AN OPPORTUNITY TO AFFECT TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE FOR CONSERVATION IN ILLINOIS
Conservation leadership, land acquisition and stewardship in Illinois has historically been provided by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) but due to a series of years without a budget and loss of experienced personnel due to early retirements the DNR has slipped from a leadership role to a role as a valued partner.
CONSERVATION LAND TRUSTS
Thanks to the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, private individuals, volunteers, and family foundations private land conservation is stronger than ever in Illinois. The forty or so non-profit Conservation Land Trusts that serve communities across the state have been able to accomplish incredible results due to this remarkable partnership.
Seeing the loss of leadership at DNR and the decline in funding for land acquisition and stewardship of significant natural areas by the DNR, the Conservation Land Trust community established the Prairie State Conservation Coalition (PSCC) in 2005, with a goal of providing a collaborative, peer supported statewide network, and supporting ongoing skill development among Illinois Land Trusts in order to fill the ever-widening gap left by DNR.
That goal has been accomplished, with an all-volunteer board of directors. Recent PSCC Annual Meetings have consistently hosted 100+ people representing not only conservation land trusts but also private sector entities, government officials, and funders.
PSCC via contract with David Holman developed I-View, which is relied on by conservation practitioners, government agencies and advocates statewide and the Hike App to move “way finding” into the 21st Century. Furthermore, PSCC members have routinely acquired more conservation land than government agencies over the last decade.
For example: in four of the last five years nonprofit land trusts have acquired more land than did the entire public sector from the federal level to the municipal, with a median of 2,410.5 acres/yr. vs the public sector’s 1,817.4. They did this despite having no access to the annual, legally mandated funds afforded their public sector peers, making their consistent success even more impressive.
Working with partners, especially the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC), PSCC has been instrumental in providing local political support to pass the following bills into law:
(i) Recreational Liability Act–Allows for private landowners to allow recreational pursuits on their land without liability worries.
(ii) Illinois Prescribed Burning Act—Made prescribed burning a property right and set the liability standard higher than strict liability. We are working to strengthen the liability issues with this act.
(iii) Natural Areas Stewardship Act–A IDNR grant program that provides stewardship grants to conservation Land Trust for stewardship of dedicated Nature Preserves and Registered Land and Water Reserves.
(iv) Conservation Easement Statute amendment— Strengthened language in the act.