Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area
What is a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and why is one proposed here?
A National Wildlife Refuge is part of a nationwide system of publically owned lands and waters, administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), for the conservation, management, and restoration of fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
The Grand Kankakee Marsh was upwards of one million acres of wet prairie and marshes, lakes and wooded islands in Indiana and Illinois. The area provided internationally-renowned habitat for waterfowl, migratory songbirds, resident game, and fish. By the early 1900’s, the marsh had been almost entirely drained and the river in Indiana straightened.
Today, only a small fraction of the former wetlands remain and nearly all of the prairies have disappeared. Indiana has lost 87% of its original wetlands and Illinois lost 85%. 99% of the original prairies have disappeared from both states
Will the Service use condemnation (eminent domain) to make this Refuge?
No. The Service has not used eminent domain to acquire refuge lands in over 20 years. The Environmental Assessment of the Refuge proposal specifically states this numerous times. By law, the Service is required to pay fair market value for land and can also buy conservation easements.
How big would the Refuge and Conservation Area be?
This proposal would restore and protect up to 20,000 acres of wetlands, prairie and savanna habitat in Illinois. The final acreage of land in federal ownership within this area is unknown because the Service works only with people interested and willing to sell property or wildlife-related easements to us (willing sellers). The Conservation Area in Indiana will consist mostly of the USFWS working with public and private entities to meet the Service goals for the Indiana portion of the watershed. No new acquisition of land or easements is currently planned for Indiana.
Wasn’t this project cancelled in 2000?
No. The regional office of the USFWS actually approved the Refuge proposal in 1999 and started toward the next stage of planning. An election, a new administration, and new priorities stalled the planning of the Refuge in 2000. The US Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington approved moving forward with the planning in 2015. By accepting a donation of 66 acres from the Friends of the Kankakee in 2016, the Kankakee Refuge has now been formally established.
Where does funding for wildlife refuges come from?
The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Migratory Bird Conservation Act Fund will fund most of the Refuge. The LWCF derives its money primarily from royalties on offshore oil and gas leases. Funds for the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund come from the sale of federal Duck Stamps to hunters and conservationists.
What species will the Refuge benefit?
The “trust resources” of the Service include migratory birds, federally threatened and endangered species, and interstate fisheries as wildlife does not know of political boundaries. The Refuge proposal was crafted out of concerns for migratory species of game birds like ducks and geese and non-game species too numerous to list here. The refuge proposal will greatly enhance the populations of hundreds of species of plants and animals that depend on rivers, wetlands and prairies for their survival.
Will local governments lose tax income?
The state and federal governments do not pay local taxes on land they own. The US Congress mandated “revenue sharing” or “payment in lieu of taxes” to local governments that are impacted by land acquired for national wildlife refuges. Revenue sharing typically replaces most, if not all of lost property taxes to local governments. Note that much of the land that becomes part of a refuge was already enrolled in programs that do not pay property taxes and some of it may be tax delinquent. Some local governments actually receive more funds from revenue sharing than they did before the refuge was created.
Can the Refuge flood my land?
No. The Service is mandated by law to work with neighboring landowners and local drainage boards to manage Refuge lands in a way that will not negatively impact adjacent properties. If the Service does create a problem, they will fix it at their own cost.
Are Federal refuges closed to hunting, fishing and other recreation?
No. National wildlife refuges offer the public a wide variety of recreational and educational opportunities on refuge properties. Many refuges have fishing and hunting programs, visitor centers, hiking and water trails, and environmental education programs. This does not mean that all refuge lands will be available for all types of recreation.
Why shouldn’t the state manage its own wildlife?
The USFWS has access to significant funding created exclusively for the conservation of fish and wildlife. While state departments of natural resources are responsible for managing the bulk of wildlife and habitat issues in their states, the USFWS focuses on migratory birds, federally threatened and endangered species, and interstate fisheries.
Who will run the refuge?
It would be assigned its own staff and budget from the Service but will work closely with the Illinois and Indiana DNR’s and local governments and citizens. Local contractors and vendors will be needed to build and maintain the Refuge and its facilities.
Where can I learn more about the Refuge?
See The Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area planning page;
“Banking on Nature” Report Shows National Wildlife Refuges Provide Economic Boost;
The National Survey on Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation shows how much the American public spends on wildlife-related recreation, nearly $150 billion annually.
For more information;