6. Sowing More Acorns, Fighting More Battles
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141 Under George Fell’s leadership, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission came to function very much as the proactive, independent body he initially envisioned. However, his desire to expand and formalize this independence through legislative action placed him at further odds with the Illinois Department of Conservation, which sought to bring the commission more fully under its authority. The ensuing struggle was reminiscent of Fell’s unsuccessful effort to wrest control of The Nature Conservancy two decades earlier. The end result was much the same. It was often said of Fell that he was more adept at sowing acorns than at nurturing oak trees to full maturity. Denied the opportunity to continue with the conservancy and the commission, Fell resorted to exploring yet more ways to preserve natural areas. Some ideas, such as the Natural Areas Association, found fertile ground. Other ideas did not. Whatever the outcomes, Fell never gave up, never slowed down, even during his battle with the cancer that ultimately claimed his life. Founder’s Syndrome Redux The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act was the first of its kind in the nation. Fell described it as “very successful,” but—keeping in mind that it was not the one that he had championed for passage—he could not refrain from pointing out that it had many “serious problems.”1 Some problems were decidedly easier to fix than others. For instance, he believed that, with so little virgin prairie remaining in Illinois, it was important to protect even tiny remnants, such as those in pioneer cemeteries. To do so, in 1975 Fell secured passage of the 6 Sowing More Acorns, Fighting More Battles 142 Sowing More Acorns, Fighting More Battles Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserves Act, which granted county boards the authority to designate abandoned cemeteries containing prairie remnants— especially rare and important for being unplowed and ungrazed—as nature preserves.2 Other problems would prove far more challenging, in part because Fell all but stood alone in understanding them as problems. One of his primary concerns was what he described as the unclear “allocation of responsibility” between the commission and the Illinois Department of Conservation.3 In Fell’s twice-vetoed proposed structure for the nature preserves system, the commission would have had powers equal to those of the Department of Conservation and a significant if not unprecedented degree of independence from political and bureaucratic influences. As established by law with the passage of the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, the commission possessed the authority to designate and set policy for nature preserves but could not hire its own staff. The Department of Conservation held the power to acquire and hold land for designation as nature preserves, to manage them in accordance with principles and management plans co-developed with the commission, and to provide support—including the hiring of staff—to allow the commission to function. Aside from a small handful of minor technical issues, the allocation of responsibility between the commission and the Department of Conservation was workably clear. What Fell sought was not to clarify the allocation of responsibility between the commission and the Department of Conservation but to reallocate the responsibility to reflect his desire for a truly independent commission. Fell had equally strong concerns about the bureaucratic reshuffling the commission endured within the Department of Conservation. In this he stood on firmer ground. In 1972 Department of Conservation director Henry Bark­ hausen sought to bolster his agency’s commitment to natural areas preservation and to integrate the commission more fully into the agency by consolidating all nature preserves responsibilities under a new Natural Areas Section. Although the new administrative section afforded natural areas protection unprecedented stature within the agency, Fell perceived it as an encroachment on the independence he had managed to secure for the commission. He also felt that the new arrangement underscored the destabilizing vagaries inherent in shifting administrative priorities. The Natural Areas Section started out in the Department of Conservation’s Division of Long Range Planning but later was placed under the authority of the director’s administrative staff. Later it was transferred to the Division of Parks and Memorials and then transferred again to a new Bureau of Public Lands and Historic Sites, where it was dissolved and its natural areas goals merged, along with those of endangered species and nongame wildlife, into a Natural Heritage Section. This new section subsequently was merged Sowing More Acorns, Fighting More Battles 143 into the Division of Forest Resources and Natural Heritage. All...


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Subject Headings

  • Fell, George B.
  • Nature Conservancy (U.S.) -- History.
  • Natural Areas Association (U.S.) -- History.
  • Illinois Nature Preserves Commission -- History.
  • Natural Land Institute (Rockford, Ill.) -- History.
  • Natural areas -- Illinois -- History.
  • Nature conservation -- Illinois -- History.
  • Conservationists -- Illinois -- Biography.
  • Natural areas -- United States -- History.
  • Nature conservation -- United States -- History.
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