Preserving Wildlife Habitat for the Protection of Illinois’ Rivers

Prairie Rivers Network works with local agencies and citizens to finalize action plan that will advance Vermilion River conservation

Prairie Rivers Network, in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has completed a plan to protect wildlife in the Vermilion River Conservation Opportunity Area. These efforts have also resulted in the formation of a grassroots group—the Vermilion River Wildlife Conservation Partnership—dedicated to the protection of wildlife habitat. The finalization of the plan and the formation of the Partnership mean that wildlife conservation projects along the Vermilion River in East-Central Illinois should result in more funding for wildlife conservation projects. There will also be more coordination among nearby projects with shared regional goals, improving the effectiveness of wildlife protection and restoration efforts.

Baby Eagle, photo credit: Chris Main

The Vermilion River Conservation Opportunity Area has been identified by the Department of Natural Resources as an area that warrants special wildlife and habitat protection efforts because of the relatively healthy natural resources there, and due to the presence of people and groups with an interest in protecting those resources. It covers over 790,000 acres in Champaign, Vermilion, Ford, Iroquois, and Edgar counties, and encompasses the Middle Fork, North Fork, and Salt Fork of the Vermilion River. The Area is home to over 162 animals listed as “Species in Greatest Need of Conservation” in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan.

In 2010, Prairie Rivers Network and the Department of Natural Resources hosted three meetings that brought together partners to discuss how wildlife protection goals and objectives could be implemented along the Vermilion River. We used information from these meetings to develop a wildlife conservation plan for the Vermilion River Conservation Opportunity Area. The plan identifies four major goals to guide conservation efforts:

• improving outreach to landowners,

• improving the quality of aquatic habitat,

• increasing the amount and improving the quality of terrestrial habitat, and

• controlling invasive plant species.

Finalizing the Vermilion River Conservation Opportunity Area Wildlife Action Plan marks a significant step in the protection of wildlife habitat along the river and its tributaries. The Plan supplements the more general goals of the statewide Wildlife Action Plan as it incorporates specific conservation priorities and actions agreed upon by local stakeholders. The Plan not only reflects the shared goals agreed upon by partners, but also serves as a practical tool for developing funding proposals for habitat conservation projects. To ensure the needs of individuals and organizations implementing conservation projects are continually being met, the Plan will be updated annually.

While developing the Wildlife Action Plan for the Vermilion River Conservation Opportunity Area, local citizens decided to form the Vermilion River Wildlife Conservation Partnership. The Partnership will work to coordinate planning efforts and implement the strategies identified in the Plan by identifying and supporting critical wildlife conservation projects within the Conservation Opportunity Area. The Partnership will also work to promote a shared vision for wildlife conservation among agencies and citizen conservationists.

Anyone interested in local wildlife conservation efforts is welcome to participate in the Vermilion River Wildlife Conservation Partnership; contact Elliot Brinkman (217/344-2371, ebrinkman at prairierivers.org). The Partnership offers a great opportunity get involved and meet others who are working to protect wildlife. Through this collaborative effort, we can enhance our ability to improve and preserve an invaluable resource, the Vermilion River. //