Illinois, like many states, is in debt.
In fact Governor Rod Blagojevich has even looked at selling the Illinois lottery to pay for basic education, transportation and health care and for pensions for public employees.
But he could look a little closer to home at Illinois’ own Department of Natural Resources’ $675,687,000 budget.
Up 14.3 percent from 2005, the IDNR budget includes 41 new employees and budgetary provisions to hire 103 more.
It also include "Celebrity Quail Hunts" at Illinois resorts and lodges and youth dove, duck and pheasant hunts for kids as young as ten. (Now if Johnny could only read.)
But one program the IDNR doesn’t like to talk about is its breeding of pheasant chicks for Dick Cheney style hunting on public lands.
The State running its own battery hen and canned hunting operations doesn’t look good to the general public.
In fact when asked about the IDNR budget for "controlled" pheasant hunting, Terry L. Musser, Program Manager of Hunting Preserves, Controlled Hunting, & Field Trials wrote in an email, "Information requests of this type need to be directed to the Department’s Freedom of Information Act Officer."
Maybe that’s because, in addition to the ethics of raising day old chicks to be pulverized by children and skill-less hunters, there’s the math.
The State of Illinois spent eight dollars a piece for 65,000 pheasants to be bred and released at 14 state or state run hunting areas and at youth hunts in the 2004/2005 season, according to Illinois Department of Natural Resources Advisory Board minutes.
Officially, this $520,000 a year breeding program should be funded by hunters’ fees.
But according to the State’s own minutes it isn’t.
Fees would have to be raised by 2/3 to cover "the costs of operating the wildlife propagation centers," reveal minutes from the April 18, 2005 Board Meeting at Rend Lake Resort.
And if fees were raised–right–tax payers would STILL pay for the program.
Because the IDNR would then "increase the number of pheasants, add new areas and have longer seasons" say the Board minutes and STILL let Illinois tax payers pay.
Are you listening State auditors?
Raising birds for canned hunting has been popular since wild bird populations began disappearing from habitat destruction.
But real hunters disdain the pre-ordained slaughter.
"The big birds look like real, honest-to-goodness wild pheasants," wrote Plain Dealer outdoors reporter D’arcy Egan, "but they’re not. They have little chance of surviving in the wild, and are simply expensive fodder" for hunters.
John Husar, the Chicago Tribune’s late outdoor reporter agreed.
"If they’re off in some dumb spot, like the middle of a cut milo strip, hopping around and wondering at the fuss, you can figure they arrived in a basket."
Some game bird breeders even debeak the birds or attach "peepers" to their eyes to keep them attacking each other in the packed pens. (see: caged hen egg operations.)
The State of Illinois’ current debt, $106 billion, comes down to $9000 per citizen.
What part represents the recreational opportunity for citizens to blast away hand raised birds for the afternoon?