Public Input for Managing the Outdoors
Illinois' second Conservation Congress approves 26 recommendations/or expanding education programs and recreation opportunities
by Claudia Emken and John Allen
Illinois' second Conservation Congress passed and forwarded to Brent Manning, Director of the Illinois
Department of Conservation, 26 of 40 proposals it considered. It also passed three resolutions and made two changes to its bylaws.
Meeting September 30 through October 2, six committees met Friday afternoon and all day Saturday to approve, amend or table the 40 proposals forwarded by the work teams. The committees prioritized 31 proposals for consideration by the Assembly of Delegates, which passed 26 during the day-long Sunday session.
Governor Jim Edgar and Director Manning addressed the group during Friday's session.
Governor Edgar welcomed the delegates to Springfield and expressed his gratitude for the input given his
administration on natural resources issues. The Governor thanked them for the work they had accomplished
during the past legislative session in support of
Conservation 2000 and indicated he would pursue that initiative in the future.
The number one priorities of each of the six Conservation Congress committees were as follows:
The delegates also made two changes to Conservation Congress bylaws. The first reduces the number of standing committees from seven to six, and the second limits Executive Committee members to two successive terms.
Three resolutions were passed by acclamation. The first urges the Illinois General Assembly to pass the Conservation 2000 initiative that was killed in the last session. The second praises the efforts of Director Manning, Constituent Liaison Claudia Emken and
Executive Chairman John Schmitt in bringing the Congress together. The third urges the U.S. Congress to autho-
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Delegates to the second Illinois Conservation Congress convene on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives.
rize the conversion of the Joliet Army Arsenal to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
During the afternoon of the Friday session. Governor Edgar sent a letter to Vice President Al Gore, asking for his "assistance in ensuring that legislation creating the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie on the site of the Joliet Army Arsenal Plant be enacted before Congress adjourns." The letter cited the Conservation Congress delegates and enclosed a copy of the resolution passed earlier that day.
Conservation Congress is a public involvement which brings constituents into the agency's decision- making process. Issues are generated during regional caucuses, where work teams develop the issues into proposals that are forwarded to the Congress delegates for their consideration. Delegates serve on one of six committees, deliberating whether proposals should be forwarded to the Assembly of Delegates as submitted, amended or tabled.
There are 118 Conservation Congress delegates. Seventy regional delegates were elected by their peers at five regional caucuses, while 48 statewide organizations were invited to appoint a delegate to the Congress.
All delegates are required to attend caucuses and participate on a work team, as well as attend Conservation Congress.
Following is a brief description of the 26 approved proposals from each Congress committee, ranked in order of priority:
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teers willing to help with conservation education; coordinate information on a Department speakers' bureau; maintain databases of related conservation groups or agencies, with contact persons, and internship programs available either through the DOC, universities or other agencies; and strengthen public awareness of environmental and conservation concerns and responsibilities by implementing public information methods designed to reach large numbers of citizens with a diversity of interests, cultures, incomes and ages.
DOC should employ, one at a time as funds become available, at least six conservation education specialists, one for each of the five DOC regions and one for Cook County. The education specialists would serve as liaisons between the regional staff, volunteers, public and private education agencies and organizations and public interest groups. Any surplus funds, after the initial six conservation education specialists are hired, shall be used for the development of new materials. Additional outreach efforts and further staff will be added as warranted.
Place a higher priority on interpretive education at specific sites as an integral part of the site management.
Increase the availability of information to the public, and educational groups in particular. DOC should strengthen and publicize its developing central information clearinghouse for conservation and environmental education.
To further support DOC's efforts toward teaching the youth of Illinois proper hunting ethics, non-hunting youth at least 10 years of age should be permitted to accompany their parent(s) or guardian on hunts at DOC- controlled sites.
Initiate cooperative efforts between DOC and federal. state, county and local entities to survey existing publicly owned properties to identify areas for expanded hunting, fishing and trapping opportunities as part of a responsible wildlife management plan.
Restore the DOC Heavy Equipment Crew to pre-1992 operational levels and expand as needed to ensure that fish and wildlife habitat restoration and recreation projects are completed efficiently and cost-effectively.
* Restore and expand the controlled pheasant huning program on the 16 state sites to the pre-1990 levels. Raise the daily fee to reflect production costs, but not to exceed $20 by 1996 or $25 by the year 2000.
