Breaking a long trend of cuts and unspent appropriations, natural resources finally received improved funding in the FY19 Illinois budget and capital budget. One especially heartening development will see the operating budget for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources increase 6.7% compared to FY18.
A major highlight of the capital plan is the dedication of $37 million towards the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which is a federal matching program that awards funding to farmers to enter important acres into conservation. Illinois has not used this program since 2006. Depending on the match rate in the still-pending Farm Bill, Illinois could see up to $160 million in federal match funding from our $37 million contribution. This popular program will provide new habitat, filter nutrient pollution through buffers to rivers and streams, and protect Illinois’ soil health. And while it will take time to build this program back up, it is a welcome surprise.
Other highlights include:
- Land acquisition, land stewardship, and open space preservation – $29 million of FY19 and a reappropriation of $27.6 million of FY18 of the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development program funding park infrastructure, $29.3 million from the Natural Areas Acquisition Fund – including $1 million for the land trust stewardship program passed last year, $500,000 of the Wildlife Preservation Fund for small habitat grants, and $32 million from Open Lands Trust were all appropriated
- Federal funding – Fish and Wildlife federal funding for outdoor recreation and $4 million of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding from the federal government were fully appropriated. Previous budgets did not appropriate this funding and left its further award to Illinois at risk.
- Capital improvements at state parks – $62 million in total was appropriated for capital improvements at state parks. $20 million was also included for bike paths and $2.6 million for the Recreational Trails Program will also assist outdoor recreation.
- Protection of water resources – $32 million was allocated for the repair and removal of dams in Illinois waterways.
The budget also includes funding for 20 new conservation police officers and level funding for the Illinois State Museum, Dixon Mounds, and Lockport museums.