Remarks by Todd Strole – Illinois Nature Preserves Commission 240th meeting on Jan. 25, 2022

I would like to make a few remarks as this is the first meeting I will attend as the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission’s Executive Director.

First, I want to publicly thank Dr. Leon Hinz for his leadership during his temporary assignment as Director. Thank you, Leon.  Additionally, all INPC staff have stepped up over the last few years to assist in the absence of a Director.  Valerie Njapa has perhaps been the most visible, but all have contributed.  Thank you.

The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission has been without a Director since December 2015.  The reasons are complicated to say the least, but that era has ended, and we are looking forward.

I am honored to have been selected to serve as the Executive Director for the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.  An organization that was at the forefront of natural areas identification and protection in the country.  An organization that to date has permanently protected 613 sites, totaling 117,933 acres. 

I am humbled to step into a position occupied by people who have delivered those accomplishments in the past – Karen Witter, Brian Anderson, Carolyn Grosboll, Deb Stone, and Randy Heidorn.  The collective contribution they have made to natural areas preservation in the state of Illinois is staggering. 

But we are not living in the past.  There are new issues, new threats, new technology, new laws, new partners, and a new social culture that while being increasingly connected, is disconnected from the natural world.  Methods of the past may need adjustment and creative solutions sought, but what is clear is, we cannot stand still, natural areas are under threat – overuse, lack of stewardship, chemicals, exotics, isolation, and climate change – these need our attention, not just for nature’s sake, as noble as that may be, but for a healthy, sustainable society.

Many in this meeting know me, but if you don’t, here are a few things that are telling. I am serious about our work, but not always serious.  I am an Illinois native from Jasper County.  Alum of Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State.  I am a husband, father of 3 boys, church member, hunter, hiker, biker; and I am still waiting for the kinks to be worked out of Facebook before I sign up. I have held nearly every position possible in the Division of Natural Heritage.  I love the Division, its mission, and its staff – that will not change. 

I am a perfectly adequate botanist, adequate birder, adequate auto mechanic, adequate carpenter, plumber, and electrician, and forever fixing something.  I have mastered nothing…with the possible exception of bribery with candy.

I hope you find me passionate with a thoughtful approach.  Technologically aware, not technologically adept.  Approachable to a fault.  Committed to Director Callahan’s 3 C’s – Communicate, Collaborate, and Connect.  To do that, I have talked personally to every INPC staff member, every past director, every current Commissioner.  These conversations will continue and if you are attending this meeting, you are fair game.

This will be my approach – I will be a loyal employee for IDNR, dedicated to the Commission’s purposes, but working for the Natural Areas in Illinois – wherever that takes me – whether it be a budget battle, a legislative liaison, a partner party, or carrying a drip touch (one of these I truly love). 

Ultimately and together, let’s be purpose driven, to secure for the people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of natural areas.  That’s a good word from the Natural Areas Preservation Act.  There are many unprotected natural areas to pursue, but the word enduring troubles me – an enduring resource of natural areas.  Protection is an early and important step but delivering an enduring resource of natural areas is a journey.

Enduring requires restoration of natural processes such as fire, flood, and hydrology.

Enduring requires defense against a constant onslaught of invasive species, acute and chronic chemical pollution, and myriad other threats.

Enduring requires genetic transfer in a fragmented landscape and adaption to climate change.

Enduring requires stable funding sources and stable stewardship over time.

Enduring requires the transfer of knowledge among people, horizontal transfer between volunteers, practitioners, and academics; and vertical transfer of information from one generation to the next.

Enduring requires work.

I don’t know who said that many hands make light work – Confucius or Solomon, or maybe it was Grandma, but it is true.

Enduring requires people and lots of them- staff, contractors, environmental organizations, land trusts, volunteers, researchers, and watchful eyes – all communicating, not through FOIA, but by choice in a community of practice built on a culture of radical interdependence and trust that delivers an enduring resource of natural areas.

You can do anything if you have the right tools…my Grandfather was forever saying that.  We have a lot to do and if we need a tool, let’s get it.

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