Photo courtesy of Phil Borsdorf

August 1, 2023

Meet the Staff: Phil Borsdorf

Proud Illinois-native Phil Borsdorf has returned to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to serve in the Division of Wildlife Resources as the Hunter Heritage Program Manager. We asked Borsdorf to introduce himself and provide some insights into his job of addressing issues negatively impacting hunter participation across the state of Illinois.

As a kid I really didn’t know how lucky I was to grow up on a wooded acreage in rural Illinois. Although it was a relatively small property at 25 acres, it possessed a respectable abundance and diversity of natural features and afforded enough room for all kinds of outdoor adventures. Historically, a couple sections of the land had been cropped, and most of it was pastured for many years prior to my parents’ purchase of it in the early 1990s. Since they acquired the property, I’ve watched my father work to restore its natural integrity ever since. Today, the property is still very much a “work-in-progress,” but as I’ve gotten to assist my Dad with restoration activities over the years I have witnessed some beneficial results. While I’m not going to go off gushing about my old man, I fully admit that he is my conservation hero, which speaks to how much the whole experience means to me. Truthfully, I don’t know if I’d be a hunter; much less involved in the field of natural resources management if it weren’t for him or that piece of land.

Phil Borsdorf, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife Resources Hunter Heritage Program Manager, sits on a mowed patch of grass wearing blaze orange with his hunting dog and a pair of rabbits he has hunted. Behind them is a stand of dry prairie grasses.
Phil Borsdorf was recently named the Hunter Heritage Program Manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife Resources. Photo provided by the author.

Communicating about the impact of that experience is relevant for putting into context the constraints many people experience when it comes to engaging in hunting, trapping and conservation. No doubt, the environment we exist within, and the exposure, or lack thereof, to such things has a bearing on our understanding, belief-systems and active pursuits. That said, I know many natural resource professionals and sportsmen and women who come from environments less immersive than the one I characterized above, but who possess as much or more passion than many of us—and I have a lot of admiration for those folks. Nevertheless, the overarching point I’m working toward is that the person who can roll out of bed and be hunting in minutes, or who can target-shoot in their backyard, experiences a level of convenience that is incomprehensible to many—which can translate into priceless exposure and lasting participation in hunting/trapping. For many folks in Illinois, the reality is that there are both real and perceived constraints and inconveniences that reduce the onset or continued participation in these activities.

The Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) and Illinois Learn to Hunt Program staff have been working diligently to study and increase hunter participation in Illinois—which, I forgot to mention, has declined steadily over the years (a central thesis to this whole initiative). Through their work over the past five years, staff have identified a long list of constraints to participation in hunting via feedback from Learn to Hunt program participants. The top five constraints cited by participants were: 1) access to public hunting land close to home, 2) access to hunting opportunities close to home, 3) work/family commitments, 4) lack of people to hunt with, and 5) hunting skills/knowledge among several other things. To paraphrase their words: a lack of access, opportunity and time are the primary constraints listed by hunters in Illinois.

An illustrated graphic showing the process by which hunter purchases support wildlife habitat. Hunters purchase ammo, equipmentm licenses and stamps. Manufactures pay USFWS a 10% excise tax on hunter equipment and ammo. USFWS allocates funding to states based on license sales and land area. IDNR matches (25percent) the USFWS funding (75 percent) to conduct wildlife conservation projects. Habitat is improved.
Many people are not aware that hunters contribute substantially to habitat conservation through their purchases. This graphic explains the process. Illustration by Sarah Marjanovic.

Why are these constraints concerning? The short answer is hunters, trappers and anglers foot the bill for most wildlife/fish restoration efforts within the United States. And, also because wildlife and their habitats need our help now as much as they ever have. The follow-up question then becomes: what are the solutions to overcoming these constraints? The answer is complex and multifaceted, so we’ll have to address this on future occasions in OutdoorIllinois Journal. But, to entertain the thought for now, a few of the commonly cited reasons for these constraints are a decline in places to hunt (via a loss of habitat, changes in agriculture, urbanization, loss of private land permission/public land availability, etc.), a lack of once abundant and accessible game species (i.e. ring-necked pheasant and northern bobwhite quail), cultural changes, the transition to a more urban populace, and the distractions of abundant activities associated with modern-day life, among numerous other reasons. Although many of these matters are out of our control, there are areas where we can make improvements to minimize some of the identified constraints within Illinois. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, INHS, Illinois Learn to Hunt Program, and several other conservation and shooting-sports organizations are working to address issues negatively impacting hunting participation.

Nowadays, I live several hours away from my parents’ property, and my hunting excursions usually require a bit of travel (oftentimes to public land), but I still make it home to hunt most years where I’m reminded of the conveniences that were a regular part of my childhood. For the many folks who weren’t exposed to such immersion, or who experience constraints to hunting, overcoming these hurdles can be challenging. For this reason, initiatives that mentor/teach people how to hunt and trap (Illinois Learn to Hunt Program) or that facilitate citizen access to hunting land/opportunity (Illinois Recreational Access Program) are very important for sustaining our hunting heritage, wildlife restoration, and ultimately the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

Phil Borsdorf has a B.S. and M.S. in Wildlife Ecology/Science and previously worked for IDNR as an Associate Wildlife Biologist and District Natural Heritage Biologist where his efforts were focused on wildlife/habitat and natural-community restoration on IDNR properties. In his new role as Hunter Heritage Program Manager, he is excited to work towards increasing public engagement in hunting and conservation for the benefit of people and natural resources.

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