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.
PROTECT AND PRESERVE OUR HERITAGE
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.
Much 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.
MONITORING AND MANAGING HERITAGE RESOURCES
The 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 development.
Species 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.
RECOVERY OF ENDANGERED SPECIES
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.
Prescribed 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.
RESTORATION AND RECONSTRUCTION
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.
Degraded 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 communities.
THE WILDLIFE PRESERVATION FUND
The 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.
One Natural Resources Way
Springfield, IL 62702