The three major objectives for the Ecosystems Program are:
1) to continue improving services to Ecosystem Partnerships through greater integration of all Conservation 2000 (C2000) program components and other IDNR programs;
2) to ensure that all grants and contracts are directly related to the protection, conservation, preservation, restoration or management of ecosystems and biodiversity, targeted to private lands; and
3) to use sound information, education and planning as tools to focus program efforts.
The success of the Ecosystems Program and of the Ecosystem Partnerships is based upon our mutual ability to define our role in monitoring, maintaining, enhancing, and restoring the biodiversity and ecological conditions of Illinois' landscapes.
Measuring success is a key element of the Ecosystems Program. All of state government is being asked to be more accountable for the funds it receives and spends. Performance measures is one tool the state uses to track its accomplishments and measure how efficiently funds are spent. At all times, we must be as efficient as possible with our funding, and each of you will play a role in our ultimate and mutual success. Therefore, all grant applicants are urged to make sure that their applications are well thought out and focus on definable outcomes or accomplishments. This includes a realistic budget and time line. A grant application which does not have at least one accomplishment identified will be considered an incomplete application.
There have been numerous questions regarding the ways in which a program concerned with biodiversity and ecological health can relate to programs which have other primary missions such as flood control, storm water management, soil erosion and sediment control, and water quality improvement. The answer to those questions is that we will not compete with, nor supplement the primary mission of, these programs. However, we must explore every opportunity to work with them so that these programs can complement one another and we can get the most "bang for the buck".
Partnerships are encouraged to link all competitive grant applications to an adopted watershed, ecosystem, or partnership plan, whenever possible, and to link monitoring efforts to the development of a watershed, ecosystem or partnership plan. If a Strategic Sub-watershed Identification Process (SSIP) (or similar plan identifying priority sub-watershed within the partnership area) has been completed, then applications for projects within priority sub-watersheds may be valued higher than applications for projects outside those priority areas.
In an effort to further define and communicate this role, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' C2000 Ecosystems Program seeks to fund projects that will accomplish the following:
I. High Quality Natural Areas: Acquire, Protect, and Restore Natural Resources of Local and State Significance.
The Program encourages acquisitions of land through fee simple purchase* to protect high quality natural habitats, Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI) sites, habitat for endangered or threatened species, Advanced Identification of Disposal Areas (AIDI Wetlands), etc. Experience has shown that the greatest efficiency in purchasing interest in land is to acquire interest in large tracts involving a small number of landowners.
* if not obtainable, program will consider conservation easements.
II. Minimum Functional Habitat Area; Habitat Diversity: Acquire, Preserve, and Restore Habitat Areas which meet Minimum Functional Habitat Area Guidelines; or Ensure Diversity of Habitats.
We encourage grant applicants and Ecosystem Partnerships to recognize the value of significant blocks of habitat connected by travel corridors, and the need to provide multiple habitat types within a species home range (i.e., most wetland development species also require buffer and associated upland habitats).
III. Buffer to Protect Sensitive Areas: Create, Protect, and Restore Adequate Buffer to Protect Sensitive Habitats from Non-Compatible Land Uses.
Buffers are generally an area of permanent vegetation established around environmentally sensitive areas to protect them from the negative effects of adjacent land uses such as crop row agricultural, industrial, urban development or other areas of intensive human use. Buffer areas that are at least 70 feet on each side of a small stream (less than 25 feet wide) and 2.5 times the width of a large stream, reduce the direct disturbances and impacts from invasive species; filter, absorb, trap, and decompose sediment, nutrients, and pesticides; increase infiltration of rain and storm water; and reduce the effects from adjacent light sources and noise pollution. Studies have shown that buffers reduce delivery of herbicide runoff to receiving water bodies by 48%, and nitrogen and phosphorous by 60-90%.
IV. Connect Habitat Areas.
Habitat linkages are important corridors to help plants and animals migrate between larger habitat areas. These connections can include streams and riparian corridors or any conservation corridor that provides a physical link between habitats.
V. Ecosystem-Based Best Management Practices (E-B/BMPs).
Best Management Practices (BMPs) include a broad range of conservation practices which individually or in combination help to reduce or prevent adverse impacts to the landscape or ecosystem. The Ecosystems Program promotes those BMPs which focus on direct habitat improvement. BMPs include the use of native plants except when non-native plants can be justified, increased buffer widths, extended de-watering times of certain water control structures, interspersion of habitat types, control of exotic species, prescribed burns, etc. The Program generally discourages the use of bendway weirs and dry dams except in unique circumstances.
VI. Restore and Naturalize Hydrologic Functions.
It is important to understand the relationship between upland and stream process before undertaking stream restoration or naturalization projects. Changes in stream conditions from specific actions such as stream channelization and urban development had a significant impact on streams during this past century. Stream bank and bed erosion, and excessive sedimentation are symptoms of a watershed adjusting to those changes.
Stream restoration or naturalization practices must take into account the degree of changes occurring within the watershed. All projects must be developed with an intent to restore or naturalize hydrologic function according to goals and objectives that best mimic natural conditions. Because original hydrologic conditions are often unknown, best professional estimates (based upon current data) of impacts from current and future land use practices must be used in conjunction with flow data to design in-stream habitat and other water resource development projects.
VII. Complementary Educational Strategies: Develop Educational Strategies Which Complement Ecosystem Protection, Restoration, and Enhancement Activities.
Education is a tremendous tool for generating a lasting interest in natural resource issues and maintaining natural resources. A key to long term protection and enhancement of the state's resources is to support outreach and resource economic projects that provide an opportunity to promote ecosystem based practices.
VIII. Research and Monitoring Integration: Integrate Research and Monitoring into Partnerships and Program Work.
Research and monitoring are a foundation of the Ecosystems Program. The Critical Trends Assessment Program (CTAP) includes monitoring by professional scientists and other scientific research. These efforts develop an understanding of natural processes and what can be done to help restore the natural environment, and help measure your progress towards meeting your objectives. The Ecosystems Program will integrate this knowledge into the work of the Partnerships and the Program.
The Ecosystems Program encourages all Partnerships to participate in a monitoring program which will help you assess the natural resources within your Partnership and document resource changes as the result of your planning and project implementation process. Use of volunteer monitoring protocols is a low cost way to monitor the effectiveness of a project. Measuring the effectiveness of your efforts is important and use of information collected through this tool will become increasingly significant as the time of program re-authorization approaches.
Research Projects which include monitoring components are encouraged to use the monitoring protocols adopted by the Critical Trends Assessment Project (CTAP). Methods should be modeled after the professional or volunteer procedures, depending upon project sampling requirements, and other protocols may be added to these basic procedures. C2000 will give priority to those projects that adopt these methods.
All projects should include provisions to submit results (datasets and narrative reports) electronically for inclusion on the C2000 website.
IX. Local, State, and Federal Program Integration: Integrate the Ecosystems Program with Other Local, State, and Federal Programs and Initiatives.
The success of Ecosystem Partnerships and the Ecosystems Program is based upon our mutual ability to define our role so that we can work efficiently and effectively with other programs. There is a host of federal, state, and local programs which complement the mission of the Ecosystems Program. Among these are the Conservation Reserve and Enhancement Program (CREP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), Landowner Incentive Program (LIP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Practices Program (CPP), Section 319 Program, The Marsh Program, and Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) to name a few. For further information, please visit the C2000 Natural Resources Grant Opportunities Website.
The Ecosystems Program will seek to complement these and other compatible programs while not interfering with the incentive structure established for these programs. This is especially true where the Ecosystems Program can add a strong component of biodiversity to other efforts.