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Recent entries


Through the Lens

Fiddling While DNR Burns

Mon, March 06, 2017

Over the course of the last several weeks I have been slogging through a ton of paperwork related to the possible loss of Illinois’ share of the Pittman Robertson and Dingell Johnson funds.  It’s not something that many realized could be a possible unintended consequence of the budget impasse.

I first wrote about the issue on this blog post.

Here we are, -  a full nine months down the road from that original blog post, and the situation remains unchanged. Unchanged to the point some monies have been already been placed in “reversion” status. That means that essentially those dollars go back to the feds for redistribution among the states – states plural.

As is common with many federal grants, there’s a use it or lose it rule of some sort. Per communication from USFWS, “The IL DNR has been given limited budget/spending authority by the State which prevents them from providing their required match for each grant per Federal regulations.
USFWS explained the reversion process as follows:
A safety margin is established at the beginning of each Federal Fiscal Year which is equivalent to the total current dollars obligated in the prior Federal Fiscal Year.  When a grant project is completed and if there are unused federal funds from that grant, the unused amount is deobligated.  The deobligated amount is filtered through each years’ safety margin beginning with the Federal fiscal year the funding was originally obligated.  This amount is also deducted from each year’s safety margin, reducing the safety margin by that amount.  If the State has an adequate safety margin, 100% of the funding is returned to the State for use in new projects.  If the State was not able to obligate enough Federal dollars in any given year, then the unused funding will revert (returned to Washington Headquarters to be re-allocated across all states in the next Federal fiscal year).

Last week I had a rather long and drawn out piece prepared, I had worked with several conservation organizations to contact their legislators and request that this pass-through spending be authorized.  It could be done as a separate spending/appropriation bill and would allow approximately 35 approved projects to move forward. It could prevent the possible closure of the Wildlife Research Lab at SIU. It could keep multiple research, fisheries, and land management projects going.

Then, I was heartened to see during last weeks “Grand Bargain “debates that these dollars were specifically addressed in SB0006; amendment 3. The bill passed – so I began to breathe a sigh of relief for about a nanosecond until I realized that this specific appropriation bill for the remainder of FY2017 (sort of another stop gap spending plan since the other expired on December 31, 2016) was tied to the Grand Bargain package and by the looks of things as the days unfolded, we are no closer than ever to having appropriations for these funds.

I must wonder if we shouldn’t go back to pressuring legislators to issue a spending authority for these pass-through funds – separate from the Grand Bargain package.
IL cannot afford to just throw away an average of 23mil in federal funding each year. DNR has been constantly decimated for the last 10 plus years and this sure doesn’t help that situation any.

These dollars may seem like chump change when we consider the bill back log as of Friday, was $12,030,034,006.20. But seriously, it’s just fiscal madness to let this money end up being reverted or lost because our legislators can’t come to terms on a budget or spending plan.

I for one am not willing to let excise taxes I paid to the federal government, specifically earmarked for the Pittman Robertson and Dingell Johnson Funds, specifically allocated to our DNR by the USFWS be tossed aside and lost in this grand mess we have found ourselves in.

Personally, I think it’s time for the sportsmen and women of IL to begin calling on legislators and asking to have a separate standalone spending authority for these funds issued.  Unless DNR spends the money, then bills the USFWS program for those expenditures – there exists a very real possibility those dollars will be lost.

I don’t know about the rest of the Heartland community, but I say it’s time to stop the madness when it comes to our DNR’s funding. 


Get mad people, it’s your money their screwing with !!!

Posted by Ringtailtrapper on March 06

RTT - I went so far as to prepare some sample letters and phone scripts for people to use when contacting their legislators. They need a little bit of redo, given that the funds are included in the Amendment to SB0006, (they weren’t when I wrote them) But if no progress is made very soon, some conservation groups are ready to start an email, letter, and phone campaign. For the life of me I cannot understand why more sportsmen and women are not completely outraged by this. Have we become so accustomed to our DNR being the budgetary whipping boy and constantly receiving budget cuts that folks just don’t care? While not as criminal as when Blago rolled the funds into the general fund - it runs a close second in my opinion.

Posted by G on March 07

Maybe the silver lining is that those funds will still be used for conservation work, albeit in another state.  I think in general most sportsmen have no interest in following politics and are willing to just shrug their shoulders and bitch about the situation but not do anything constructive.  I’ve been active in fighting the public land transfer crap being pushed by some legislatures out west.  Emailing legislatures is better than nothing but true activism such as meeting representatives one on one or town hall meetings, etc are really the only change agent that makes a difference.

