Top 5 Habitat/Floodplain/Wildlife Happenings of 2017

As we put a bow on 2017, it’s important to look back at what has been accomplished and what threatens Illinois habitat, floodplains, and wildlife. Here are the top 5 headlines from 2017 as compiled by PRN Water Resources Specialist Elliot Brinkman.

Elsberry, MO, June 20, 2008 — A levee in the Elsberry levee district breaks, flooding farmland and houses in the area.
Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Levees

Concerned residents and environmental organizations have been working to address the issue of overbuilt levees and the problems that relaxed rules may cause. Elected officials, including Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley and several Illinois State Representatives and Senators, voiced their concerns and urged the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to retain current protections. Many people fear that any rollbacks will result in more development in flood-prone areas, higher levees, and higher flood risk for downstream communities. These two articles in the Telegraph look at the debate around levee height and the stances taken by two Illinois state legislators.

An alligator gar (Photo credit: Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

Alligator Gar

A win for wildlife took place when IDNR’s kickstarted the reintroduction of the alligator gar into the state’s rivers and streams. After a seven year break, IDNR began restocking rivers last year and were set to release this year’s batch in September. As Dan Stephenson, chief of fisheries for IDNR is quoted in this Illinois News Network article, “We have an opportunity to bring back a fish that’s extirpated — you know, extinct in Illinois — that’s really pretty neat to be able to do that.”

Bringing Prairie Back

In April, the Illinois News Network reported on the ramping up of planting of prairie grass around the state. IDNR said the state once had 22 million acres of prairie grasses. Today, that has been reduced to about 2,300 acres. Despite that loss, small gains have been made, and this article highlights the many efforts around Illinois to restore prairie.

Bald Eagles Flock to Illinois

(Photo credit: David Hale)

Bald eagles were once a rare sight in Illinois. Once declared endangered in the U.S., bald eagles now number as many as 3,000, according to this Illinois News Network article. “The state is now second only to Alaska in the U.S. for winter bald eagle population.” This is a clear success for wildlife and a clear indicator of the eagle’s rebound. The pesticide DDT drastically reduced the number of birds, thinning of their eggs. By the 1950s, there were only 412 breeding pairs.

Dam Removal

(Photo credit: Elliot Brinkman)

There has been some good news on dam removals and the benefits their removal would bring to the waterways of Illinois. The Daily Herald reported on how dams on the Fox and Des Plaines Rivers are “beyond their original intended purposes, they’re hazards and ecological impediments,” Eric Otto at the Cook County Forest Preserves said.

The City of Danville is also planning on removing two low-head dams the city owns. The News-Gazette reported in August that the plans have been drawn up and were awaiting funds to be released. The project could begin removing the dam as early as next year.