July 23, 2008

IDNR On The Chopping Block

OK, we get it. The state's finances are about as solid as the "quaking bog" at Volo Bog State Natural Area. There seem to be as many bones of contention and disagreements between legislative leaders and the Governor as grains of sand at Illinois Beach State Park.

However, I think all of our leaders would tell you that the cuts to the Department of Natural Resources' budget that take effect Thursday are undesirable and unnecessary. And yet, while our state parks were full of people this week enjoying the great outdoors, mostly unaware of the looming threat to their ability to have that experience, our state capitol was empty of the leadership needed to solve the problem. The cuts that will devastate the IDNR go into effect without any last-minute drama or frantic attempts to reverse them by any of the leaders who could do so.

That, campers, is the sad state of affairs in our state capitol.

Oh, there are a lot of people working hard to reverse the cuts. Sierra Club and our allies in the Partners for Parks and Wildlife coalition held events at parks across the state Tuesday. We were joined by a remarkably diverse group of local elected officials, economic development advocates, outdoor recreation groups, educators, and more, all motivated on very short notice by the prospect of the unthinkable: an Illinois DNR, already strained by staff reductions going back to 2001, facing massive layoffs and the probability of park closures, environmental protection programs eliminated or scaled even further back, and recreation and education opportunities eliminated. We are looking at the sudden termination of a project to ensure adequate drinking water supplies downstate and in Chicago's suburbs, of efforts to make sure we don't put people and property at increased flood risk by regulating floodplain development, and letting go the scientists who we count on to protect the Prairie State's natural heritage for future generations.

The participation in these events was very strong, the media coverage widespread - see some of it below. Will it make a difference?

It's not too late. Yes, Governor Blagojevich's cuts take effect Thursday, but the pink slips don't have to go out right away to the people protecting our water, wildlife, and natural heritage. The Governor can keep the Department running at current levels, and commit to passing a supplemental appropriations bill to restore funding to pre-cut levels. The members and leaders of the Illinois General Assembly can agree to pass such a bill at their earliest opportunity.

Now that would take actually talking to each other, and leading. I think we all hope that that's still possible. If not, the damage will not be temporary - it will take a decade or more to recover from.

Here's some of the press coverage of the situation:

Our View: Pummeling Illinois' park system - Peoria, IL - pjstar.com

Groups lobby to restore DNR funds

Nature groups urge governor to hold off on budget cuts

Park advocates want state money restored

DNR and Budget Cuts

Park advocates want state money restored

Blagojevich administration mum on effects of budget cuts

States could close parks

Parks feel budget cuts


Parks Losing Conservation Officers

Nature a loser in budget cuts, advocates say

State's natural resource agency itself is endangered, conservationists say

State's DNR cuts could be 'devastating'

Critics pan governor's IDNR budget cuts

Environmentalists ask for public support in fighting budget cuts for state parks

Budget Cuts Put State Parks at Risk

Protesters: Save state parks