, or programs under the control of the Department of Natural Resources. Requires the Department of Natural Resources to consider all comments received during a public forum."

What is NRAB?  The Advisory Board is statutorily created to advise the agency on long range policies to assist in guiding the protection and conservation of renewable resources of the state and recommend changes in hunting and trapping seasons and bag or possession limits. They also recommend to the Director which projects receive funding in bike, boat, and Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant programs. Members serve six year terms and are appointed by the Governor. The Board holds quarterly meetings with time allotted for public comment on any topic. You can read more here

I have attended numerous NRAB meetings over many administrations and this is my opinion of the board and the agency behind it. 
It's politics.  The members of the board are solely appointed by the Governor with some representing special interest groups whose voice seems to be heard louder than others.  Although the agenda may seem packed with discussion items, little discussion is had between board members with the department getting what the department wants. 

I have been constantly met by a stone wall when I want to get information from these agenda items.  I have wanted to see the reports that the board has been discussing and have been told that the information is not "public ready". There have been Open Meetings violations such as board members having discussions outside of the public forum and where meeting minutes are not posted timely. This board is run by the agency that many in the outdoor community have had problems with for years.  And this bill would give that agency more power and less oversight.

On the flip side, there are some members of the board that are very outspoken, that have tried for years to have certain voices be heard in regions of our state.  Who have time after time spoken up and have gotten nowhere. Who have had the same disappointments and struggles with this agency as many of you have had. This voice also happens to be the Chairman of the board.  Funny thing is, since that voice became Chairman NRAB has had very little meetings with the last being May 2021.  Coincidence?  

When Director Callahan came into office I had high hopes, silly me.  This bill is a slap in the face to outdoorsmen and women and was filed to silence the voices they don't want to hear.  When we reached out to the IDNR for comment Director of Communications -Jayette Bolinski stated the following:

The language contained in HB4713/SB3908 is placeholder language at this time to accommodate legislative filing deadlines. The proposal is not finalized, and IDNR will be working with sponsors to file an amendment.

IDNR has every intention of continuing the Natural Resources Advisory Board. However, state law established this panel 24 years ago, and today we believe the board can and should better reflect the diversity of the state, the current duties of the department as defined by state law, and those who seek to enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities throughout Illinois.

IDNR receives advice from numerous boards and commissions on matters such as endangered species protection, climate change and nature preserves. We work closely with conservation-focused organizations statewide to manage and protect wildlife, land, and water. We monitor comments on our social media channels and share that feedback with IDNR staff. This is an agency that values public feedback and participation in the decision-making process.

If the intent of the legislation is not to Abolish the Board, don't file a bill to abolish the board.  There are other ways to file legislation to meet the filing deadline that could accommodate said amendment.  WORDS MATTER and the fact that the bill as filed stated that the agency wants to abolish the board MATTERS.  Your intent can not be trusted.  Your intent has time after time slapped us in the face.   The board can already do what you intend for it to do.  It does not need legislation to do that. 

I have heard for years that the IDNR intends to do certain things, that they agree with me on certain items.   I have even gone to the board and voiced my opinion on issues and that goes unheard. 

I agree that the board needs to be revamped.  That things need to change.  But, I do not agree that the board needs to be abolished.  That is the farthest thing from what needs to be done with the IDNR.  Although the board has been mismanaged, misdirected and in my opinion, run haphazardly it should not be abolished.  It has a specific purpose. 

For starters, maybe instead of having the Governor solely appoint members of the board, "diversify" it by having appointments made from the four caucuses.  The make-up of many boards and commissions are done this way. 

  • 2 members appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate and 2 members appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate.  
  • 2 members appointed by the Majority Leader of the House and 2 members appointed by the Minority Leader of the House. 
  • 2 members appointed by the Governor. 
The legislation states that instead of the advisory board, public forums shall take place.  I don't know about you, but I have been to other IDNR forums, they are sparsely attended and the comments are taken with a grain of salt with no oversight.   The lack of involvement should speak volumes to the IDNR.  The public does not feel that they are listened to and after years of that treatment they just stopped showing up.  

If the IDNR wants to know what the outdoor community thinks, bring back Conservation Congress. PERIOD. 

But who am I.  I attended NRAB on my dime, representing noone. And for years I have tried to work with the IDNR on so many issues.  Have reached out to them on so many things but its just been yakety yakety yak with no answer back. 

The Outdoor Community needs to wake up, stand up and pay attention.   

This is not good policy. This is not okay. This is not how the IDNR Communicates, Collaborates or Connects. 

At the time of writing this article Director Callahan has declined to comment on this issue.