State’s Fish Fund battle takes an interesting turn

Springfield — The ongoing effort to establish a dedicated fund that would protect the state’s fisheries program appears to have taken a nasty turn.

Retired DNR fisheries chief Mike Conlin publicly called out DNR Director Marc Miller this month, emailing a statement to members of the media comparing DNR to the embattled Federal Health Care Plan.

“If you think that the leadership of DNR Director Marc Miller is providing good insurance that your fish, wildlife, and conservation heritage is being properly managed, think again,” Conlin wrote. “Like Obama-Care, Miller-Care says, ‘trust me, my desk bound leadership team [consisting of a director, three deputy directors, two director assistants, and a plethora of office directors] is good, not only for fish and wildlife, but for those who pay the insurance premiums [hunting and fishing license fees] as well.”

Conlin, who has been a vocal critic of DNR, spent the past two years pushing for legislation that would prevent revenue from fishing license sales and funds from the federal Sport Fish Restoration Program from being diverted to other departments inside of DNR.

Mostly re-buffed by DNR officials, Conlin – along with J.R. Black of the Northern Illinois Anglers Association – took some solace last year when an “Illinois Fisheries Management Fund” was tucked inside of Senate Bill 1566, also known as the DNR Sustainability bill.

After SB 1566 passed and was signed into law, Conlin noted that the law stopped well short of his proposal for a fisheries fund.

“I’m glad that it passed,” Conlin said. “There is mention of a Fisheries Management Fund in the bill, but it’s not exactly what we wanted.”

Miller had opposed Conlin’s “Fish Fund” idea, as it would prevent the DNR from using money generated by fisheries elsewhere. The new law did include changes and increases to some fishing license fees, and an estimated $1.5 million coming to the fisheries department via revenue from fees paid for vehicle titles.

In his statement e-mailed on Dec. 2, Conlin pushed for support of House Bill 738, which he said would “cripple DNR’s ability to play ‘hide the weenie’ with license dollars with new requirements and stipulations that would mandate accountability.”

Miller could not be reached for comment on Conlin’s letter.

HB 738 was introduced in late January by Speaker of the House Michale Madigan, D-Chicago. An amendment was filed April 12 by Rep. Kathleen Cloonen, D-Kankakee, that included a proposal calling for all “fees and revenues from commercial fishing licenses, sportfishing licenses, inland trout stamps, reimbursements from sport fish restoration grants and Asian carp and aquatic invasive species grants and other grants from the federal government, fines collected for fish kills and violations of the Fish and Aquatic Life Code, stamps issued for fish habitat, management, or angling events shall be deposited into the Illinois Fisheries Management Fund, a special fund created in the State Treasury to be used for the operation of the Division of Fisheries within the Department.”

The bill was sent to the Rules Committee on April 19 and did not resurface in either the spring or fall legislative sessions.

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