IDNR Conservation Congress

November 4, 2009

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Oct. 24-25, the lllinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) hosted the first Conservatiom Congress in several years at its headquarters in Springfield, Ill. It drew nearly 150 participants keenly interested in conservation.

The morning was spent providing overviews of the three topics under consideration: public access, youth recruitment and conservation funding.

The major points for public access included restoring liability protection for private landowners who open their lands for recreation, developing a statewide access program under the IDNR, creating a State Water Trails Plan and a Model State Heritage Water Trail and creating Starparks in all state parks.

The youth recruitment committee was concerned with dwindling numbers of young people who visit parks or have connections to nature. Youth health and increased interest in screen media leading to decreased support for natural resources were seen as major problems. Education, marketing, mentoring and improving access were seen as probable solutions.

Conservation funding, which has fallen 50 percent over the past nine years, is needed now and on a secure long-term basis. Such funding is seen as essential for economic development, assuring ecosystem services and enhancing public health.

For the afternoon sessions, participants were organized into subgroups of eight to 10 people to facilitate involvement. In many cases, group agreement was reached, but some met impasses, primarily caused by differences in perspectives stemming from personal interests and regional economic conditions.

One group searched for ways to increase financing of the IDNR. The discussion turned to taxes, fees and other means of increasing revenues. One cited that Wisconsin charges an annual entry fee. Another commented that the parks belong to the public and are there for all to enjoy. While fees may seem reasonable for maintaining facilities, they preclude participation by those less able to afford them.

One representative stressed the importance of recreational activities to the economy. An annual raccoon hunt can bring millions of dollars of revenue into an area. Duck and goose observation facilities at Rend Lake in southern Illinois, which were an economic boon to the county during the winter, have collapsed since open waters in the northern part of the state preclude the birds’ need to migrate. If this is a manifestation of global warming, it represents a permanent change in migratory behavior and economic well-being.

A concern was raised that busy parents are not introducing children to the outdoors. It is increasingly difficult to get them away from television and video games with addictive qualities. Lack of physical activity then contributes to rising obesity within the culture.

Summaries of the groups’ deliberations were presented to the entire assembly. The Congress’ organization and sequencing were well-thought out, beginning with the current status, following with discussions of alternatives and priorities and concluding with an action plan for the future.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly a surprise visit by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who gave an inspirational, supportive presentation. He eloquently underscored his long-term love for the natural environment, accompanied by actions to help enhance it.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the November 4-10, 2009 issue

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