DU receives largest grant ever for Illinois wetlands conservation

Located in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway, Illinois is a state steeped in waterfowling tradition. The Prairie State remains popular among dedicated duck and goose hunters, even though it has lost most of its native prairie and original wetlands. The Illinois River valley provides important migration, breeding, and wintering habitat for a variety of waterfowl, including wood ducks, mallards, canvasbacks, and Canada geese. Recognizing this, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation has awarded Ducks Unlimited a $5 million grant to conserve, restore, and protect up to 3,000 acres of vital wetland habitat along the Illinois River. The grant is the largest gift DU has received to date for wetlands conservation in Illinois.

"Over the past six decades, the number of ducks surveyed along the Middle Illinois River during the peak of the fall migration has declined by 60 percent to 90 percent," said DU Regional Biologist Eric Schenck. "This grant will allow DU to become much more proactive in directing our wetlands conservation efforts to the places where we can do the most for waterfowl." 

Ducks Unlimited's conservation efforts will focus on two areas. The first is the Illinois River from Henry to Peoria, where DU will expand the existing network of conservation lands and restore acquired sites to high-quality wetland habitat. The second is a 30-square-mile area of wetland and bottomland forest habitat at the confluence of the Sangamon and Illinois rivers. This vast, undeveloped area is the largest expanse of wetland habitat left intact in the Illinois River valley. 

Dennis O'Brien, executive director of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, noted that Ducks Unlimited's 26-year history of conserving land throughout the state was an important factor in the foundation's decision to award the grant. "Another important factor was the opportunity to protect wilderness-quality wetlands on a landscape scale in the Illinois River valley," O'Brien said. "We have confidence that DU will successfully meet all the challenges associated with this grant and deliver an outstanding conservation project for the people of Illinois."