SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Natural Resources faces a severe staffing shortage as Illinois begins its official reopening and residents flock to state parks this summer, according to IDNR chief of staff Kristin DiCenso.
“It’s very, very difficult to manage,” DiCenso said. “We get a lot of complaints from not only the general public, but also from legislators about staffing at sites.”
Testifying Thursday before the state Senate Tourism and Hospitality Committee at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, DiCenso said the agency’s headcount today is about 500 fewer than in 2003. In that same time period, IDNR has gained responsibility of about 100 additional sites through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, absorbed by IDNR in 2017.
DiCenso said the agency would ideally have 2,500 employees — staffing levels the agency has not seen since before 2003.
“Where we are now is, it’s a struggle; it’s a daily struggle,” she said. “If someone gets sick, sometimes a park doesn’t get opened for the day. That’s completely, completely unacceptable. But that’s where we are.”
DiCenso said IDNR closed its public areas early on in the pandemic but began reopened most of them by May 29, 2020.
According to attendance records, Illinois state parks, fish and wildlife recreational areas, as well as historic sites, saw 26.7 million visitors from June through December in 2019, compared to 28.4 million visitors during the same time period in 2020, she said.
“We actually increased our visitors last year,” DiCenso said. “We also saw an increase in camping across the state, surpassing what we’ve seen in the past. This proves how much Illinoisans value their public lands.”
“Camping reservations are already through the roof,” she said. “So we’re looking forward to a very active and busy season.”
DiCenso said IDNR could address its staffing shortage and improve its service with increased state funding. The amount of state general revenue funding to IDNR for the upcoming fiscal year is unchanged from the previous year at roughly $40.3 million.
via Alton Telegraph
June 12, 2021 at 07:23AM