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Gretchen
GRETCHEN
STEELE

Through the Lens

Fiddling While DNR Burns

Mon, March 06, 2017

Over the course of the last several weeks I have been slogging through a ton of paperwork related to the possible loss of Illinois’ share of the Pittman Robertson and Dingell Johnson funds.  It’s not something that many realized could be a possible unintended consequence of the budget impasse.

I first wrote about the issue on this blog post. http://heartlandoutdoors.com/gretchen/story/lesser_known_consequences_of_the_budget_impasse/

Here we are, -  a full nine months down the road from that original blog post, and the situation remains unchanged. Unchanged to the point some monies have been already been placed in “reversion” status. That means that essentially those dollars go back to the feds for redistribution among the states – states plural.

As is common with many federal grants, there’s a use it or lose it rule of some sort. Per communication from USFWS, “The IL DNR has been given limited budget/spending authority by the State which prevents them from providing their required match for each grant per Federal regulations.
 
USFWS explained the reversion process as follows:
A safety margin is established at the beginning of each Federal Fiscal Year which is equivalent to the total current dollars obligated in the prior Federal Fiscal Year.  When a grant project is completed and if there are unused federal funds from that grant, the unused amount is deobligated.  The deobligated amount is filtered through each years’ safety margin beginning with the Federal fiscal year the funding was originally obligated.  This amount is also deducted from each year’s safety margin, reducing the safety margin by that amount.  If the State has an adequate safety margin, 100% of the funding is returned to the State for use in new projects.  If the State was not able to obligate enough Federal dollars in any given year, then the unused funding will revert (returned to Washington Headquarters to be re-allocated across all states in the next Federal fiscal year).

Last week I had a rather long and drawn out piece prepared, I had worked with several conservation organizations to contact their legislators and request that this pass-through spending be authorized.  It could be done as a separate spending/appropriation bill and would allow approximately 35 approved projects to move forward. It could prevent the possible closure of the Wildlife Research Lab at SIU. It could keep multiple research, fisheries, and land management projects going.

Then, I was heartened to see during last weeks “Grand Bargain “debates that these dollars were specifically addressed in SB0006; amendment 3. The bill passed – so I began to breathe a sigh of relief for about a nanosecond until I realized that this specific appropriation bill for the remainder of FY2017 (sort of another stop gap spending plan since the other expired on December 31, 2016) was tied to the Grand Bargain package and by the looks of things as the days unfolded, we are no closer than ever to having appropriations for these funds.

I must wonder if we shouldn’t go back to pressuring legislators to issue a spending authority for these pass-through funds – separate from the Grand Bargain package.
IL cannot afford to just throw away an average of 23mil in federal funding each year. DNR has been constantly decimated for the last 10 plus years and this sure doesn’t help that situation any.

These dollars may seem like chump change when we consider the bill back log as of Friday, was $12,030,034,006.20. But seriously, it’s just fiscal madness to let this money end up being reverted or lost because our legislators can’t come to terms on a budget or spending plan.

I for one am not willing to let excise taxes I paid to the federal government, specifically earmarked for the Pittman Robertson and Dingell Johnson Funds, specifically allocated to our DNR by the USFWS be tossed aside and lost in this grand mess we have found ourselves in.

Personally, I think it’s time for the sportsmen and women of IL to begin calling on legislators and asking to have a separate standalone spending authority for these funds issued.  Unless DNR spends the money, then bills the USFWS program for those expenditures – there exists a very real possibility those dollars will be lost.

I don’t know about the rest of the Heartland community, but I say it’s time to stop the madness when it comes to our DNR’s funding. 

(9) COMMENTS

Confusion about Catfish?

Fri, December 30, 2016

My phone has been a buzz the last couple couple of days about bowfishing for catfish. It’s one of the new laws taking effect on January 1 this year. The bad part of all of this is that folks hear this in news reports etc. and don’t realize that the statute adding catfish is what actually takes effect on January 1. 

Many do not realize that there’s still a whole longer process to go through before one can actually go out and stick an arrow in a catfish.

The following link will explain exactly how the rule making process works.

http://www.ilga.gov/commission/jcar/ILRulemakingProcess.pdf

In a nutshell, there is the First Notice period, which must last for 45 days, may include a public hearing, and is open to written public comments. Agencies can elect to go longer than 45 days.