Posted by buckbull on March 07

Thank you so much for putting this article together and bringing more attention to this issue.  The research that you and Nick have put into this topic has been very encouraging.  I was beginning to wonder if anyone cared.  I know that so many of our legislators are sportsman but that they are naive to this issue when I bring it up to them.  We really need to keep them aware of this issue and maybe then it won’t slip through the cracks again. 

This is money that was paid by the sportsmen of Illinois, and they deserve to see it come back to their state!

I would like to add one note about the matching.  The Acts require a 1:3 match from the state.  In other words, it will cost the state $7-8 million ON PAPER to recover the $21-24 million dollars in federal Act funds each year.  I emphasize “ON PAPER” because many of these expenditures are not really extra spending.  For example, a match for a research project may be the time (and associated cost) allocated to the project by university faculty.  They are still employed regardless of these funds, so that money is already being spent, and it doesn’t cost extra to obtain the match.  Why not collect the matching portions for those funds?  There are other examples of no-or-low cost matching such as setting land aside in conservation.

I agree that a spending authority, or some means of moving the funds to the operational budget, might be the way to go since the budget bargain at large is still fickle and misses some of this funding.

Posted by JohnOConnell on March 07

Gretchen, many sportsmen’s groups lots of times are very good about disseminating information to their memberships about issues like this, but have very little what I call true boots on the ground to take action like you speak of. Yes there needs to be a bigger presence dealing with legislator’s as in regards to the representation sportsmen receive in these types of matters. I know many fear, and think if they have any part in any grass root efforts, that somehow it may effect their tax status as an association. I feel those that take that approach will wake up someday, and have nothing to support if things continue the way you have pointed out here, so what is there to lose ??

Gretchen, thank you for all your efforts brining this to lite for many.

BuckBull, I know people that will spend thousands of dollars to enjoy their outdoor endeavors, but less than 1% of the sportsmen/women will spend a day in Springfield talking to legislator’s, or at least making contact with their own. I have never figured out this, and to tell the truth for someone that has made many trips, and spent a many of a dollar, and gave up vacation, and sick days, time and money I could have put towards my family, well it just boggles my mind. I wish it was different, and I’m sad that it’s not.

So how do we change all that now ??


Posted by Ringtailtrapper on March 07

Is it time for a straight forward political action group that focuses upon these type of issues ? Let it be known as a political action group, and by that I mean not hiding under another name like Tree Toads Unlimited, or letting it come off as another grass roots organization, but just a straight forward approach dealing with these types of matters. Is it time for such a group ?? I know a few organizations might feel they already do this maybe to some extent, but I also know they walk a fine line at times, and fear the tax status bogyman as well. How about a sportsmen’s Pac ?? Has the time come for such action ??

How much more money are we willing to give away to someone else in some other state ?? Better yet how can we expect to advance any other programs within our state, when we can’t even secure the funding we are already due ?? What will happen to the programs we already have in place ?? I think you all know the answers already.


Posted by Ringtailtrapper on March 07


When I lived in Florida, there was an organization called United Waterfowlers of Florida.  They were a 501(c)4—as opposed to a 501(c)3—so they could legally lobby on behalf of their members for increased access to waterfowl hunting and about causes related to their mission.  They brought and are still bringing about a lot of positive change for hunters there.

In Illinois, I believe that the equivalent organization would be the Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources.  They are similarly classified as an organization and can lobby.  It seems to me that their goal is to unify the voice of many of the smaller organizations in the state and lobby the legislature.  I brought this issue to their attention last year, and I know that they distributed Gretchen’s article on their Facebook, but I am unsure how active they have been on the matter.

Posted by JohnOConnell on March 08

John, yes I’m very well of the efforts that IFOR puts forth, but even at a (c)4 level they have restrictions, and I feel we need something more on the level of that in most cases we are competing, or fighting against. Like you pointed out John they do a very good job disseminating information amongst its members, and that is not uncommon of these organizations. I just feel we need something now days with more teeth to it, and although IFOR is very important to sportsmen/women we just need something on a larger level.

Lobby efforts upon many fronts that need focused upon, with maybe several levels of corporate sponsorship on levels we have maybe not seen before. A more permeant presences in Springfield is needed I feel, and less of a fractured group element that takes place now. I feel if both were in place, then sportsmen/women would have a full time real voice in Springfield.


Posted by Ringtailtrapper on March 11


I certainly agree with you that the voice of sportsmen is not being heard and that a seat at the table would surely help.

Posted by JohnOConnell on March 16

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