ILLINOIS — Illinois' 1.1 million sportsmen have spoken, and it seems their voices have been heard.
Approximately four months after former governor Rod Blagojevich authorized $9.25 million to be swept from six of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' dedicated conservation funds — a move that could have crippled the state's natural resources and hunting and fishing industries newly sworn-in Governor Patrick Quinn overturned the decision.
Signed into law February 5, SB1132 will restore the funds for use in managing the state's wildlife and natural resources. Restoring the diverted funds will prevent an additional $16 -million loss of matching federal funds from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
"National Wild Turkey Federation members in Illinois fought side-by-side with other conservation groups to keep the funds from being swept, but were unable to stop it," said Kent Adams, NWTF regional biologist for Illinois, who was present when SB1132 was signed. "We couldn't be more pleased to see these vital funds restored to be used for their original purpose of caring for our great state's wildlife and natural resources."
Governor Quinn also named Marc Miller as the new director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in a press conference after the bill signing.
"Governor Quinn signing SB1132 into law is a big win for the sportsmen and -women of Illinois," Adams said. "Sportsmen in Illinois spend $1.2 billion each year by purchasing hunting and fishing licenses, paying federal taxes on firearms and ammunition, buying sporting equipment and more. That money bolsters the state's economy and is intended to support our natural resources and conservation efforts."
In the fall of 2008, the Illinois Legislature passed SB790, later signed by Blagojevich, which authorized the sweeping $18 million in funding from the IDNR. The former governor planned to reduce the state's budget deficits by redirecting funds originally intended for use in managing Illinois' natural resources.
Dedicated conservation funds totaling $9.25 million would have been swept from the State Pheasant Fund, the State Migratory Waterfowl Stamp Fund, the Illinois Habitat Fund, the Illinois Habitat Endowment Trust Fund, the Wildlife and Fish Fund and the Fish and Wildlife Endowment Fund. In addition, the state would have been rendered ineligible to receive $16 million in federal match funding annually.
At the time SB790 was signed, the NWTF's 15,000 members in Illinois and many other sportsmen's groups, flooded the former governor's office with phone calls and letters opposing the action.
Blake Pazero, the NWTF's Illinois State Chapter president, said, "Illinois' sportsmen pay for the right to hunt and fish through license fees, equipment purchases and taxes on firearms and ammunition. We are happy to pay for conservation, but do not want to see those funds diverted for other purposes. NWTF members are proud to see this momentous overturning of a bad law for the sportsmen, wildlife and other natural resources of our state."
A national nonprofit conservation organization that was founded in 1973, the NWTF has worked with wildlife agencies to restore wild turkey populations from 1.3 million wild turkeys in 1973 to nearly 7 million today. Now, NWTF volunteers raise funds and work daily to improve critical wildlife habitat, increase access to public hunting land and introduce new people to the outdoors and hunting. To date, the NWTF and its partners have spent more than $286 million upholding hunting traditions and conserving nearly 14 million acres of wildlife habitat.
For more information about the NWTF visit www.nwtf.org or call (800) THE-NWTF.