Illinois Department of Natural Resources
November 2021
November 1, 2021
Photo courtesy of Nate Grider and Sarah Marjanovic.

Meet the Staff: Nate Grider

By Kathy Andrews Wright

Photos courtesy of Nate Grider.

Like many in the natural resources field, Nate Grider attributes his choice of a career path to impressions made on him at an early age. 

A man kneels in a grassland while holding a box turtle in one hand and petting a brown friendly hunting dog with the other hand.

Growing up in the Hillsboro area, he had the opportunity to romp around the woods and waterbodies of Montgomery County, developing a passion for the outdoors and resource conservation.

“I started archery deer hunting when I was 12 years old, strapping my cased bow on my bicycle and riding about 2 miles to some timber that I had permission to hunt on,” Grider recalled. “Looking back on my younger self, I now wonder what I would have done if I had succeeded in harvesting a deer. At that age I didn’t think about a seemingly minor detail of how I would get a harvested deer home. I was focused on the time spent in the tree stand observing nature.”

After graduating from high school, Grider signed on as a volunteer with the Illinois Department of Natural of Resources (IDNR), working with Region 4 staff on lake, pond and stream surveys.

Attending the University of Illinois, Springfield (UIS), Grider earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology. During his studies he was awarded two National Wild Turkey Federation scholarships and interned with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC). His connection with IDNR continued as a participant in the UIS Graduate Public Service Internship (GPSI) program. 

“The GPSI program provided me the opportunity to work with another set of IDNR fisheries biologists, Rob Hilsabeck and Trent Thomas, on the landmark reintroduction of the alligator gar, the largest fish native to Illinois and an apex predator,” he explained.

A biologist is holding a very large fish with both hands while standing in a boat. In the background is water against limestone rubble along the shore of the wetland area.

“Prior to their release in Spunky Bottoms and a few other sites in 2011, alligator gar were last documented in Illinois in 1966,” Grider noted. “Spunky Bottoms is a thriving, restored backwater wetland of the Illinois River located in Brown County and owned by The Nature Conservancy. I studied the 100 gar that were introduced to determine their growth rate and body condition, and to assess how these large predators, truly “living fossils,” interacted with the aquatic community.”

Following graduation, Grider was hired by IDNR to oversee environmental regulations and reclamation at mine sites in central Illinois. He then moved to the Impact Assessment Section where he conducted environmental impact reviews related to construction and development projects on protected natural resources statewide. He served in that office for eight years, with the last three as the Section Manager. He accepted the position as the Division of Wildlife Resources’ Programs Section Head effective August 1, 2021.

“The Wildlife Programs Section includes the staff who serve as subject matter experts in the forest wildlife (white-tailed deer, wild turkey, tree squirrels), upland game (ring-necked pheasant and bobwhite quail), waterfowl, wildlife diversity, hunter heritage and wildlife disease programs,” he explained. In this position he’ll also return to working with apex predators, as his Section is responsible for monitoring the rare occurrences of three mammalian apex predators as they pass through Illinois—the black bear, cougar and gray wolf.

A man stands next to a sign that says, "Slow. Franklin's Ground Squirrel Crossing." In the background is an agricultural field against a partly cloudy sky.

Grider noted that his tenure with the Impact Assessment Section provided him with a broad understanding and experience with regulations and management of listed species, non-game species, game species, and the habitats each requires. He also worked extensively with local, state and federal agencies, research institutions and public and private sector organizations to seek appropriate actions and solutions for impacts to natural resources related to construction and development projects. During this time, Grider spearheaded the new Conservation Inclusive Construction and Development Archive (CICADA) website in partnership with the NGRREC. The website promotes habitat conservation practices in the public, commercial and industrial sectors.

He explained that “The knowledge, skills and connections gained throughout my career, along with my personal conservation interests and outdoor experiences gained since childhood, are allowing me to easily transition to the Division of Wildlife Resources. I have been following their work and coordinating with them for many years.” 

He views his role within the Division as a conduit and a catalyst, providing the expert staff in each program with the tools they need to complete their jobs efficiently and help them navigate issues. 

“We face many great challenges in this modern era of conservation work, but I remain optimistic given the great team of professionals we have in this Division, throughout the IDNR and within partnering organizations,” he said. “I am happy to be part of it and can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Two individuals, a man and child, wearing camouflage gear are in an archway of an old railroad tunnel. In the background is a forest.

Building relationships with professionals and volunteers and creating opportunities for personal growth in the field of natural resource management is central to Grider’s personal philosophy. He is always eager to learn new things in his field and keep up with the latest research. Even on his days off, while working on wildlife habitat improvement projects on the Montgomery County family farm, he continues to think about what he can do for the resources.

“I like to give back to nature more than I take,” he explained. “That is what has motivated me since I can remember.” 

“Yes, I am a hunter, fisher and conservationist at heart, but resource management is not just a job for me,” he remarked. “It is my commitment to help ensure that future generations know and appreciate an even better natural world than what we have today.”

Kathy Andrews Wright is retired from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources where she was editor of Outdoor Illinois magazine. She is currently the editor of Outdoor Illinois Wildlife Journal and Illinois Audubon magazine.