Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

In the two weeks since winning the Illinois gubernatorial race, J.B. Pritzker has appointed transition committees to deal with children and families, health-related issues and veterans.

That’s a terrific idea. Running a state the size of Illinois is a massive undertaking. No one individual can have his/her fingers on the pulse of every issue. All of us would be wise to seek and take advice from people in the know.

Here’s another suggestion: A transition committee on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

As much as I’d like to take credit for the idea, I have to defer to Ralph Hamilton, long-time site superintendent of Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park at Rend Lake.

Hamilton pitched the idea in a lengthy phone call last week. His argument is compelling.

There has been a significant loss of institutional knowledge at IDNR in the last decade or so. Budget shortfalls led to layoffs and early retirements. In addition, many long-term employees retired of their own volition.

Hamilton suggested, correctly in my estimation, that people like him Bill Reynolds, Kirby Cottrell, Mike Hooe, Jerry Beverlin and others could provide important input — input regarding wildlife, nature and parks — to the new administration.

He stressed the committee should be apolitical. Although Hamilton worked closely with these people, he said politics was never a serious topic of conversation. A deep and abiding affection for IDNR, not the prospect of political game is the motivating factor for these individuals.

While the institutional knowledge these individuals have is invaluable, their practical knowledge is just as compelling. These former IDNR officials have been in the trenches. They know how to save money, what corners can be cut and what apparent savings are fools gold.

Case in point, over the past decade or so the state has lost out on piles of grant money for one of two reasons. First, cash was in short supply, so matching funds for projects weren’t always available. Second, staff cuts were so deep there was no one to write the grant proposals.

Frankly, this committee seems like a no-brainer. It wouldn’t cost the state anything and there are plenty of ex-IDNR employees from every cranny of the state, every nook of the agency. Not only have these men and women been on the ground floor of conservation efforts, they also know the workings of the agency.

Their assistance in prioritizing the rebuilding of IDNR could be invaluable.

Granted, the agency is no longer on life support as it was several years ago, but staffing levels are unacceptable. Some site superintendents are managing 8-12 sites – that serves no one well. Some state parks are without a single full-time employee.

The people named in this column worked for IDNR in the 1990s when it was considered one of the best natural resource organizations in the country. Putting their knowledge to use would benefit us all.

It’s there for the taking. We should accept it.

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On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​


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