Known for its fertile soils and agriculture, Illinois has been experiencing devastating fragmentation and degradation of its natural areas throughout recent history. Combined with the spread of urbanization, these factors pose a significant challenge for the native ecosystems of Illinois. This has severely impacted and continues to impact the quality of habitat that is available, specifically to species with declining populations.
The Natural Areas Program, started in 1963, works closely with the Endangered Species Protection Board and Illinois Nature Preserves Commission to establish legal protection and preservation for areas that reflect Illinois' natural heritage and support Illinois' native species. Completed in 1978, Illinois composed a Natural Areas Inventory database containing natural areas with identified value in the state. Since then, the natural areas program has continued to evaluate, maintain, and protect areas that reflect pre-settlement conditions in Illinois. Sites are added to the INAI based on presence of specific qualifying features.
Using the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory, field surveying by natural heritage field staff, as well as GIS and Biotics analysis, we determine which sites are the best candidates for protection and restoration and focus our efforts where they are most needed. Biotics is a tool used within the DNR and nationwide as means of evaluating the biodiversity present at a site. Much like GIS, it uses database records and geospatial data to allow for the visualization of sites, without having to physically be there.
By analyzing and surveying these significant Natural Areas, the program can develop appropriate management plans and stewardship projects to be implemented in the state of Illinois, with special consideration of resources needed by species of greatest conservation concern.