Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed four bills intended to make it easier for the state to manage its natural resources and encourage youth to become more active in -- and protective of -- the outdoors. “Investing in young hunters and fishers helps implant a great love for the outdoors that will continue through a lifetime,” Rauner, who signed the measures into law while attending Conservation Day at the Illinois State Fair, said. “I believe in utilizing Illinois’ vast natural resources to enhance our quality of life while also protecting them for future generations... (and) giving more opportunities to appreciate our resources to these young Illinoisans will ensure conservation of our lands for generations to come.”

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The four legislative measures modify wildlife hunting programs overseen by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Under Senate Bill 2410, the state's youth licensing program is extended from just hunting to include fishing and trapping. The new law allows hunters ages 18 and under to apply for a youth trapping license. Youth license holders must abide by all wildlife laws and codes, and must be accompanied and supervised by a parent, grandparent or guardian who is 21 years of age or older and has a valid Illinois trapping license. Aside from offering comprehensive instruction on gun operation and safety, the IDNR's hunter-safety education course "does spend a significant amount of time on conservation stewardship and being a responsible individual in the outdoors," IDNR spokesman Tim Schweizer said.

The augmented youth program will better encourage young hunters whom, through their lifetimes, will contribute to the conservation of Illinois' natural lands by their ongoing purchases of licenses and stamps, and through other fees, and thereby maintain a "model of conservation that has been successful for more than 100 years," a release from the Governor's Office said. These days, "fewer and fewer kids have the opportunity" to simply experience the natural environment, let alone go hunting with parents and grandparents, "because of the urbanization of our society," Schweizer said, suggesting that young Illinoisians could do themselves good by "getting outdoors, number one, be it on a bicycle on a bike trail or with a shotgun in a deer stand during the fall or a shotgun and turkey during the spring."

House Bill 5788 has added catfish to the list of aquatic life that anglers pursue by bow fishing. The legislation also stipulates that daily limits and other rules can be set by the IDNR through administrative rules, instead of by statute, thereby giving department officials a greater ability to access and manage local fish populations. Thanks to HB 4604, the IDNR will be able to issue permits for hunting bobwhite quail, chukar partridge and gray partridge on public hunting grounds. Last, but not least, SB 3003 authorizes the IDNR to offer landowners free permits for both deer and turkey hunting, as long as their properties consist of 40 or more acres.

The law further streamlines the permitting process by combining the application for both deer and turkey. The legislation also directs the IDNR to hold a youth turkey season for two consecutive weekends, instead of the current one weekend. For turkey hunting, the state is split into north and south zones, Schweizer said. So, in the south zone, "a weekend in late March is usually set aside for youth turkey season, prior to the regular turkey season, and in the north zone, a weekend in early April is set aside," but now, "this legislation allows both in the south zone and in the north zone for us to have two consecutive weekends of youth hunts." Schweizer said hunting is "part of our heritage, and we'd like to introduce that heritage and perpetuate it by getting more young people involved."

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