Continued….How I met my wife / IDNR Testing Process / Failure Rate / NWCOA Involvement & Staunch Pushback to Change / Struggles in Illinois to Grow a Nuisance Wildlife Control Company
In the Winter of 2008, I met my future wife Jessica. She lived in a cabin on the grounds of a local religious retreat center. She did not live alone. She kept hearing strange thumping and noises in the quiet cabin tucked away on the property. The managers of the retreat center called their “regular pest guy” who promptly came out to inspect for the noises in her attic. The “pest guy” opened the shed door (shed was attached to the home) and found a large fat raccoon staring back at him. As she recalls, “he screamed and yelled, it’s a raccoon, and slammed the door shut saying he doesn’t do that kind of thing”. That’s where I came in. It was this line of work that brought us together!
My business took off like a rocket, despite just coming out of a severe recession after the housing crash of 2007. I had more business than I could handle in just a short couple years. I hired a buddy that I had worked with at Animal Control to help out. He had been a former US Marine and was a POST Certified Police Officer working part time for the county parks department. He had worked full time for animal control for over 5 years. He was well qualified and a very skilled handler of animals. He failed the exam two times in a row and I had to let him go. In the State of Illinois, you have to individually licensed to even set a cage trap on the ground! I tried repeatedly to hire others with the same result.
It was then that I reached out to my Congressman, a Senator and the National Wildlife Control Operators Association or NWCOA for short. I spoke with Stephen Vantassel (Board Member of NWCOA) and he agreed to help out in any way they could. They offered to send another board member (Michael Beran) to meet with IDNR officials as well as the Congressman who had arranged the meeting. We were to meet at the headquarters of the IDNR in Illinois, which was about a three and a half hour drive for me. I had also brought an employee, Ryan Johnson, (who had also failed the exam once) to testify about his experience. Ryan had a bachelors degree, was a youth pastor for a local church and is a very intelligent man.
My Congressman (Joe Sosnowski) was a no show at the meeting. We arrived and were told by the IDNR staff that Joe “sends his regards, but will not be able to attend”. This, without any advance notice. I knew from that moment that we had no support from our politician. The meeting was largely a complete failure to get anything accomplished.
NWCOA offered to the State of Illinois to create a testing process and course preparation specific to the laws and regulations of the State of Illinois, for no cost to the State. The IDNR refused to accept this. I had drawn up a plan to propose creation of a fee system so that the State would benefit financially from this. I proposed a structured system similar to what the Illinois Dept of Public Health does to license operators. They stated, “we already have enough work to do with 500 permits going out each year, we don’t need more in the State”. I then proposed that the State then allow technicians newly hired to be able to work under our permit until they could pass the exam. This was also denied. This meeting was a no go.
We had no support from the “good ol boy club”, aka IWCOA (Illinois Wildlife Control Operators Association) who were known as the “gatekeepers” to permits being offered by the State. It was the President at the time of this organization (Rob Erickson) that created the original testing and permitting process that the IDNR uses. The IWCOA would have nothing to do with this and actually spoke out staunchly against it. To me, this made a lot of sense. Why would they want more competition, especially if they were in fact the gatekeepers to getting the permits in the State already? So, even my own State level industry “advocate” was against this idea of a legitimate, organized and fair licensing process for the State of Illinois.
Illinois is known for two things, one being corruption and one being a heavily “Blue” state in high debt. We have more ex-governors in prison than we do out. Hard to keep the State healthy when you have “pay to play” politics and contracts going to folks who are corrupt instead of providing good value. Through our Congressman, Joe Sosnowski, we requested a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for the data on the percentage of testers who failed the exam. This request was denied. Even when it came from a US Congressman. It has been rumored that the failure rate for the exam is in excess of 80%. Can you imagine if that is true? How can you run a business like that? How can you expand in a State that passes less than 20% of those who take the exam?…TO BE CONTINUED