Eye On Illinois: Natural Resources department about much more than parks

“IDNR does far more than make Illinois pretty.”

I didn’t disagree with the reader’s email. My June 15 column on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (Headline: “IDNR staffing shortages unlikely to get lawmakers’ attention”) focused specifically on complaints about state park staffing. That framing followed IDNR Chief of Staff Kristin DiCenso speaking about the issue at a Senate Tourism and Hospitality Committee meeting.

However, the reader noted, I should’ve done a better job putting the department in full context. So here are their words:

“We do flood control and clean water that goes to much of the Chicago area. Flood insurance, flood mitigation, barge navigation, Asian carp control, mine safety, firearm and boat registration. The Conservation Police save lives. If you are going to make the argument that IDNR needs more staffing and budget, then why choose such a weak argument as the state parks? People can go to local parks or whatever, and if they would stop taking selfies on the edge of dangerous cliffs or littering or defacing the cliffs that would help.”

Points all well taken, especially the one about following safety rules. While facilities may be the most forward-facing IDNR responsibility — an estimated 28.4 million people visited state parks, fish and wildlife recreational areas and historic sites in 2020 — the agency manages many other tasks.

Inside Illinois DNR, a monthly newsletter available online, heavily focuses on the IDNR’s go-see-do territory, such as hunting, fishing and museums, in addition to park information. But a look through the May edition includes links to articles on things like a partnership with the Illinois Farm Bureau on a cover crop initiative in Southern Illinois, habitats restoration for migratory waterfowl, a reminder about flood insurance and two opportunities to make money: seasonal jobs and managing IDNR concessions operations.

Past columns have argued for implementation of a parking fee at state recreation facilities to help offset the cost of operations. That still seems worthy of consideration, especially as Illinois faces so many other spending priorities, but the idea has always had two drawbacks: one, it’s only useful if implemented with an unbreakable promise the money stays within IDNR; and two, it only address part of a huge agency.

Recreation is big business, but the IDNR is much more than pretty parks.

Culinary Checklist update: I’ve invited readers to share their favorite menu items from an Illinois restaurant in hopes of creating a “must-eat” list for summer road trips. Today’s comes from a neighborhood friend who grew up down south. She brings our first Madison County suggestion — the famous Foot High Pies from Blue Springs Cafe in Highland, specifically coconut creme and lemon meringue. Share your favorites via email or social media.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.