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Former IDNR Director Brent Manning has died

Brent Manning
Legacy obituary
Brent Manning

A former longtime state agency director has died. Brent Manning died Friday. He was 70.

Manning took over as the Illinois Department of Conservation Director in 1991 and spent 12 years at the helm, including the period when several agencies were merged to become the Department of Natural Resources.

He was later in charge of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and worked for nearly a decade as Executive Director of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

Manning grew up in Pawnee. He attended Eastern Illinois University, earning a Master’s Degree in Zoology.

His career included time as regional director for Ducks Unlimited in northern Illinois. It was Gov. Jim Edgar who tabbed him to be part of the administration in 1991.

In an interview with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library’s Oral History Project, Manning said he never considered himself “political.”

“Natural resources, the environment, is not a partisan issue. It’s a quality of life issue.,” he said. “Both Republicans and Democrats, the ones that I have the greatest respect for, understand and realize that. I had a great working relationship with both sides of the aisle because I firmly believed that, and I would express that to them.”

Despite dealing with budget challenges, Manning pushed for the state obtaining property known as Site M, west of Springfield, which later became Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area. Other land was purchased for conservation in southern Illinois and that area also became home to the World Shooting Complex in Sparta.

"I've been accused from time to time of wanting to be a land baron," Manning said in a 2001 interview with the Southern Illinoisan. "The fact is, the good Lord isn't making any more property - unless we have a major tectonic plate shift. With the number of people we have in the state of Illinois, that public land and access to those lands are extremely important."

Under his leadership, IDNR started the Conservation Congress, Conservation 2000, Illinois River 2020 and more. A new agency headquarters was built on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, consolidating various offices and divisions under one roof.

“The thing that I’m most proud of is the staff, the work that they achieved, developing and opening the doors for constituents and people that were involved in the agency. The best staff in the state government when I was there,” he said in the oral history interview. “It was a matter of building their confidence. It was matter of building their self-esteem and letting them know that I wasn’t going to let them swing out there. If somebody was going to hang them, they’d better have two nooses because they’d have to come for me too.”

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better or anything more.”

A visitation and celebration of life is scheduled Thursday, Feb. 1 at St. Jude Catholic Church in Rochester from 4-7 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held at the church at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 2 Burial at Horse Creek Cemetery in Pawnee will follow.

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