Lisa Labuz: And it's time for our weekly climate conversation. Now over the winter, Natalie Phelps Finney was appointed as the new director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources spending state Senate confirmation. She previously was a deputy director for the department and has also served as a state representative for parts of Southern Illinois. And as a nurse, Doctor Finney joined WBEZ's Melba Lara to talk about her new role and how climate change affects the Department of Natural Resources' work.
Melba Lara: Your department certainly does a lot of work in a number of areas, wildlife planning, oil and gas management, nature conservation. Where in your work would you say is the impact of climate change most apparent?
Natalie Phelps Finnie: So I would say, you know, speaking for our biologists there, saying things every day, you know, whether it's um the invasive species increase in disease, we're seeing chronic wasting disease in greater numbers. Um And this all has a domino effect and it's a multi pronged problem, right? So, um you have invasive species and habitat loss that puts more strain on your endangered species. I know in our area in Southern Illinois, we're seeing lots of armadillos. You never saw armadillos as far north and yet you're seeing those. Um, and, and, you know, in and of itself, I'm glad to see armadillos. I'm not opposed to having armadillos here. But what we don't see is how these changes really strain certain, strained and endangered species. Um, so the smallest things can make the biggest difference. I would relate it back to my, um, as a nurse practitioner back to the body, you know, you get one little electrolyte out of place and you think no big deal. It is life threatening. Even that one won factor being out of place.
Melba Lara: Illinois of course, is a pretty big state, we have rural communities, we have urban communities, we have suburban communities. How are your priority's different for urban areas vs rural communities?
Natalie Phelps Finnie: That's, that's a great question. So in urban communities, one, you know, major concern is the urban heat island effect and the lack of trees. So we're looking at ways we can, we can add trees to um our urban areas. And then in some of the rural areas, we're looking at removing hazardous trees um like those that were killed by the emerald ash borer, so those dead ash trees become a hazard. And so that's just kind of, you know, just, just for the state, one example of forestry, how it's different from the urban goal versus the city goal.
Melba Lara: One of the nice things about being a new director of an agency is you also need to focus on projects that might be near and dear to your heart. Is there anything that you have been looking at and looking forward to kind of focusing on that means a lot to you?
Natalie Phelps Finnie: You know, I'm a conservationist at heart. We have this one planet and we, we have this one chance to, to right the ship and it's so important that we all do our part. So overall, the big thing for me is the, is the director of I D and our is to lead by example. And the main point I want to make here, Melba Lara is that we need to do it by bringing people along. So you asked me about the big priority. It is, you know, I'm from Southern Illinois. We had coal mines and people are very angry still about the loss of jobs and it's not about the coal, nobody wants to damage the environment, it's about the jobs. And so people feel alienated. So how do we go forward and get people buying and get people really to understand this is a real problem and brings people along in this journey, this this very important mission that we have in front of us.
Melba Lara: Natalie Phelps Finnie is the acting director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Director Finney, thanks for talking with us.
Natalie Phelps Finnie: Thank you, Melba.
Lisa Labuz: And if you have a topic you'd like us to cover on our weekly climate segment, email climate@WBEZ.org. That's climate@WBEZ.org. This is WBEZ.
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