To the editors:
I must strongly disagree with Greg Houghton's comments in the March 1988 Chicago Audubon Society newsletter Compass, as reprinted in the April 1, 1988 Chicago Reader "City File" by Harold Henderson, in which the Department of Conservation is portrayed as "siphoning" nongame wildlife checkoff dollars for its own projects.
First, projects are selected by a Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund Advisory Committee representing the public, educators, environmental and conservation interests. For the past three years, the Committee has reviewed both DOC and at-large proposals and established priorities.
Additionally, many projects or studies which are identified and proposed by DOC are actually carried out by other groups. For example, the Illinois Natural History Survey has conducted a $15,000 mussel survey on the Mackinaw River and Northern Illinois University did the $25,000 winter bald eagle use study of the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio Rivers.
Among other DOC-proposed projects, which were carried out by others, are included a golden mouse study by Southern Illinois University-Carbondale for $5,200; construction of artificial heron nest structures at Baker's Lake by the Cook County Forest Preserve District and Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation for $4,000; and a study of amphibians and reptiles on prairie preserves by Eastern Illinois University for $5,000.
Further, many DOC projects are carried out by volunteers paid a small stipend such as those working on the breeding bird atlas for $20,000. DOC education projects are carried directly to the public, and do not begin and end with DOC staff. For example, over the past year a total of $31,500 has been spent to hold bluebird workshops, bald eagle appreciation days in Keokuk and Rock Island, woodworking projects for wildlife and publications on landscaping for wildlife.
Priorities were established for nongame funds at a statewide conference in 1983. Expansion of Department staff to provide a Prairie-chicken sanctuary manager and to increase district biologist staff was seen as a high priority for funding.
The need for preserving native Illinois is tremendous. Every year DOC has received requests for projects costing close to $1.0 million. Last year checkoff funds came to $199,000.
State general revenue funding, which the Natural Heritage Division now receives, is used for existing habitat management and for acquiring baseline data on species and habitat extent in the state. There are no general tax dollars available to conduct research, extensive education or species and habitat restoration projects. Even if additional general revenue dollars were available, existing DOC staff could not handle many of the projects due to limitations in staffing levels.
Without a dedicated funding source, equipment tax or license fee, checkoff dollars are crucial to protect nongame wildlife. Researchers and land managers from across the state and in myriad other institutions are also crucial to the common goal of saving our natural heritage in Illinois.
DOC staff believe this is the paramount consideration for the checkoff dollars, not securing this sadly small revenue source for projects perpetuating self-interest.
Susan K. Laue
Natural Heritage Development Director