Bruce Rauner has taken over the reins of Illinois government and hopefully will bring the kind of change many of the state’s residents have waited too long to see. One of the first things he will do is appoint people to various positions on his staff. Of great interest to Illinois sportsmen will be the appointment of a new DNR director.
I remember very well the appointment of Marc Miller as DNR director by Governor Pat Quinn. I was privileged to be invited to a meeting at DNR headquarters during the first few weeks of Miller’s tenure. Illinois Whitetail Alliance president Kevin Chapman was also present at that meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the late-winter antlerless seasons which IDNR was looking to expand. Those of us representing Illinois deer hunters at that meeting were offering sensible proposals regarding the antlerless season and controlling an expanding deer herd in a way that was more beneficial to the herd while also offering quality recreation opportunities for Illinois deer hunters.
As the meeting wound down one could literally see the anguish on Director Miller’s face. He had no argument to counter any of our proposals and yet he had a team of biologists wanting to go in a totally different direction. He was going to have to make a decision and it was clearly going to be a tough one for him. I left that meeting knowing that this one decision would set the tone for Miller’s entire tenure as leader of IDNR. He would either follow the common sense plan laid before him by his constituents or he would give the ball to his biologist and let them control the game for his entire time as head of IDNR. He chose the latter and under his watch the wheels fell off the bus that is the Illinois deer herd.
To be fair, I honestly believe that Marc Miller is a very decent human being who happened to be in a political position with pressures the rest of us will never fully understand. Like many of us, Director Miller had a boss. To some degree he had to do what his boss told him. While he will long be known as the DNR director who let the deer herd fall apart under his watch, Miller really did nothing more to make that happen than the directors who came right before him. He simply left the management of the state’s deer herd to a team of biologists who proved over and over again that they are in over their heads and totally clueless regarding solid whitetail management on a statewide level as well as in dealing with the public.
When governor Rauner names his new IDNR director that person will also face the same question that Director Miller faced when he took over that position; will he (or she) continue to allow the same team of biologists to manage Illinois deer herd? How that question is answered will likely set the tone for his/her legacy. It will also instantly set the tone for how the public views their new IDNR director.
All one has to do is get on any Website discussion forum where the topic of the management of Illinois deer herd is being discussed and it becomes very clear that the public has lost all trust in the biologists who have been managing the states deer herd for the past 20+ years. Not only are many Illinois deer hunters disgusted with the condition of Illinois deer herd, they are also disgusted with the biologists managing it. To leave any of those individuals in their current positions puts the new director in a precarious position. The public is likely to cut the new director some slack and give him some time to right the ship if he is willing to come in and clean house. Sticking with the same old individuals will make the lights shine brighter and the magnifying glass more intense as every move regarding deer management is closely scrutinized.
Let’s be clear that I am not suggesting anyone be “fired”. Instead a “reassignment of duties” would be in order, but that’s not my call. Leaving even one of the current “whitetail management team” in place would lessen the public’s trust in the new IDNR director and destroy their hope that positive changes are coming. These biologists have had their chance and all they did was turn the best whitetail herd on the planet into a pathetic mess. When a cancer surgeon removes a tumor he doesn’t leave part of it behind. He removes it all.
With my finger firmly on the pulse of Illinois deer hunters I can confidently say that they don’t really care “who” Governor Rauner places in charge of IDNR. Instead they are much more concerned with how that person deals with the whitetail biologists in charge of the states deer herd. How that one question is answered will not only set the tone for how the new director is viewed by Illinois deer hunters but also in how they view Governor Rauner. Many of them voted for “shaking up Springfield”, now they want to see it start with the whitetail biologists working at IDNR.