Known as the “prairie state”, Illinois once supported vast areas of open space covered in a sea of grasses and native flowers. Today, because of extensive land conversion, less than 0.1% of the landscape remains as it did when first seen by Illinois' early settlers. Many efforts have been undertaken to restore some of Illinois’ natural beauty, and these efforts serve as vital reminders of what our state looked like prior to modern human development and provide habitat for Illinois' rich biodiversity. Stewardship of these restored natural areas, including prescribed burning and invasive species control, is critical to maintaining the health of these systems. However, as funding to state agencies responsible for conservation is continually swept, cut or under threat, maintaining natural areas is becoming even more difficult.
House Bill 2031/Senate Bill 1029 (The Illinois Natural Area Stewardship Act) would provide cost share grants to conservation land trusts to perform stewardship activities on lands that are either dedicated or registered by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. Grant funds will be administered through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and funding will come from the Natural Areas Acquisition Fund (NAAF).
Advocacy is a crucial part in ensuring these dedicated natural areas will not be endlessly degraded. Open space provides real environmental and economic benefits to Illinois’ residents and should remain a consistent priority among decision makers. Conservation Land Trusts are experienced in managing natural areas, and therefore make an ideal partner for a public-private partnership designed to promote stewardship of natural areas.