Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Who’s next in line for top DNR post?

By Ralph Loos


Springfield — As has been the case since Brent Manning handed over his office keys at the end of 2002, the DNR director’s chair again is involved in a game of duck, duck . . . goose.

Colleen Callahan, who stepped into the role in 2019 as DNR’s first female director, put the game back in motion when she departed the agency on Jan. 16, a move apparently part of an administration restructuring by Gov. J.B. Pritzker as he begins his second term.

Manning held the job from 1991 until the Rod Blagojevich administration took hold in early 2003. In the 20 years since, there have been six directors – if you count the brief appointment of Kurt Granberg, who lasted only three weeks in 2009.

Only Marc Miller (2009-2015) has endured more than one governor’s term.

As this issue of Illinois Outdoor News went to press, Pritzker had given no hints about who will replace Callahan. Current Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello, who led DNR’s Office of Law Enforcement for less than a year between 2019 and 2020, and is an avid outdoorsman, has been mentioned in many circles. Names such as State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie, D-Harrisburg, and State Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, have been thrown around as potential director candidates.

But the new director is likely to be someone whose name has not been mentioned.

That was the case with Callahan, who replaced Wayne Rosenthal, a former lawmaker appointed by Republican governor Bruce Rauner in 2015.

Callahan came into the job with little or no natural resources experience. Prior to her appointment, she served as state director of Illinois’ Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Before that, “She broke glass ceilings in broadcast media as the first female agribusiness director for WMBD Radio and Television in Peoria,” a DNR press release announcing Callahan’s plans to leave the agency read.

“Her 30-year career at WMBD led her to the National Association of Farm Broadcasters, where she served as the first female president.

Despite her lack of experience in DNR’s focus area, Callahan has been lauded for leading the agency through the COVID pandemic and the reopening of state parks and natural areas amid restrictions.

Other highlights of her tenure pointed out by DNR:

• During her time at DNR, Callahan oversaw efforts to develop a strategic plan for the agency, with a focus on positioning DNR as a leader on reducing the state’s carbon footprint and mitigating the effects of climate change.

• Callahan ushered the agency into a new era of diversity, equity and inclusion

• She led the launch of Copi – a new brand name for invasive carp designed to spark consumer interest in the plentiful fish found in Illinois waterways.

• Since DNR’s Enhanced Contract Fishing Program was established in 2019, commercial fishers have removed more than 9.4 million pounds of invasive carp from the Illinois River.

• In 2022, Callahan advocated for DNR to receive its largest state budget in 20 years to address long overdue improvements at state sites and to offer the largest round of Open Space Land Acquisition and Development grants in the history of the agency.

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