SPRINGFIELD -- Hunters, anglers and others concerned about the future of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources should get a look soon at a possible new approach to funding natural resource programs in the state.

SPRINGFIELD -- Hunters, anglers and others concerned about the future of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources should get a look soon at a possible new approach to funding natural resource programs in the state.


DNR Director Marc Miller said a “sustainable funding” bill would call for the agency to rely more for financial support on those who use DNR’s services and less on general tax revenue.


Miller talked about the new proposal — one separate from an existing measure that would allow DNR to charge entrance fees to parks — after an address to the Illinois Association of Park Districts in Springfield Wednesday.


“We want to connect users with programs to user fees,” Miller said. “The business model for DNR is that for hunting, fishing and camping you help pay your way. Everything else is free on GRF (general tax revenue).


“People who are going to be doing things on our property are going to help pay for their upkeep.”


Miller has been talking to groups around the state, laying out challenges faced by an agency that has had its general revenue funding cut in half by the General Assembly over the past decade.


As a result, DNR has come to rely more and more on funds supplied by those who buy hunting and fishing licenses, permits and pay camping and other fees.


Miller said this week that the $2.7 billion Medicaid deficit and the state’s underfunded pension system will further squeeze the agency.


State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, has been working with constituent groups to craft the new proposal.


“They’ve gone through this long process,” Miller said. “All these 40 groups have come together, and they have negotiated and talked about it, all sides of the table.”


Miller said he expects to see the new bill by late this week or early next week.


As for the parks bill that includes the fee proposal, Miller said, provisions are included to provide a fee reduction for hunters and anglers.


Concessionaires concerned about their businesses will be addressed, too.


“There will be designated places where people can park to go to the lodges and not have to worry about enforcement of the parking fee,” Miller said.


“We know there will probably be a reduction to park visitorship for a year, which is typical of what happens when you start charging fees,” he said. “We’re going to find ways to work with concessionaires to acknowledge that reduction.


“We don’t necessarily think it will be very long, and when you look at some of the other states, they actually come back and have more visitors once you start investing in the parks.”


Miller said park visitors will not be greeted by gates or entrance booths.


Instead, there will be spot checks, as are done now with hunting and fishing licenses.


The park entrance fee bill has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.


Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.