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Wetlands Programs

updated 4.27.09

There are numerous separate federal, state, local, and private wetlands-related programs applicable to Illinois. Only a handful of these programs are regulatory. Most are non-regulatory and incentive-based. These non-regulatory programs provide private landowners the opportunity to preserve or enhance wetlands in ways not otherwise required by law. Participation in these programs is one of the major actions an individual can take to help improve the status of Illinois' wetland resources.
Participation in non-regulatory programs can cause some of the most immediately-visible, positive effects on wetland resources. These programs have very diverse approaches to protecting wetlands.  Although there are a number of programs providing funding for wetland research and educational activities, participation in some of these programs is limited to landowners. Sometimes participation is limited to only those landowners who already have viable wetlands on their property. A few of the most popular federal and state non-regulatory programs that directly interact with landowners and provide incentives or assistance for the protection, restoration, and/or enhancement of wetlands on private property are discussed below.  Use the web link to find additional information on how you can participate in these programs:

Federal Programs


Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
US Fish and Wildlife Service

To efficiently achieve voluntary habitat restoration on private lands, through financial and technical assistance, for the benefit of Federal Trust Species.
The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program was established in 1987 with a core group of biologists and a small budget for on-the-ground wetland restoration projects on private lands. This successful, results-oriented program has garnered support through the years and has grown into a larger and more diversified habitat restoration program assisting thousands of private landowners across the Nation.
The Partners Program provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Tribes who are willing to work with us and other partners on a voluntary basis to help meet the habitat needs of our Federal Trust Species.
The Partners Program can assist with projects in all habitat types which conserve or restore native vegetation, hydrology, and soils associated with imperiled ecosystems such as longleaf pine, bottomland hardwoods, tropical forests, native prairies, marshes, rivers and streams, or otherwise provide an important habitat requisite for a rare, declining or protected species.
Locally-based field biologists work one-on-one with private landowners and other partners to plan, implement, and monitor their projects. Partners Program field staff help landowners find other sources of funding and help them through the permitting process, as necessary. This level of personal attention and follow-through is a significant strength of the Program that has led to national recognition and wide support.

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Recognizing the importance of waterfowl and wetlands to North Americans and the need for international cooperation to help in the recovery of a shared resource, the U.S. and Canadian governments developed a strategy to restore waterfowl populations through habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement. The strategy was documented in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan signed in 1986 by the Canadian Minister of the Environment and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the foundation partnership upon which hundreds of others would be built. With its update in 1994, Mexico became a signatory to the Plan.
The 1998 update expanded the Plan's vision: partners would implement the plan guided by biologically based planning, which would then be refined through ongoing evaluation; partners would define the landscape conditions needed to sustain waterfowl and benefit other wetland-associated species; and Plan partners would collaborate with other bird initiatives and reach out to others sectors and communities to forge broader alliances.


State Wildlife Grant (SWG) Program
US Fish and Wildlife Service

The SWG program, funded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides funds specifically for the protection and management of non-game species in the greatest need of conservation as identified in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan.


SAFE – State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement
US Department of Agriculture – Farm Services Agency

SAFE allows for individual states to offer special projects within CRP, Conservation Reserve Program, to address high priority wildlife needs through habitat restoration.  For additional information, please contact your local FSA county office.


Section 319 of the Clean Water Act

Nonpoint source pollution is the diffuse, intermittent runoff of pollutants from various sources. Precipitation moving over and through the ground picks up pollutants from these sources and carries them into rivers, lakes, and ground water. Major sources that contribute to Illinois' nonpoint source pollution problems are agriculture, construction erosion, urban runoff, hydrologic modifications, and resource extraction activities. The Clean Water Act of 1987 included a new national initiative to help states develop innovative nonpoint source pollution control strategies. Under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, USEPA provides grants to states for the implementation of approved nonpoint source management programs. Funding under these nonpoint source program implementation grants has been used in Illinois to finance projects that demonstrate cost-effective solutions to nonpoint source problems and that promote the public's knowledge and awareness of nonpoint source pollution.

State Programs

This act was passed in 1977 by the state of Illinois. It is administered by the Illinois Department of Revenue. The objective of the program is to offer property tax relief to landowners and farmers for pastures, forests, open spaces (including wetlands), and other non-intensive uses of land. The FAA requires the Department of Revenue consider wetlands as open lands and assess them as such at "fair cash value" instead of as croplands. To be eligible for tax relief, the area must be a minimum of 10 acres in size and not in production during the year for which it is being assessed. Lands enrolled in federal or other conservation programs are eligible for tax relief under the FAA.


In the spring 2007 legislative session, Senate Bill 17 was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly. The bill includes language to create the Conservation Stewardship Program. This program was designed to encourage landowners to maintain unimproved land in order to protect limited environmental resources. The bill offered the incentive of reduced valuation for property taxes to landowners who were willing to commit to maintaining and managing unimproved land. The bill received final legislative approval on July 11, 2007 and was signed into law by Governor Blagojevich on October 1, 2007.
Landowners who wish to receive the special valuation for unimproved land provided by this law are required to prepare a Conservation Management Plan according to rules developed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). That Plan will describe how the land will be managed to protect and maintain environmental resources. When a Conservation Management Plan is approved, DNR will notify the Department of Revenue. Revenue will then notify the appropriate county assessor of the properties that have qualified for the special valuation and the necessary adjustment in the valuation will be made. The first year in which a landowner’s tax bill will be affected is 2009, based on valuations determined in 2008.
The basic provisions of the Conservation Stewardship Law are:

  • Taxpayers who wish to receive the special valuation offered by the program must first submit a conservation management plan to DNR
  • Land accepted into the Conservation Stewardship Program will be valued at 5% of market value for property tax purposes
  • If a landowner fails to comply with their approved conservation management plan, the land will be removed from the program and the landowner will be required to pay the difference between the actual taxes paid and what the taxes would have been without the reduced valuation
  • Sale or transfer of land enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program does not affect the valuation of the land unless the acreage requirement is no longer met or the use of the land changes
  • Submission of a conservation management plan to DNR will be treated as compliance with the requirements of that plan until DNR can review the plan.

Land eligible for enrollment includes:

  • Five or more contiguous acres of unimproved land - unimproved land means woodlands, prairie, wetlands or other vacant and undeveloped land that is not used for any residential or commercial purpose that materially disturbs the land
  • Land in a forestry management plan under Section 10-150 of the Property Tax Code
  • Land registered or encumbered by conservation rights under Section 10-166 of the Property Tax Code.



The Office of Resource Conservation’s Division of Habitat Resources administers the Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund Grant Program. The funding for this program is provided by Illinois’ taxpayers through contributions to the Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund from their State income tax return. The program is designed to preserve, protect, perpetuate and enhance non-game wildlife and native plant resources of this state through preservation of a satisfactory environment and an ecological balance.


The Illinois CREP program is one of the most successful in the nation. Remarkably, since the start of the program in 1998, Illinois has enrolled 110,000 acres. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture has approved an additional 100,000 acres to be enrolled through December 31, 2007.
CREP is a successful partnership between federal, state, and local agencies; it is a voluntary, incentive-based approach to water quality and habitat issues. The entire Illinois River Basin is targeted with an emphasis on the 100-year floodplain.  The goal of CREP is to establish conservation practices to reduce sedimentation and nutrients in the Illinois River while enhancing habitat to increase fish and wildlife populations.
Landowners enroll eligible agricultural land in a Federal 15-year CRP contract and receive annual rental payments and cost-share incentives. Once enrolled in the Federal side, landowners have the option to extend their contract by entering into a State conservation easement for an additional 15 years, 35 years, or permanently, and the State provides incentives for the different options.
Implementation and holding of the Federal and State contracts at the local level has been a key to CREP’s success in Illinois.  Over 90% of State CREP acres are in permanent easements, ensuring long-term protection of floodplain and other environmentally sensitive land.
Participants retain ownership of their land, and CREP does not place restrictions on recreational activities, including hunting and fishing.
Restored land corridors along the mainstem of the Illinois River and its tributaries are securing a great amount of protection for water quality.

updated 4.27.09 r. mollahan

[ Introduction | Voluntary Incentive Programs | Advocacy Introduction | Financial Contributions | Public Outreach | Stewardship | Public Policy | Enforcing Compliance | Conclusion ]


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