PEORIA, Illinois - June 20, 2019 - Illinois River Valley wetlands are critical for birds, recreation and water quality, and Ducks Unlimited is leading a $5 million conservation effort to safeguard them from further human development and climate change.

The Conserving the Illinois River Legacy initiative combines support from more than a half-dozen partners and federal funding to protect, enhance or restore 13,000 acres across 19 counties bordering the middle and lower stretches of the river. The area is comprised of large backwater lakes, expansive marshes and bottomland hardwood forests.

"It's a major corridor for birds funneling between northern breeding grounds and southern wintering grounds," said Michael Sertle, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist. "The Illinois River Valley provides critical habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds for the food and rest they need to safely continue their journeys."

The region's wetlands are popular with outdoors enthusiasts, alleviate downstream flooding and help remove pollutants from rainwater runoff. The Illinois River is rich in waterfowling tradition. It has a history of extensive market hunting in the early 1900s to provide food to large cities, has some of the oldest waterfowl hunting clubs in the United States, is home to notable decoy carvers and waterfowl call makers and was the spot for some of the earliest waterfowl research.

But the region has been heavily influenced by human activities.

"During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area was leveed, ditched, drained, timbered, cleared, burned, farmed and grazed," Sertle said.

About 90 percent of Illinois' historic wetlands have been lost and 44 percent of the Illinois River's 426,000-acre floodplain has been drained for agriculture. Climate change, which causes fluctuating rainfall and changes in flooding and native vegetation, adds another threat.

The Conserving the Illinois River Legacy initiative will protect 1,522 acres of wetlands, restore water to nearly 19 acres of drained wetlands, and enhance 11,461 acres of existing degraded wetlands. The project sites will be open to a variety of different public recreational uses.

The project is funded through a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant with $4.1 million in matching and non-matching support from Ducks Unlimited, Wetlands America Trust, The Nature Conservancy, The Wetlands Initiative, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Peoria Park District, Friends of Sanganois, Illinois River Valley Conservation Group, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partner's for Fish and Wildlife Program, with support from the Illinois Natural History Survey's Forbes Biological Station.

The initiative has 11 project sites including:

  • Donnelley-DePue State Fish and Wildlife Area, Hennepin - Ducks Unlimited and IDNR enhancement of 200 acres with the Coleman Lake Unit will benefit waterfowl and improve conditions for waterfowlers.
  • Emiquon Preserve, Havana - Ducks Unlimited will provide engineering assistance to The Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Preserve, enabling water level management of 5,289 acres of wetlands to benefit waterfowl, shorebirds and rare species, and also provide for current and future wetland and waterfowl monitoring and research.
  • Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, Canton - Ducks Unlimited and IDNR enhancement of 2,623 acres within the Goose Lake and Copperas Creek Unit's will benefit waterfowl and shorebird habitat and improve conditions for waterfowlers.
  • Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area, Beardstown - Ducks Unlimited, IDNR, and Friends of Sanganois enhancement of 400 acres of managed wetlands within the Walk-Ins Unit will benefit waterfowl and improve conditions for waterfowlers.

"Working in concert with partners like Ducks Unlimited and The Wetlands Initiative allows us to maximize the return on our investment in nature. Our combined efforts, which involve a host of partners, volunteers and donors, have yielded incredible restoration and protection results in this region while providing an enhanced experience for both people and nature," said Michelle Carr, The Nature Conservancy Illinois state director. "We eagerly anticipate the infrastructure upgrades that will protect the Conservancy's 5,500-acre wetland at Emiquon as well as our neighboring landowners."

Randy Smith, Wetland Wildlife Program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the NAWCA funding highlights the strong partnership between Ducks Unlimited and the Illinois DNR.

"We are excited about the potential this funding will bring, and the ability to enhance some of our traditionally great wetland management areas, increasing habitat quality for waterfowl, other wetland dependent wildlife, waterfowl hunters and other users of our State Fish and Wildlife Areas," he said.

Images for download:

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A $5-million conservation program will improve vast landscapes such as Anderson Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area. Credit: Aaron Yetter, Illinois Natural History Survey.

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The Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Preserve is part of the 13,000-acre undertaking.

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Ducks Unlimited and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will enhance 2,623 acres at Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area. Credit: Aaron Yetter, Illinois Natural History Survey.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 14 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit

Media Contact:
Chris Sebastian
(734) 623-2017