Since Europeans first settled in Illinois, changes in land use and development destroyed 90 percent of the state’s wetlands. Protecting and restoring those that remain has been a high priority for all who cherish clean water and quality wildlife habitat. In June, two such efforts, the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge and the Emiquon Complex (which includes Emiquon Preserve and Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge), were honored by being designated “wetlands of international importance” by the Ramsar Convention.
The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty which commits member nations to conserve and wisely use wetlands and their resources. Criteria used to determine the international significance of a wetland include whether it supports 20,000 or more waterbirds, endangered species, and plants and animals important for ecological diversity. With the addition of Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge and Dixon Waterfowl Refuge to the list of recognized Ramsar wetlands, Illinois now ties Florida for second place in number of sites within a state (California is first with five).