August 11, 2008

Parklands to Steward Mackinaw Acres

By Scott Richardson;[email protected]

The Nature Conservancy has transferred the 720-acre Chinquapin Bluffs Natural Area in Woodford County and the 60-acre Henline Creek Natural Area in northern McLean County to the ParkLands Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring natural areas based in Mclean County.

ParkLands officials said the Chinquapin will become part of the group's Mackinaw Bluffs Corridor Project to restore about 1,500 acres of habitat near the Mackinaw River, about 12 miles northwest of Bloomington-Normal.

The Henline Creek Natural Area will become part of the Mackinaw River Corridor Project that includes more than 1,000 acres.

Prior to the latest acquisitions, ParkLands managed 1,562 acres of its own land, including the Merwin Nature Preserve along the Mackinaw River in McLean County, and assisted The Nature Conservancy in managing Chinquapin Bluffs.

The Nature Conservancy will shift emphasis in the Mackinaw River watershed to improving water quality and protecting aquatic life by working with farmers to improve conservation land practices to reduce erosion and runoff.

Wildlife habitat

A new incentive program called Illinois State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) seeks landowners willing to set aside a total of more than 24,000 acres for wildlife habitat in selected Illinois counties, including The Pantagraph area.

Illinois SAFE was developed by Pheasants Forever with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and the Illinois Audubon Society.

Targeted areas include cropland in parts of Champaign, Dewitt, Ford, LaSalle, Livingston, Logan, McLean, Sangamon, Tazewell and Woodford counties. Other counties include Bureau, Carroll, Clay, Clinton, DeKalb, Effingham, Fayette, Henry, Iroquois, Jasper, Knox, Lee, Marion, Marshall, Mason, Montgomery, Ogle, Richland, Stephenson, Vermilion, Washington, Whiteside and Winnebago.

Spokesmen for Pheasants Forever, which has taken a leading role in habitat projects in the state, said the enrollment areas were chosen because of "Illinois biologists' concern about decreasing areas of habitat for species that required more widespread grasslands and wetlands throughout the year, including pheasants and quail."

But improved numbers of upland birds won't be the only benefit. Restoration of grasslands and forests will reduce soil erosion and reduce runoff of farm chemicals, leading to improved water quality, Pheasants Forever said.

Only a sliver, 1 percent, of Illinois' original native prairie survives. Only half of the acreage once devoted to hay, pasture and grasslands remains. As a result, pheasant numbers have plummeted 80 percent since 1960 and 65 percent since the mid-1990s when a cutback occurred in the Conservation Reserve Program, according to IDNR.

The agency estimates just 200 prairie chickens remain in the "the Prairie State," and the North American Breeding Bird Survey has documented declines of 70 percent to 95 percent for dickcissels, eastern meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows. The hope is SAFE can be part of a strategy to turn those trends around.

Farmers should contact their FSA office to find out if their land qualifies. Financial incentives are available. Maps and more information are available at

Land and water reserve

The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission recently designated about 450 acres in six tracts at Funks Grove near Shirley as the new Funks Grove Land and Water Reserve. The reserve becomes part of the state's system of 341 nature preserves and 148 land and water reserves totaling a combined 86,500 acres.

The new land and water reserve near Shirley contains upland and floodplain forest. Trees include sugar maple, black walnut, white oak, blue ash, and bur oak. The commission said species in the greatest need of conservation that will benefit from protection of this site include a reptile, fish, and nine species of birds.

Land and water reserves are dedicated with permission of the land owner. They remain open to hiking, wildlife viewing, photography and approved scientific research. The designation also allows hunting, fishing, and "other approved activities that do not damage the natural features of the protected areas," the commission said.

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Contact him at (309) 820-3227 or email [email protected] Share stories and read past outdoor and fishing columns at blogs

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