* Revise the deer permit and permits for persons with disabilities systems by providing over-the-counter deer archery permits at selected sites and making them a one-time combination purchase of one either-sex permit plus one antlerless only permit; require all bowhunters less than 16 years of age to have completed a bowhunting safety course, as instructors and materials become available; expand the number of sites in the Quality Deer Program and do a detailed study of the efficacy of this program; and expand crossbow hunting opportunities for persons with disabilities to other species such as small game and upland game.
* Create a uniform system for reserving camp sites for individuals and groups at the facilities under DOC operation or the operation of its concessionaires.
* Review the method of selecting waterfowl hunting dates and zones to maximize hunter opportunity.
PUBLIC AND POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT
* Expand public/private partnerships. Most of the state's natural resources and wildlife habitat are on privately owned land. Public access often is limited due to liability risk and lack of public use management.
Persuade legislators to further consolidate, clarify and expand liability protection to private and public parties entering into agreements or leases with the DOC for the use of their land and water resources for recreation or conservation purposes.
* DOC should develop land use agreements and/or leases for use with private landowners that outline duties, responsibilities, and legal obligations of the state,
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DOC and landowner when used for public access. Inform private and public landowners of goals, potential uses and agreement obligations in the use of private lands for recreation or conservation uses. Public users of contracted private lands for recreation or conservation purposes must be educated as to access responsibilities with possible user permits or fees.
DOC should initiate legislation which would establish a state natural resource policy designed to sustain and enhance the state's natural resources. This policy would apply to all units of state government. It is apparent that the state does not have a clear natural resource goal which all agencies can and should work toward, and all too frequently agency programs work against each other. The action of establishing a legislative goal should eliminate this problem by requiring all agencies to evaluate their programs and, where required, redirect their programs to strive to meet this common goal.
* The DOC director should contact the appropriate legislators to initiate and support legislation to require the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) to prepare environmental impact statements. Require ISTHA to adequately consider the growth-related and additional infrastructure impacts of its proposed projects, within the context of existing regional and local land use plans. Require ISTHA plans to undergo a public review and comment process comparable to other state agency plans, and amend ISTHA's authorizing legislation and charter to require it to allow other modes of transportation, including bikeways and commuter train lines, within tollway rights-of-way.
* DOC should work with the state university system to expand the intern program for recent graduates to accelerate the delivery of conservation practices on private land. Also, routine administrative tasks at the field level should be streamlined or eliminated to free biologists and foresters to work with more fanners, farm managers and follow-up on practices underway.
TRAILS AND GREENWAYS
* Prepare a statewide strategic plan for the improvement of stream corridors and establish an educational outreach program. The improvement of water quality is the primary goal. Benefits include: flood management, cropland protection, wildlife habitat and greenways. DOC would coordinate with the ERA to designate those watersheds with poor water quality. DOC would work with other agencies to help landowners establish and enhance riparian areas through education and effective conservation practices with incentives such as cost-sharing programs, management agreements and other innovative techniques.
* The Governor should direct all state agencies to provide additional protection to priority stream segments (approximately six percent of total stream miles in the state) through focused attention in the existing permit review process. Projects affecting priority stream segments would receive extraordinary review and would be considered to be in especially sensitive areas. Any activity that would affect
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Randy Nyboer, Department of Conservation Natural Heritage biologist, facilitates one of the six working Committees of the Conservation Congress.
the water quality, or the physical, biological or hydrological stability of a declared priority stream segment would require special permitting attention.
This is not intended to "write off' other stream reaches, but the exceptional quality of priority stream segments elevates them to special protection, over and above the normal consideration; Access to riparian corridors for recreation should be developed if the activities are compatible with the maintenance of the ecological integrity of the stream.
All rivers and streams in the state will be considered for priority stream segment classification. Priority stream segments and their corresponding riparian corridors should be incorporated into the DOC strategic plan. Through legislative action, DOC will be the administrative agency responsible for the designation of priority stream segments.
* Create no-discharge zones in Illinois. DOC should use the provisions of the Clean Vessel Act of 1992 to provide boaters with adequate sewage disposal systems and ultimately have USEPA declare all water in Illinois as "no discharge zones."
