Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Illinois Wetland Strategy


Part land, part water, wetlands represent a unique habitat. In general, wetlands are defined as transitional areas between open water and upland, and they are an integral and dynamic component of our landscape.

Wetlands serve a multitude of functions that are crucial to establishing environmental balance and human well-being. Wetlands are valuable in terms of reducing flood damage, contributing to groundwater and surface water recharge, improving water quality, and supporting habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as providing educational, recreational, and research opportunities.

Recent studies indicate that the nation has lost more than half of the wetlands that existed in the contiguous United States since European settlement began. Illinois has the dubious distinction of being the sixth highest state in terms of percent wetlands lost.

An estimate of presettlement wetlands for Illinois is 9,412,659 acres. The most recent inventory of wetlands in Illinois reveals that approximately 917,765 acres of natural wetlands remain, of which only 5,000 acres are undisturbed. Thus, Illinois has lost over 90% of its original wetland acreage. Wetland types in Illinois include bogs, fens, marshes, seeps, springs, and shallow ponds.

A typical wetland in Illinois with Pitcher Plants in the foreground.

(photo by Michael Jeffords, INHS Center for Economic Entomology.)

Activities contributing to wetland loss or degradation in Illinois include urban development, agricultural activities, forestry practices, channelization, pollution, sedimentation, and the introduction and invasion of non-native species.

Over the past several years, the U.S. has devised various public and private programs to protect and manage this valuable resource. Unfortunately, many of these programs have addressed only limited aspects of the wetlands protection problem. In 1987, The Conservation Foundation convened the National Wetlands Policy forum. This diverse group reached a consensus on over 100 recommendations for improving wetlands protection. To translate these recommendations into action, the forum concentrated on states and encouraged them to take the lead in wetlands protection by developing comprehensive programs to achieve no net loss of wetlands.

The development of a wetlands conservation plan is currently under way in Illinois. The Illinois Wetlands Conservation Strategy (IWCS) is a comprehensive plan to guide the development and implementation of Illinois' wetland programs and wetland protection initiatives. The IWCS is an organizational tool used to identify opportunities for making programs work better.

This effort will encompass the guidelines provided by Governor Edgar's Water Resources and Land Use Priorities Task Force, the Interagency Wetlands Policy Act of 1989, Conservation Congress, and the Illinois Department of Conservation's Strategic Planning Process.

Development of the IWCS is a collaborative process involving Sharon Baum of the Illinois Natural History Survey, Marvin Hubbell of the Illinois Department of Conservation, the Interagency Wetlands Committee, and the public Wetlands Advisory Group.

The Interagency Wetlands Committee consists of representatives from nine state governmental agencies that deal with wetlands-related issues. The committee was established by the Interagency Wetlands Policy Act of 1989.

In order to have a successful planning process, input from the public is essential. The public Wetlands Advisory Group was established specifically for assistance with the development of the IWCS. The Wetlands Advisory Group, which consists of 190 members, represents diverse interests, including agriculture and other industries, environmental organizations, sportsmen, residential developers, utilities, scientists, and all units of government.

The goal of the IWCS is to ensure that there will be no overall net loss of wetlands or their functional value in Illinois. The objective of the IWCS is to develop and implement an ecosystem-based strategy for the stewardship, protection, restoration, enhancement, and management of Illinois' wetlands.

Communication with the Wetlands Advisory Group is conducted mostly through the mail. The Wetlands Advisory Group receives bi-monthly mailings, which its members review and comment on prior to the next mailing. Public meetings with members from the Wetlands Advisory Group were held in March 1995. Additional meetings are being scheduled for this August.

The Interagency Wetlands Committee meets monthly to discuss many wetlands-related issues and to review the progress of the IWCS. Marvin Hubbell, chairman of the Interagency Wetlands Committee, reports on the progress of the committee and IWCS to the Natural Resources Coordinating Council. This Council was appointed by Governor Edgar and is officially responsible for developing comprehensive recommendations for land and water conservation. All departments within the Illinois Department of Conservation also review progress on the IWCS.

Two sliders enjoying a sunny log in an Illinois wetland.

(photo by Michael Jeffords, INHS Center for Economic Entomology.)

The information contained in the mailings for the public Wetlands Advisory Group pertains to 18 wetlands-related issues that the prioritized in May 1994. For each issue, the Wetlands Advisory Group identifies (1) major items related to the issue, (2) recommendations to solve the problem, (3) impediments to solving the problem, and (4) how the IWCS can help to address the issue. A few examples of the 18 wetlands-related issues include floodplain policy, status of the wetland resource, drainage law, private property rights, and educational/outreach programs.

The Wetlands Advisory Group, Interagency Wetlands Committee, and all departments within the Illinois Department of Conservation will review all drafts of the IWCS. Upon completion, the IWCS and its recommendations will be sent to the Natural Resources Coordinating Council, the Office of the Governor, the Illinois House and Senate Committees, the state's congressional delegation, and U.S. Senators representing Illinois.

Sharon Baum, Center for Wildlife Ecology

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Last Modified 3/19/96

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