Illinois: Home to twelve million people. Also home to fifty-eight other mammal species, 383 different resident and migrant birds, 104 types of reptiles and amphibians, 174 species of fish, and some 27,000 types of insects, mussels, and other invertebrates. Many Illinoisans regularly encounter the states more common wildlife, such as the fox squirrel, the cardinal, the mallard duck, and the American toad But a resident could spend his or her entire life in this state and never see other animals, like the elusive bobcat or the uncommon osprey. Each of these species, whether visible or secretive, common or rare, shares with us this 55,645-square ­ mile patch of earth that we call Illinois.

Some people seem unaware that they share the state with any wild creatures. Most residents, however, notice and even take keen interest in the wildlife around their homes, farms, and local parks. For many citizens, no social engagement or sporting event can compare to the heart-pounding thrill of hunting and bagging the first white-tailed deer or Bobwhite quail; no nature broadcast can replace the experience of falling asleep to a symphony of frogs on a spring night or the awe of seeing a bald eagle soaring. Many people find that few artificial creations can rival the delicate beauty of a tiny hummingbird or the intricate construction of a spider's web. If we allow it, wildlife give an unparalleled inner pleasure.

Wild creatures, like the other natural resources on our planet, have intrinsic value. Humans have always seemed compelled to justify the existence of wildlife in terms of their value to us. In case their mere existence and aesthetic qualities are not enough, consider these facts:

  • The Illinois economy realizes nearly $1.1 billion every year from expenditures related to watching wildlife.
  • Hunters spend nearly $150 million a year pursuing game.
  • More than $550 million is spent each year on recreational fishing, and the annual retail value of commercial fishing is $4 million.
  • Wildlife-oriented recreation plays an important economic role in many depressed and declining small communities.

Beyond economic impacts, there are less tangible but equally important benefits of wildlife. The vast array of vertebrate and invertebrate animal species that inhabit Illinois depend, directly or indirectly, on one another. Removing any one of those species may result in disproportionately high numbers of another. Even if we were to consider solely our own comfort, health, and ability to produce food and fiber, preserving a balanced community of wildlife is essential. Certain species prey on others that are considered to be agricultural and forest pests: red-tailed hawks and great-horned owls efficiently harvest mice and voles, which can cause significant damage in crop fields. Bluebirds and Baltimore orioles extract millions of caterpillars and other invertebrates from our croplands and forests. Other animals control the abundance of a species that is considered a physical pest to humans. One bat can consume up to 3,000 mosquitoes in a night! Wildlife are vital to the survival of the human species.

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Why Focus on Habitat?

 
 

Humans, like every species with which they share the earth, are inseparably tied to their habitat, or living space. But humans have the advantage of being able to alter their habitat to a greater extent than other animals. If people find that something is missing or doesn't suit them in their living environment, they create the missing element, rearrange the landscape, or eliminate the "problem." Wild creatures, on the other hand, cannot alter their living conditions so significantly. Many cannot change their particular habitat at all. Naturalist Aldo Leopold illustrated this point in his popular book Game Management: "The essential difference between a deer and a man is that man builds farms, factories, and cities to provide himself with the elements of an habitable range, whereas a deer must accept the random assortment laid down by nature and modified by human action, or move elsewhere." Having a suitable living environment is essential for any species to survive. If wildlife cannot find good habitat, they must go elsewhere or cease to exist.

 
 

In Illinois, we humans have taken nearly maximum advantage of our ability to change our surroundings-to alter our habitat. Many would argue that our actions have made life better for humans, but there is little argument about our effects on much of Illinois wildlife. While the populations of some species, such as Canada geese and red-winged blackbirds, have actually increased as a result of the human-modified environment, many other species have been nega­tively impacted. In fact, our landscape manipulation has pushed some wildlife, like the prairie chicken, nearly out of existence. Habitat degradation and destruction by humans has been the single biggest cause of the decline of wildlife populations in Illinois. Our ability to change habitat must be coupled with the responsibility to consider the needs of wildlife if wild creatures are to survive. And though an extinct species can never be revived, some of the damage we have done to our plant and animal communities can be undone. While we have the ability to destroy habitat, we also have the capacity to restore and protect the wildlife habitats that still exist, and to reconstruct suitable habitats on land we've rendered inhospitable for wildlife.

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Why Focus on Private Lands?

 
 
Local, state, and federal governments and nonprofit conservation groups own 750,000 acres of wildlife habitat as scattered parcels throughout the state.

Much of the privately held land in our state is rural acreage man­aged by farmers. Corporations also own thousands of acres. The remainder of Illinois' private land belongs to schools, churches, small businesses-and every citizen who owns a yard or lot.
 
 

Whether you own one acre or one thousand, the decisions you make and the actions you take regarding your property affect the non­human species that reside or visit there. Every piece of unpaved land in Illinois has the potential to support some wildlife. To be responsible stewards during our tenure, we consider wildlife in all our land­use decisions. No matter how much land you own, your ownership is temporary. How you manage that land while it is in your care will have an impact long after you are gone.

What about citizens who don't own land or who live in the city? They can still effect positive change for wildlife. You may be on the board of a church that occupies two acres of land, neatly mowed but with little habitat for wildlife. Or you may sit on a county board that makes many land-use decisions. You may be a school-board member or a teacher at a school with idle land that could become a habitat demonstration plot, benefitting both wildlife and students. You may belong to a country club that could improve its land for wildlife. Even more significantly, you may work for a company or agency that owns land, perhaps even large amounts, that could be improved for wildlife.

Related link: Il Wildlife Action Plan


 
Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Resource Conservation    One Natural Resources Way Springfield, IL 62702-1271