Following that a Second notice is issued, with any changes and outlines exactly what the proposed rule will be. 

Following that Second notice and acceptance by JCAR, (Joint Committee on Administrative Rules) and receives a Certificate of No Objection, or duly responds to an Objection within 90 days, it may adopt the rulemaking with any Second Notice changes to which the agency and JCAR have agreed during the review process (if any changes were requested or necessary) and any modifications the agency makes in response to a JCAR Objection.

So, although the statute becomes effective on January 1, it still won’t be legal to shoot until these steps have been followed.

What’s important to note on the bowfishing for catfish is that in the proposed admin rule, not all waters open to bowfishing will be open to bowfishing for catfish.

Here’s the rather lengthy list of proposed legal waters for bowfishing for catfish.

3) Catfish species may only be taken in rivers and connected public (wholly accessible by boat) backwaters (see list in Section 810.15) as noted in subsection (d)(4) through (15).

4) Mississippi River connected public (wholly accessible by boat) backwaters, including that portion of the Kaskaskia River below the navigation lock and dam, except:
A) Quincy Bay, including Quincy Bay Waterfowl Management Area.
B) Spring Lake in the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
C) Mark Twain U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge Waters (except by special permit).

5) Illinois River and connected public (wholly accessible by boat) backwaters from Route 89 highway bridge downstream, except for:
A) U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Refuge Waters.
B) Meredosia Lake in Cass and Morgan Counties during the central zone duck season.
C) Clear Lake in Mason County 7 days prior to and during the central zone duck season.
D) Route 89 highway bridge to Starved Rock Dam for the commercial removal of Asian carp only by a limited number of restricted period contracts.

6) Wabash River.

7) Embarras River, except from Route 130 in Coles County upstream to the Harrison Street Bridge, including Lake Charleston.

8) Sangamon River, downstream of Belt Route 48 southwest of Decatur to mouth in Cass County.

9) Kaskaskia River south of Route U.S. 50 Bridge to mouth in Randolph County.

10) Little Wabash River.

11) Big Muddy River south of State Route 14 highway bridge in Franklin County to mouth in Jackson County.

12) Skillet Fork.

13) Cache River from Route 51 downstream to the Mississippi River via Cache Diversion Channel, but not including that portion of the Cache River between the Cache Diversion Channel Levee and the Ohio River.

14) Saline River in Gallatin and Saline Counties.

15) Ohio River, except for:

A) Lock and Dam 52 downstream to a line perpendicular with the end of the longest lock wall, including the circular cell portion.

B) Lock and Dam 53 downstream to a line perpendicular with the end of the longest lock wall, including the circular cell portion.

C) Smithland Dam downstream to a line perpendicular to the end of the outer lock wall.

D) Within 50 yards of the mouth of any tributary or stream.

For those who wish to comment to IDNR on the proposed admin rule change please send your written comments to:
                Anne Mergen, Legal Counsel
Department of Natural Resources
One Natural Resources Way
Springfield IL   62702-1271


When it’s all said and done and the final rules are adopted, we here at Heartland will be the first to let everyone know! And as an aside also included in this proposal is the opening of the lakes at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex to bowfishing for carp, carpsuckers, buffalo, gar, bowfin and suckers!

 

(0) COMMENTS

Rauner Adminstration Planning CPO Layoffs

Wed, November 23, 2016

This was one press release that landed in the in box this morning that I certainly could have lived without seeing. The sheer shortsightedness of this astounds me. I depend on the CPO's, you depend on the CPO's - when this all started I penned “Who Ya Gonna Call?”

My feelings have not changed. In fact if anything, they have grown stronger in support for our Conservation Police Officers.

Read it and weep folks…..

SPRINGFIELD – Hunters who are taking advantage of Illinois’ ongoing deer hunting season this year should take a close look at any Conservation Police Officers they encounter. Those sightings may soon be rare indeed, as the number of those officers could be reduced to what wildlife enthusiasts may call critically endangered status.

