Inside Outdoors

When we played “Cops and Robbers,” there was usually a huge
fist-fight over who got to be “The Feds.”

It was sort of like the battle over who got to be The Lone
Ranger during a round of “Cowboys and Indians.”

To be honest, we didn’t really know what or who The Feds were,
but when they showed up, it meant things had taken a sudden and
serious turn. And that’s exactly what I was thinking when word came
that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was asking DNR where it
stashed $600,000 from Illinois hunting and fishing license

The news hit just as I was putting this issue of Illinois
Outdoor News to bed. This column is always the last order of
business before the guys operating the press flip the switch – the
thinking being that if news happens at the last minute, I could at
least mention it here.

Otherwise, I just scribble something or another.

But this time a breaking online story from The State
Journal-Register caught my attention. Written by Chris Young, the
story reported that DNR is being denied a $1 million federal grant
until it explains to the USFWS where roughly $600,000 was used – if
it was used.

Incidentally, what has had many Illinois wildlife watchdogs
worried in recent years are laws that prevent the diversion of
hunting and fishing license fees in order to receive a share of a
federal excise tax placed on the sale of fishing and hunting gear.
The state’s share of the tax receipts is determined by a formula
that includes the number of licenses sold. The funds cannot be used
other than for wildlife and fish restoration projects.

According to the Journal-Register story, an audit conducted by
the USFWS of the 2003-04 fiscal year turned up the current license
sales problem at DNR. The agency also contends that DNR has failed
to satisfy questions.

“It’s entirely possible we will get the answer to the license
fee question and get the satisfactory corrective action,” Bob
Bryant, chief of wildlife and sport fish restoration for the USFWS,
told Young on Sept. 24. A new boat-access point at Pere Marquette
State Park in Grafton was to be the beneficiary of the $1 million

Fears are that the Pere Marquette grant is only a snowball that
has started rolling from the top of a mountain.

“Some DNR employees have told us recently that they are under a
gag order and they can’t really talk about this,” Bryant told
Young. “We were informed that we would have to talk to others
higher up.”

Good luck with that,_Mr. Bryant. I made a half-dozen calls about
this topic and failed to reach anyone – high up or low down – who
could or would talk about it. They seem like they want to, but
won’t and don’t. Then again, I’m not with The Feds.

If you’ve been keeping score at home, you probably already
realize this isn’t really a DNR issue. When agency staffers refer
to “higher ups,” they don’t mean Acting DNR Director Sam Flood.
They mean the governor, who has some experience dealing with The
Feds in recent months.

I’m not sure what’s next with the USFWS and the DNR and the
governor, but the whole mess seems to be shaping up like a nice
game of “Cops and Robbers.”

I’ll let you decide who gets to be who.

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