It is the mission of the Division of
Natural Heritage to protect, restore, manage, and promote the responsible
use of the Illinois' native flora and fauna, natural communities, wildlife habitats, and ecosystems; and through our leadership, ensure for future generations of the greatest social, environmental and economic benefits that can only be provided through healthy ecosystems.
When European pioneers first viewed Illinois in the
early 19th century it was a vast natural landscape of prairie, forest
and wetland beset with clear unpolluted streams and lakes. This landscape
supported immense populations of fish, wildlife and native plants.
After two centuries of altering this landscape to benefit humans, it has
become necessary for our society to embark on a conscious effort to protect
and manage remnants of this original heritage and, where necessary, to
restore disturbed examples or even completely reconstruct them. This effort
is the essence of the charge of the Division of Natural Heritage and its
sister programs administered by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission
and the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board.
The Division maintains a Natural Heritage Database that tracks the location
and status of undisturbed natural communities and endangered species habitats.
This computer-assisted system includes data from the statewide Illinois
Natural Areas Inventory and endangered species information generated by
field surveys and other discoveries.
This information is used to guide public land acquisition and other preservation
efforts. It also aids site and species protection through the review of
publicly regulated projects and helps determine the status of potential
endangered species. The Division identifies lands for protection with
funds the Department receives from the Illinois Real Estate Transfer tax,
a tax on land transfers that often result in development and habitat loss.
The Illinois Nature Preserves System is another important protection tool.
The System is established and overseen by the Illinois Nature Preserves
Commission and is open to both public and private lands. Preserves are
dedicated in perpetuity and receive special legal protection. Private
dedications result in a reduction of property taxes.
Less stringent protection and preservation options are Natural Heritage
Landmarks which are available to cooperating private landowners, a Registry
of Land and Water Reserves that is open to both public and private landowners,
and conservation easements. Privately owned areas that are Registered
or that are encumbered by a conservation easement may also be eligible
for a reduction in property taxes.
A newly emerging emphasis on protection of large landscape scale tracts
and linear stream corridors depends on voluntary cooperation of many private
landowners to augment key public lands. The motivation for such cooperation
rests in the benefit to all from the enhancement of a large common resource
that touches every participant but is controlled by no one individual.
protection and preservation negotiation is accomplished by the Nature
Preserves Commission staff while database maintenance and land acquisition
are functions of the Natural Heritage Division. The Illinois Endangered
Species Protection Board designates plants and animals as endangered or
threatened in Illinois and advises on their protection. This is accomplished
with the aid of their staff and the input of many expert biologists throughout
the state. Designated species receive legal protection under the provisions
of the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act. Designated species
receive legal protection under the provisions of the Illinois Endangered
Species Protection Act.
Division monitors and manages both species and vegetative communities
with a staff of 23 district Heritage Biologists located across the state
and a small staff at Illinois' prairie chicken sanctuaries in Jasper and
Marion counties. This staff is often assisted by full-time "resident"
conservation biologists-in-training. These graduate students are supported
for one-year appointments with the Division where they gain valuable training
while accomplishing needed work.
Species are monitored to determine population trends, response to climatic
shifts and management practices, and simply to learn the basics of their
life history. Communities are monitored to detect changes such as vegetative
succession or the invasion of alien weeds. Monitoring also detects potential
threats from outside the managed area such as herbicide drift or incompatible
management involves maintenance of proper habitat for endangered and threatened
species and the restoration of depleted populations. Community management
is aimed at maintaining desired conditions through actions such as prescribed
burning, alien species control and restoring drained wetlands.
The goal of endangered species recovery is the delisting of species from
endangered status. First, essential habitat is identified, protected and
brought under management. Specific species problems are then identified
and corrected if possible.
An example of plant recovery is the endangered Kankakee Mallow which
grows only on one island in the Kankakee River. After its only habitat
was acquired and preserved as an Illinois Nature Preserve, its numbers
continued to decline. The population consisted of all old plants with
no seedlings or young plants.
burning was implemented and seedlings sprouted abundantly. Seeds were
present but they required scarification by fire before they could germinate.
A large healthy population of mallows now occupies the preserve. Recovery
of Illinois' remnant population of Prairie Chickens was stymied when egg
fertility dropped after the population reached low levels. Genetic analysis
showed that inbreeding was the problem, which is being corrected by introduction
of prairie chickens from other flocks.
An important activity of Heritage Biologists is the restoration of degraded
natural communities and the actual creation of examples of native communities.
Prairies, forests and wetlands have all been restored and reconstructed.
prairies and forests are restored by the removal of unwanted plants and
the introduction of desirable plants and animals. Totally new prairies
are planted with seed and can be augmented with nursery-reared plants.
Forests are generally planted with nursery-reared stock, often to reduce
fragmentation of existing forest habitat.
Wetlands are restored by reversing past drainage and by adding desirable
plants or removing unwanted plants. Totally new wetlands are designed
and created by excavation, seeding and the planting of seedlings. All of these methods are important to large-scale landscape restorations
which are increasingly viewed as necessary to assure long-term viable
ecosystems. Such large-scale restorations and recreations are necessary
to meet the need of wide-ranging wildlife species and to prevent inbreeding
in plants and animals. Accomplishment of these landscape restorations
requires public participation and cooperation.
The Department of Natural Resources' Forestry Nurseries produce most of
the seed and seedlings used in the restoration and reconstruction of natural
Natural Heritage Division fosters public education, appreciation and
enjoyment of our natural heritage through the publication of educational
posters and informational materials. Posters and accompanying interpretive
guidebooks are available for seven typical Illinois habitats and are
widely used in Illinois classrooms. Informational guides cover landscaping
for wildlife, construction of housing for wildlife, planting a prairie,
developing a butterfly garden, and many other natural heritage activities.
The Department of Natural Resources and other owners provide trails
and interpretive programs at many natural heritage sites that enhance
visitor enjoyment and learning.
The Division administers funds donated to the Wildlife Preservation Fund
through a "checkoff" on the Illinois State Income Tax Return.
This fund finances habitat restoration and management, inventories, surveys,
and educational materials that otherwise would not be accomplished. A
significant part of the fund is set aside annually for competitive small
grants to individuals, schools, volunteer groups and public agencies in
support of similar projects.
Natural Resources Way
Springfield, IL 62702