“Thirty-two of the state’s more than 130 Conservation Police Officers, including several decorated combat veterans, are slated to lose their jobs at the end of the year,” said Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council (FOP) Assistant Executive Director Shawn Roselieb. “This reduction in officers further erodes the oldest state law enforcement department which at one time boasted 189 officers. Neither the workload nor the responsibilities of the officers have diminished. All of Illinois’ natural resources and everyone who enjoys this state’s great outdoors will suffer the consequences of these reductions. The only people that will benefit are the poachers, polluters, and predators.”

Layoff notices have been sent to 20 current field officers and 12 recent graduates of the Conservation Police Academy. The officers are members of Local Number 804-1 represented by the FOP Labor Council.

“These layoff notices came from a governor who claims to be an avid hunter and outdoorsman and a big supporter of police and law enforcement,” Roselieb said. All of the officers targeted for layoff are employees of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). No layoffs are planned for IDNR administrative staff.

“Reducing the number of officers by nearly one-quarter will significantly reduce law enforcement on IDNR properties, water safety patrols, fish and wildlife protection, timber protection, endangered species protection, citizen rescues, snowmobile safety, hunter safety, and natural disaster response,” Roselieb said. “In addition, Conservation Police Officers perform Homeland Security duties around nuclear power stations, locks and dams, bridges and pipelines, and these responsibilities will suffer as well.”

Conservation Police Officers also assist local, state and federal law enforcement when called upon in cases ranging from misdemeanors to murder. Much of what Conservation Police do in the field is reimbursed by federal agencies, and reducing services endangers those federal funds.

In an impact statement submitted to the Rauner administration regarding the planned layoffs, the Illinois Conservation Police Office of Law Enforcement warned that if the reductions go through Illinois can expect extended response time for non-emergencies, little or no coverage on state lands during the boating season, reduced response during natural disasters and for Homeland Security operations, reduced protection of natural resources, no Safety Education courses for schools and civic organizations, and more overtime costs incurred.

According to official IDNR documents, the State of Illinois has already spent approximately $2.6 million to date on the current Conservation Police Officer trainee class for training and salaries. The deadline to certify the 12 remaining members of this class is December 31, 2016, the same day all of them are scheduled to be laid off.

The IDNR had planned to assign these trainees after they were certified as officers to some of the most well-used natural areas in the state, including Starved Rock State Park, Illinois’ most visited state park and the scene of frequent citizen rescues; Chain-O-Lakes, Fox Waterway and Lake and McHenry Counties, one of the most heavily used recreational boating areas in the nation; and the Frank Holten – Horseshoe Lake State Parks in Madison and St. Clair Counties, with more than a million visitors and a high incidence of crime and arrests.

Twenty-five of the targeted officers, including nine of the trainees scheduled for layoff, are combat veterans. These include Conservation Police Officer Joshua Mooi, who received the Navy Cross as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan following a Taliban ambush when he went back under intense fire multiple times to carry away wounded and killed Marines despite having his rifle being disabled by enemy fire.

Another veteran slated for layoff is Lisa Schoenhoff, who served with the U.S. Army National Guard in Afghanistan and received the Combat Action Badge. She is an IDNR defensive tactics instructor, academy adviser and physical fitness instructor and has been a Conservation Police Officer since 2012.

Justin Knopp is an IDNR officer trainee who served with the National Guard in Afghanistan as part of a mission to support Special Forces in that country. He had re-enlisted and requested to be deployed to Afghanistan as quickly as possible in order to meet the qualifications to be a Conservation Police Officer. He was the Valedictorian of his Conservation Police Officer Academy class.

“These reductions in staff seem like a slap in the face from a governor who professes his admiration of those who have served in our military. Conservation Police Officers know how to deal with threats from wildlife, water and weather, but this new threat of political gamesmanship is something our officers haven’t been trained for, and may be the most dangerous of all,” Roselieb said. “We urge everyone who values the great outdoors and a safe and peaceful society to contact their elected officials and demand that the welfare of our state is placed ahead of political gains.”

The FOP Local Number 804-1 is part of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, a law enforcement union representing more than 11,600 professionals in more than 514 bargaining units who work in the criminal justice system. The Labor Council negotiates and enforces contracts and improves salaries, working conditions, and benefits for law enforcement professionals throughout Illinois. Its members include police officers who work for municipalities, universities, and elected Constitutional officials; county sheriff’s deputies, correctional and court security officers; probation officers; 911 telecommunicators; law enforcement records personnel; and some related support staff.

(14) COMMENTS

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