* The state shall protect and enhance biodiversity and provide more outdoor recreational opportunities for its citizens. Legislation should be enacted to: establish habitat acquisition as a high priority for the DOC for the coming decades, direct the DOC to acquire habitat with all deliberate speed, and appropriate funds sufficient to acquire public habitat from willing sellers at an annual rate of about two-tenths of one percent of the land area of the state until sufficient lands are acquired to meet user need. These acquisitions are to be apportioned among a variety of recreation and conservation objectives according to the natural features and potentials of the land acquired, with ecological conservation as me primary objective.
* DOC should work to establish a system of forest and grassland macrosites to provide habitat for all area-sensitive species. Macrosites would provide the opportunity to establish well-managed sustainable ecosystems. To achieve this recommendation the DOC should: work with willing landowners and other federal, state and local agencies; pay special attention to, and place particular emphasis on, protecting the habitat value of forest ecosystems of 500 acres or larger, and manage DOC-owned lands as sustainable ecosystems. The goal for each macrosite should be to assure biological diversity, ecological processes, biotic communities, habitats for all area- sensitive species and long-term health of all native species. The goal of smaller areas would be to provide biological corridors and protect contiguous forest and grassland tracts.
* Allow private production and use of native seed, plant and tree materials. DOC shall contact other state agencies to develop uniform guidelines on the use of native plant materials on public projects. This document should list those species, cultivars and varieties that are suitable for use in the various regions of the state. A committee shall be formed from representatives of various units of state governments and representatives from U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service, non-governmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, Quail Unlimited, the Illinois Nurserymen's Association and Illinois Landscape Contractor's Association or other knowledgeable individuals or groups.
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Create a cooperative program for private and public landowners and the nursery industry to produce native seed, plant and tree material to supplement the recognized shortage of material for habitat restoration participants.
Fifty percent of the proceeds will be dedicated to die Conserve Illinois Program fund. Monies placed in this fund will be used to meet unaddressed critical needs for park and natural areas acquisition and development at both the state and local level, stewardship and conservation easements, and identification systems and restoration programs for vacant post-industrial land. Programs will include: farmland preservation; soil conservation; wetlands protection; conservation easements; urban land rehabilitation; pollution remediation; restoration for open space, recreation and habitat; identification and technical assistance to local governments for moan lands, restoration and reuse; and grants to units of local government to implement urban land restoration and reuse with emphasis on open space and recreation.
Fifty percent of the proceeds will be dedicated to a Conservation Trust Fund. Monies placed in the fund would be in addition to appropriations from dedicated revenue sources, but in lieu of general revenue funds annually provided to the Department The intent of the trust fund would be threefold: to place me Department on a sound fiscal basis for the foreseeable future, to minimize the necessity for me DOC to submit numerous proposals for legislative action to generate additional funding for existing and/or new programs, and to ensure there are adequate staff and funding to property manage the state's natural resources for the benefit and enjoyment of Illinois citizens, now and in the future.
* Establish an Illinois waterway fee to be placed on commercial goods (10 cents per ton) and passengers ($1 per head) at the loading or unloading point at all docking tie-ups at lake or river terminals in the state. These funds to be targeted at efforts to bolster tourism and recreational opportunities through funding overall environmental protection and restoration initiatives.
* Enact a new five percent state sales tax on video tape rentals and the sale of motion picture admission tickets. The receipts from these taxes would be designated solely for the development and implementation of conservation education programs, both in-house and for primary and secondary school education programs. A tax of five percent is estimated to yield revenues of approximately $15 to $16 million annually.
* The Division of Forest Resources will develop a proposal to create a recycling tax on all non-recycled cut sheet paper, business forms and converted paper sold in Illinois. This tax will be not less man 1 percent of the retail sales value nor less than U percent of the wholesale sales value of these products. An amount not less than 33 1/3 percent of the annual FY appropriation for the Dvision of Forest Resources nor less man 25 percent of all monies generated by mis recycling tax will be deposited into me Forestry Development Fund to support the Forestry Nursery Program. The remainder of the funds generated will be deposited into the Habitat Endowment Trust Fund.
Claudia Emken is Constituent Liaison for the Department of Conservation. John Alien is Public Information Officer located in the Department's Chicago office. This article is reprinted from the December 1994 issue of Outdoor Illinois.
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Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator