A much-needed conservation group officially was formed and rolled out this past week. The Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves is a new nonprofit formed by a large group of passionate and concerned citizens.
Illinois has 596 preserves that are “legally protected forever” because of their high-quality natural characteristics. However, just because they have legal status does not mean they will remain high quality in perpetuity if no resources or time are spent restoring or maintaining Illinois best natural areas.
The new group will act as a safety net for these preserves and aid the state in multiple ways. Their website lists three main functions: 1. Advocating for and raising funds for the Illinois nature preserves system. 2. Promoting and training volunteers to care for and watch over nature preserves where needed. 3. Educating elected officials at state and local levels, taxpayers and policymakers about the important benefits the nature preserves provide the current and future citizens of Illinois.
The Illinois statewide nature preserve system was the first of its kind when it formed in 1963 and has been a model for states and regions everywhere. This new group has been desperately needed.
Over recent decades, staff for the many preserves have dwindled and funds have been hard to come by. The remaining few staff are put in an impossible position of maintaining dozens of sites within their districts. They cannot do this alone; and it isn’t fair that the preserves do not get the attention they deserve. It isn’t fair that staff are spread so thin as they try to make it all work.
In more urban areas, volunteers have formed smaller groups and adopted preserves to take some of the burden off. However, volunteer groups, so far, have only reached a fraction of sites, and many rural nature preserves get little or no attention as they wither over time. This is has become a crisis that threatens many species and ecosystems.
In our area the only public nature preserve with sustained volunteer efforts is Langham Island Nature Preserve, and it was left abandoned for almost 10 years until 2014.
In the Kankakee River State Park alone, there are two other nature preserve areas besides Langham that need significant help. What locals know as the Indian Caves also is known as the Bourbonnais Geological Area nature preserve is so degraded that it is more known for harboring mischievous kids than anything it was ever protected for.
Gooseberry Island and Iroquois Woods nature preserves are two more that are in our immediate area that are publicly protected, and I doubt most have ever heard, let alone, visited them.
Almost every county has multiple nature preserves or land and water preserves. All it takes a few passionate people supporting each site, and we can get back on track.
We have done a poor job of outreach up to this point as a conservation community to the public. We haven’t done enough as a community to arm citizens with training and resources to take on these important challenges. I hope this new group can finally fill in some of these gaps and rejuvenate our states natural resources.
If you want to learn more, and I sincerely hope you do, you can visit the new Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves website: friendsofillinoisnaturepreserves.org.
Be sure to click on the “How can I help?” tab and sign up for email updates as the group rolls out their initiatives. This is a time to be optimistic but also a time for action.