November 1, 2023

Meet the Staff: Doug McClain, Waterfowl Program Manager

Photos courtesy Doug McClain

Sometimes, when determining your life’s trajectory and future career path, it’s not a matter of knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know. For the new Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Waterfowl Program Manager, Doug McClain, nothing could be closer to the truth.

A man with a red beard wearing a life-vest sits on a chair in a boat in a lake waiting for a fish to bite the bait on his fishing rod. In the background is calm water reflecting a beautiful partly cloudy evening sky.

Despite initially intending to pursue a career in medicine, McClain cites a lifelong connection to waterfowl hunting, and a few well-timed job shadows as an undergraduate, for showing him that a career in what he knows—waterfowl—is entirely possible.

Growing up in eastern Ohio, McClain says there wasn’t the variety of species of waterfowl like we may be used to here in Illinois along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. But there were plenty of geese! Hunting geese was a family pastime, with much of McClain’s childhood spent with his father and grandfather in a goose blind, which he later channeled into the start of a successful career in waterfowl management.

With roots in the Midwest, McClain has spent much of his education and professional career migrating to and from the area.

“I’m a native Ohioan, but moved to Illinois for graduate school,” he said. “I spent most of my time in southern Illinois (primarily the Cache River area) and in the Illinois River Valley. I left Illinois in 2016 but returned mid 2023 after accepting the IDNR Waterfowl Program Manager position.”

After graduating from Muskingum University—a small school in southeastern Ohio—in 2011, McClain moved to Illinois, beginning work on his master’s capstone.

“For my M.S., I looked at nest site selection of wood ducks across the Cache River watershed in southern Illinois,” he said. “I spent a lot of time wading and canoeing the cypress/tupelo swamps of the area. Then, after graduate school, I worked at the Forbes Biological Station in Havana, for a couple years and worked on a wide variety of projects. Some of those projects included monitoring efforts for wetland reserve easements (WREs) throughout the state, movement ecology of Canada geese throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, ecology of spring-migrating lesser scaup and canvasbacks, and spring movement ecology of green-winged teal and gadwall throughout the Illinois River Valley.”

A man with a red beard and mustache holds a small duck. In the background is a lake.

Then in 2016, McClain moved from Illinois to accept a position in his home state.

“I was the state waterfowl biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources,” explained McClain.

His waterfowl management prowess doesn’t end there.

“Most recently, I was working for Ducks Unlimited in Minnesota acquiring easements on private land and restoring wetlands and prairie throughout the Prairie Pothole Region,” he continued.

Along with his impressive background in waterfowl hunting and ecology, McClain also has a strong appreciation for the work that he will be doing at IDNR.

“I really enjoy the cooperative nature of managing migratory birds,” he said. “Their ecology requires you to partner with other folks and to think “big picture” across their entire geographic range. I’m excited to be part of that process again, including research, the regulatory process, and working with the public to conserve and manage wetland wildlife.”
Another goal of McClain’s as a waterfowl hunter himself is improving the ease of public access.

“A big thing for me is responsibly managing the wildlife resources we have while also simplifying regulations for hunters and other user groups,” he said. “Complex regulations are confusing for everyone, and waterfowl hunting certainly has no shortage of confusing regulations. The simpler we can make our regulations, the fewer barriers there are to people enjoying our waterfowl and other wildlife resources.”

With the recent opening of waterfowl seasons and upcoming waterfowl aerial surveys, McClain will have a full slate of projects to keep him busy—not that he minds.

“I’m excited to work with other biologists to improve wetland habitat throughout the state through involvement with the duck stamp fund and to work on improving waterfowl management across the state,” he said.

And, perhaps, he’ll even find some time to go goose hunting!

Kaleigh Gabriel is a Wildlife Outreach Specialist with Lewis and Clark Community College, working out of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources building to assist the Division of Wildlife Resources. Growing up just between Sangamon and Christian counties, she spent a lot of her time hunting and fishing in Illinois. She received her bachelor’s degree in writing/journalism from Manchester University, Indiana.

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Question: Where can I get more information about the movement of Geese in the Chicago region, and information regarding if these birds migrate, where they migrate to, etc. Thanks!