Skip to main content

Archive - August 2016

​You might think that native plants and wildlife living in Illinois are able to survive just fine on their own. After all, they have developed with the land and have been present for a very long time. Unfortunately, though, many native species find survival in Illinois to be a challenge. Our landscape changes every day, naturally and from human actions. Plants and animals must be able to adjust to those changes. Even species that have healthy populations in the state can benefit from management activities to keep their populations in control and from work being done to save other species.

Saving species in Illinois is only possible through the cooperation of many organizations, groups and individuals. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is one of those organizations. In this issue of Kids for Conservation® we’ll talk a little about the history of saving species in Illinois, how IDNR staff members are working to save species today and how you can take positive actions to benefit wildlife and plants, too!

The History of Conservation in Illinois

​​In 1600, the land that was to become Illinois was covered with millions of acres of prairies, forests and wetlands. Wildlife was plentiful. The only people were Native Americans. These people had systems of trade with other Native Americans, but for the most part, they provided for all of their needs with the resources available to them. They wore clothing made of animal skins and furs. They slept on furs. They harvested only those animals needed to supply food, clothing and shelter.

By the late 1600s, people originally from Europe began arriving in this land. They were missionaries and traders. The missionaries came to the area to spread their religion, while the traders came to find furs and other natural resources.

Why did they want furs? Fur-bearing animals had been overhunted in Europe. There were low numbers of these animals, and fur was scarce. Fur was needed to make coats, men’s top hats and other clothing. There were many animals and few people in North America. Furs were a source of money for the fur traders, who would kill the animals for their fur and purchase furs from Native Americans, then sell the furs and ship them to Europe in boats. Although the value of furs varied, American beaver (Castor canadensis) pelts were the ones most in demand for a long time.

As word spread about the riches that could be made from the furs, hundreds of people from the eastern part of the United States began to move to the Illinois Territory to trap beavers and other animals. There seemed to be a huge supply of beavers. Everyone wanted to trap as many as they could. None of these people knew much about beavers, such as how they reproduce and grow or the value that they provide to the environment. Thomas Jefferson, our country’s president from 1801-1809, encouraged everyone to trap beavers and sell them. Trading and selling beaver pelts brought in goods and money from other countries.

This process went on throughout the 1700s and 1800s for other animals, too. Populations of many species, including beavers, declined so much from hunting and trapping that it was difficult for them to survive in Illinois. Greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido), elk (Cervus elaphus), gray wolves (Canis lupus), beavers, passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are just a few of the species affected. Beaver populations were so low in the early 1900s that they may have been eliminated from the state. Passenger pigeons became extinct in the early 1900s. Greater prairie-chickens, once among the most common Illinois birds, are an endangered species in Illinois.

There were no statewide conservation laws to protect species in the 1600s, 1700s and most of the 1800s. With wildlife species becoming rare in the state, people began to see the need for rules to help protect our natural heritage. The first conservation law in Illinois was passed in 1853, but it applied to just a few animal species and only covered a few counties in northern and central Illinois. It was changed to cover the entire state in 1873. In 1871 the first limited fish conservation law was passed. In 1885 the first “game wardens” were hired to cover the Peoria, Chicago and Quincy areas.

The first federal law to help save wildlife was passed in 1900. Known as the Lacey Act, it made transport of live or dead wild animals, or their parts, across state borders without a federal permit illegal. It was also illegal to import foreign wildlife without a government permit.

The Department of Conservation was formed in 1925 and Law Enforcement was added to this agency’s duties in 1928. The Department of Conservation became the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in 1995.

Many federal and state laws were passed in the 1900s to help save wildlife, plants and natural areas. There are too many laws to talk about here, but you can learn more here. We will feature two of these important conservation laws: the Pittman-Robertson Act and the Dingell-Johnson Act.

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act was passed in 1937. It is also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, for U.S. Senator Key Pittman of Nevada and U.S. Representative A. Willis Robertson of Virginia who worked to make this legislation possible. This law places an 11 percent federal tax on all sales of sporting arms and ammunition. These funds are provided to the states for hunter safety education programs, surveys and investigations, land acquisition and research. They also support management and restoration of wildlife in the states.

The Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, also known as the Dingell-Johnson Act for its sponsors, U.S. Senator Edwin Johnson of Colorado and U.S. Representative John Dingell, Sr. of Michigan, was passed in 1950. This law places a 10 percent federal tax on fishing equipment. It provides federal funding to the states for management and restoration of sport fish in the marine and fresh waters of the United States.

In 1929 beavers were reintroduced to Illinois. With the enforcement of hunting laws and with management of this species and its habitat, beavers were able to reproduce and spread throughout the state once again. Their population increased enough so that trapping of beavers was legalized. They have maintained a good population since then. There will never be as many beavers in Illinois as there were in the 1600s, but we can be pleased that people made a difference in order to bring this and other parts of our natural heritage back to the state.

Conservation Today

​Biologists work with populations of animals and plants. Sometimes they need to increase, decrease or keep the populations of species at the same level. They have several methods to do so. They might improve habitats by creating wetlands, planting trees or planting grasslands to provide food and shelter. They work with other scientists to clean up polluted areas to make them better places for animals and plants to live. Sometimes they capture animals from one location and release them into new territories. When populations get too large to be supported by their habitat, they help establish hunting and trapping seasons to control the numbers of animals and maintain a healthy population. Biologists also help people understand and learn more about wildlife. They provide information to homeowners on how to improve their property for wildlife, and they help resolve conflicts between homeowners and wildlife.

Biologists in Illinois have a tool to help them manage lands in the best way to benefit all Illinois wildlife species. It is called the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. It helps them decide the best actions to take to benefit wildlife, habitats and people in Illinois. You can learn more about the plan here.

Conservation in Illinois is a complex process. Habitats are managed for the benefit of species and people. Nature preserves protect unique natural areas. Endangered and threatened species require special protection. Restoration of lands disturbed by surface mining techniques is monitored by trained staff of the IDNR. Our waters and shorelines are important natural features that must be maintained. Invasive species cause many problems on land and in our water resources. Law enforcement officers enforce rules and regulations. Legislators and the Governor are needed to write and pass laws that affect conservation. Educators help teachers, students and the public to become aware of our natural areas, their inhabitants and their importance now and in the future. They also provide actions that you can take to help save species.

Taking Personal Actions to Save Species

​​Loss and degradation of wildlife habitat are serious problems in Illinois. Habitats can change by natural means or by human influences. Human actions are often detrimental to wildlife habitat, but humans can also take positive actions for wildlife. What can you do to help?

  • Plant native plants in your yard, school grounds and on public property. Native plants are adapted to Illinois' climate and can withstand drought, disease and insect attacks. They developed with our native animals and provide food and shelter for them. Select species that flower or fruit at different times of the year to provide food for several months.
  • Provide nesting, roosting and den boxes for animal species.
  • Leave dead trees standing, when possible, to provide food, shelter and nesting/roosting habitat.
  • Before clearing an area of vegetation, consider the effects of your actions on the wildlife living there.
  • Make clean, fresh water available daily for wildlife.
  • Provide brush piles and rock piles for shelter.
  • Research the food and shelter requirements of species you are trying to assist and provide those requirements.
  • Purchase hunting and fishing licenses/stamps and hunting and fishing equipment. Your investment in these items includes money dedicated to the conservation of fish and wildlife species.
  • Plant a pollinator garden, butterfly garden, prairie garden, rain garden or hummingbird garden.
  • Leave a few dead limbs in your yard for native bees to nest in.
  • Provide bare patches of soil for ground-nesting bees.
  • Develop a woodland, prairie, pond or wetland habitat.
  • Don’t kill milkweeds.
  • Don’t use chemicals unless necessary and if necessary use the least toxic ones possible.
  • Take part in citizen-science projects.
  • Educate others about wildlife habitat issues.
  • Encourage land managers to increase native wildlife habitat.
  • Support conservation efforts for wildlife, such as the Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund.
  • Provide dusting habitat and grit for birds.
  • Participate in Christmas tree recycling.

Resources and Other Information