“The mission of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) is to assist private and public landowners in protecting high quality natural areas and habitats of endangered and threatened species; in perpetuity, through voluntary dedication or registration of such lands into the Illinois Nature Preserves System. The Commission promotes the preservation of these significant lands and provides leadership in their stewardship, management and protection.”
The Illinois Nature Preserves System was established by state law in 1963. Dependent on popular and multi-agency support and collaboration, it protects the state’s finest woodlands, prairies, and wetlands for the benefit of science, the interested public, and, most of all, for the survival of nature itself. Preserves vary in size from as little as one acre to as large as 2000 acres. They may be dedicated and maintained by private landowners, conservation organizations, county Forest Preserves, and other state or local agencies.
This framework legally protects Nature Preserves from development and misuse while providing staff and commissioners to oversee good management. Friends seek to shine a bright light on fine stewardship by staff and volunteers while raising resources and support to boost needed actions including invasives control, prescribed burns, and other stewardship. In many cases, the health and biodiversity of Nature Preserves benefit dramatically from such help.
Black and green dots show Illinois Nature Preserves and Land and Water Reserves.
These sites were recognized and preserved as natural areas of the highest quality.
In recent years, budget cuts, “sweeps” of land acquisition funds, loss of land stewardship funds, and reduction in staff have hurt the System. Support from partner organizations like the Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Audubon Society, Openlands, Prairie State Conservation Coalition, The Nature Conservancy, and the Sierra Club has helped. But despite this support, preserves have deteriorated and species are being lost from many sites.
Once widely recognized as the paragon of statewide conservation of nature, the Illinois Nature Preserve System had become a shadow of its former self. An ever-growing system of preserves was threatened by increasingly unmet stewardship needs from a shrinking staff, declining budgets, and an onslaught of invasive species. The very purpose of the Nature Preserve System was at stake.
With the knowledge that the oversight of the Illinois Nature Preserves System is the responsibility of a skeleton crew of dedicated but overworked staff, we, the Friends, saw our initial challenges on two separate fronts: the statewide system and on the ground at the preserves themselves. Across Illinois, we sounded the alarm. We had confidence that people would be moved to action if they knew what was at stake. We needed to restore the spirit that founded these preserves, build back the budget, and fill vacant staff positions, including a director.
The beginning of 2022 saw the start of a new era: a new Nature Preserves Commission Director started his term. For the first time in six years the Commission had a leader. New Commissioners have been appointed.
Our second, and perhaps bigger challenge, was the state of the preserves themselves. In all parts of the state, Nature Preserves without dedicated staff were degrading and losing biodiversity, with no help in sight. Even sites with dedicated staff were showing signs of stress from inconsistent management and new invasives that proliferated. Endangered animals and plants declined and disappeared. These living ecosystems could not wait for Springfield. With mentoring and leadership, expert volunteers could help stem the tide. But they could not do it alone.
Nature preserves that lack consistent care can lose the features that make them so important. Thriving preserves of biodiversity are among the greatest heritages this generation can pass on to the future. An educated and engaged public is a critical underpinning of all aspects of the Nature Preserves System.
We, the Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves, dedicate ourselves to the support of the noble efforts of the staffs of all partner organizations and of the plants, animals, and ecologies of the preserves themselves. Find out how you can get involved: