Home to twelve million people. Also home to
fifty-eight other mammal species, 383 different resident and migrant
birds, 104 types of reptiles and amphibians, 174 species of fish,
and some 27,000 types of insects, mussels, and other invertebrates.
Many Illinoisans regularly encounter the states more common wildlife,
such as the fox squirrel, the cardinal, the mallard duck, and the
American toad But a resident could spend his or her entire life
in this state and never see other animals, like the elusive bobcat
or the uncommon osprey. Each of these species, whether visible or
secretive, common or rare, shares with us this 55,645-square mile
patch of earth that we call Illinois.
Some people seem unaware that they share the state
with any wild creatures. Most residents, however, notice and even
take keen interest in the wildlife around their homes, farms, and
local parks. For many citizens, no social engagement or sporting
event can compare to the heart-pounding thrill of hunting and bagging
the first white-tailed deer or Bobwhite quail; no nature broadcast
can replace the experience of falling asleep to a symphony of frogs
on a spring night or the awe of seeing a bald eagle soaring. Many
people find that few artificial creations can rival the delicate
beauty of a tiny hummingbird or the intricate construction of a
spider's web. If we allow it, wildlife give an unparalleled inner
Wild creatures, like the other natural resources
on our planet, have intrinsic value. Humans have always seemed compelled
to justify the existence of wildlife in terms of their value to
us. In case their mere existence and aesthetic qualities are not
enough, consider these facts:
The Illinois economy realizes nearly $1.1
billion every year from expenditures related to watching wildlife.
- Hunters spend nearly $150 million a year pursuing game.
More than $550 million is spent each year
on recreational fishing, and the annual retail value of commercial
fishing is $4 million.
Wildlife-oriented recreation plays an important
economic role in many depressed and declining small communities.
Beyond economic impacts, there are less tangible
but equally important benefits of wildlife. The vast array of vertebrate
and invertebrate animal species that inhabit Illinois depend, directly
or indirectly, on one another. Removing any one of those species
may result in disproportionately high numbers of another. Even if
we were to consider solely our own comfort, health, and ability
to produce food and fiber, preserving a balanced community of wildlife
is essential. Certain species prey on others that are considered
to be agricultural and forest pests: red-tailed hawks and great-horned
owls efficiently harvest mice and voles, which can cause significant
damage in crop fields. Bluebirds and Baltimore orioles extract millions
of caterpillars and other invertebrates from our croplands and forests.
Other animals control the abundance of a species that is considered
a physical pest to humans. One bat can consume up to 3,000 mosquitoes
in a night! Wildlife are vital to the survival of the human species.
Why Focus on Habitat?
Humans, like every species with
which they share the earth, are inseparably tied to their habitat,
or living space. But humans have the advantage of being able to
alter their habitat to a greater extent than other animals. If people
find that something is missing or doesn't suit them in their living
environment, they create the missing element, rearrange the landscape,
or eliminate the "problem." Wild creatures, on the other hand, cannot
alter their living conditions so significantly. Many cannot change
their particular habitat at all. Naturalist Aldo Leopold illustrated
this point in his popular book Game Management: "The essential difference
between a deer and a man is that man builds farms, factories, and
cities to provide himself with the elements of an habitable range,
whereas a deer must accept the random assortment laid down by nature
and modified by human action, or move elsewhere." Having a suitable
living environment is essential for any species to survive. If wildlife
cannot find good habitat, they must go elsewhere or cease to exist.
In Illinois, we humans have taken
nearly maximum advantage of our ability to change our surroundings-to
alter our habitat. Many would argue that our actions have made life
better for humans, but there is little argument about our effects
on much of Illinois wildlife. While the populations of some species,
such as Canada geese and red-winged blackbirds, have actually increased
as a result of the human-modified environment, many other species
have been negatively impacted. In fact, our landscape manipulation
has pushed some wildlife, like the prairie chicken, nearly out of
existence. Habitat degradation and destruction by humans has been
the single biggest cause of the decline of wildlife populations
in Illinois. Our ability to change habitat must be coupled with
the responsibility to consider the needs of wildlife if wild creatures
are to survive. And though an extinct species can never be revived,
some of the damage we have done to our plant and animal communities
can be undone. While we have the ability to destroy habitat, we
also have the capacity to restore and protect the wildlife habitats
that still exist, and to reconstruct suitable habitats on land we've
rendered inhospitable for wildlife.
Why Focus on Private Lands?
Local, state, and federal governments
and nonprofit conservation groups own 750,000 acres of wildlife
habitat as scattered parcels throughout the state.
Much of the privately held land in our state is rural acreage managed
by farmers. Corporations also own thousands of acres. The remainder
of Illinois' private land belongs to schools, churches, small businesses-and
every citizen who owns a yard or lot.
Whether you own one acre or one
thousand, the decisions you make and the actions you take regarding
your property affect the nonhuman species that reside or visit
there. Every piece of unpaved land in Illinois has the potential
to support some wildlife. To be responsible stewards during our
tenure, we consider wildlife in all our landuse decisions. No matter
how much land you own, your ownership is temporary. How you manage
that land while it is in your care will have an impact long after
you are gone.
What about citizens who don't own land or who live
in the city? They can still effect positive change for wildlife.
You may be on the board of a church that occupies two acres of land,
neatly mowed but with little habitat for wildlife. Or you may sit
on a county board that makes many land-use decisions. You may be
a school-board member or a teacher at a school with idle land that
could become a habitat demonstration plot, benefitting both wildlife
and students. You may belong to a country club that could improve
its land for wildlife. Even more significantly, you may work for
a company or agency that owns land, perhaps even large amounts,
that could be improved for wildlife.