IL: Versatile Bruce handling top DNR fisheries post

Springfield, Ill. – Who has been running DNR's Fisheries Division in the wake of Steve Pallo's retirement this summer?

The answer is Debbie Bruce, who was promoted to acting chief following Pallo's June 30 departure.

Bruce took the interim position in July, according to Illinois DNR spokesman Chris McCloud.

Bruce's career background does include biology, though most of Bruce's previous roles with the DNR have been in management.

Before Bruce joined the Illinois DNR 17 years ago, she worked just as long as a biologist for two power companies in the state.

"I was a biologist at one time, but I've been an administrator for the last 17 years," said Bruce, who was raised in Savanna.

Bruce joined the DNR in 1994, and her first job was in the Fisheries Division, though much of her time was with the division that was recently renamed the Private Lands and Watersheds Division.

"I'm glad to be back in fisheries," she said.

She is confident that her background as a biologist and as an angler will be an asset.

"I understand working with anglers and biologists," she said.

Bruce replaced Pallo, who retired after a 35-year career as a fishery biologist. Pallo held the position beginning in 2008 and had been with the DNR for the previous 17 years.

Bruce holds two degrees from the University of Illinois, a bachelor's in general biology and a master's in environmental science.

She has long enjoyed fishing, especially growing up near the Mississippi River. She also likes salmon charter fishing on Lake Michigan.

"Walleye are probably my favorite," Bruce said.

Bruce said the state's extremely strapped budget is the biggest challenge facing the division. For example, she said, the division hasn't filled several positions vacated by retirement. She also lamented that the division hasn't been able to offer as many youth programs.

"There's still a lot of good things going on even though the budget is tight," she said, noting the work of the state's fish biologists, aquatic education efforts, and support for the division from people around the state.

It's unclear how long Bruce will hold the interim position; McCloud declined to give a timetable for naming a permanent replacement for Pallo.

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