Sponsored By
Prairie Farmer Logo

Callahan named director of natural resourcesCallahan named director of natural resources

Governor appoints Colleen Callahan to lead Department of Natural Resources, drawing on her background in farm broadcasting and rural development.

Holly Spangler

February 19, 2019

3 Min Read
DIRECTOR: Colleen Callahan says she’ll draw on her background in communications, as she asks questions and learns from DNR career staff.Courtesy of Colleen Callahan

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has appointed Colleen Callahan as director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Callahan spent 32 years as a Peoria-area farm broadcaster and served as Illinois director of Rural Development during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2016.

“I’m honored to be asked to serve in this administration,” Callahan says. “I’m also eager to work with the dedicated DNR career staff. They live it every day. I’m eager to collaborate with them to enhance Illinois’ natural resources.”

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is staffed by more than 1,000 people, and it oversees 35,000 acres of DNR-owned farmland. DNR is a broad-ranging agency, responsible for state parks, fishing and game law enforcement, coal mine regulations and research into soil, water and minerals. It’s even home to the Illinois Historic Preservation Division.

Callahan co-chaired Pritzker’s Agricultural and Rural Development transition team with John Sullivan, who in late December was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

And while she doesn’t know if the governor plans for the two departments to collaborate, she says he has been broad and diverse in his appointments and committee configurations.

“Not only was there diversity in professions and industries and organizations, but there was bipartisan participation as well,” Callahan says of the ag transition team, pointing to the inclusion of a labor member — a move that surprised some, but not Callahan. Her background in rural development said otherwise.

“We have a lot of infrastructure needs in our rural communities,” she explains.

Given her involvement in the administration’s transition team, Callahan knew a possible appointment was “on the table,” but it still startled her to hear the governor on her voicemail last week.

“I called the number, and he answered right away. He said, ‘You called me governor. I’d like to call you Madam Secretary. I’d like to ask you to lead our Department of Natural Resources,’” she recalls. “I said, ‘I’m flattered and I accept.’”

On the job
Callahan will go to work in the next few weeks, and her first mission will be to ask questions and learn all she can about a department that has, much like the Agriculture Department, been underfunded and suffered a loss of employees. 

“I’m eager to learn firsthand from those who have been experiencing it,” she says, harkening back to her background in broadcasting. “I have a lot of questions, and I know the career staff have answers. Their input will be foundational to me.

“I’ll ask questions, learn from the staff’s answers, and then collaborate and connect with whoever we need to, to achieve whatever we need to get done.”

Callahan grew up on a farm in Milford, Ill., and exhibited hogs all across the state as a youth exhibitor. She graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in ag communications in 1973. She plans to draw on her agricultural roots in her new position — much like her DNR predecessor, Wayne Rosenthal, did.

“We do have a tendency to separate Agriculture from the Department of Natural Resources,” she says, but adds there was a lot of crossover conversation in the ag transition team — like nutrient loss reduction strategies and how they affect natural resources. 

Callahan plans to work with Sullivan and the Agriculture Department where appropriate and rattles off a long list of possible collaborators: EPA, economic development, tourism, Natural Resources Conservation Service, University of Illinois College of ACES, ag organizations, environmental organizations, labor and rural development.

“It’s an honor, and it’s humbling to work with an agency that stands for everything from museums to minerals, from parks to preservation of history, from water to wildlife,” she concludes. “I’m looking forward to connecting with those who use and protect our natural resources.”

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like