The vanishing species in Illinois state parks that is perhaps of most concern to the Department of Natural Resources is the conservation police officer.
The number of Conservation Police officers is at an all-time low, the DNR says. As of February, there were only 125 sworn law enforcement personnel statewide. More retirements are expected before the end of the fiscal year.
A search party team leader, Eric Behr (right),
discusses coordinates with Officer W. Bergland
of the Illinois Conservation Police during a search
for evidence concerning Lisa Stebic at Silver Springs
State Park in Kendall County on July 7, 2007.
(Beck Diefenbach~Naperville Sun)
According to the DNR, its law enforcement branch has lost 19 percent of its staff "who protect the public and the state's wildlife, water and land resources." Thirty-three of the state's 102 counties do not have a resident Conservation Police officer.
Conservation officers have a lot to do.
They issue almost 35,000 citations and warnings each year. They enforce the laws governing lands, wildlife, fisheries, boating, forestry, snowmobiling, commercial establishments and other things. They keep an eye out for illegal commercial fishing nets, and assist with rescue and recovery of drowning victims. They provide assistance during natural disasters. They investigate environmental crimes as well as hunting, snowmobile, and boat accidents. They conduct patrols around nuclear power plants, locks, dams, bridges and other critical infrastructure on or near state waters.
Not only are there fewer conservation offices, but the funding squeeze also means the trucks, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles the police use are not being replaced as quickly as in the past.
The shortage of conservation police officers is one reason the DNR wants to start charging admission to state parks.
Read the Sun-Times editorial about state parks funding here.
Read what the DNR says about conservation police here.
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