Landscapes of Ecological Importance in Illinois

Diane L. Szafoni, Chad Hickman

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingTechnical report


This project used a series of landscape-scale characteristics related to biotic and landscape integrity to identify lands with the potential capacity to be restored to natural area quality with modern restoration techniques. The best ones would be those that occur in a landscape context that could be viable over the long-term once restore. In a pilot project for Northeastern Illinois, we developed Landscape Integrity and Restorability parameters and identified statewide datasets for Illinois. We used a three-level system: Ecological, Spatial and Threat parameters, and had INHS mammologists, ornithologists, herpetologists, and botanists assess the value of the parameter and suggest weights used in the final ranking. These criteria and datasets were used to perform a Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis of undeveloped lands in all of the state of Illinois. This GIS analysis identified lands that, if restored, have the potential for long-term ecological integrity. These landscape integrity and restorability criteria have been aligned with the qualifying size criteria for registration of lands as Illinois Land and Water Reserves (a state designation resulting in protections almost as strong as Illinois Nature Preserve Dedication), to identify large areas of lower grade that could currently qualify or could be restored to qualify for designation as Land and Water Reserves. This analysis provides a score that is used in a ranking system, to establish a hierarchical assessment of the intrinsic capacity of landscapes to sustainably support native flora and fauna with restoration. The scattered pattern of modern development not only consumes an excessive amount of land, it fragments the landscape. Numerous studies have shown the negative ecological effects of forest fragmentation in the landscape (Wilcox and Murphy, 1985, Robertson et al, 1995). As forest areas are divided and isolated by roads and development, interior habitat decreased. This coupled with increased human disturbance and the spreading of opportunistic edge species results in the populations of many animals becoming too small to persist. Besides the negative effect on animal populations through the loss of wildlife habitat and migration corridors, normal ecosystem functions such as absorption of nutrients, recharging of water supplies and replenishment of soil are disturbed or destroyed (Saunders et al., 1991). Water quality has been degraded in many rivers and streams and many of Illinois’ remaining wetlands have been altered by filling, drainage and impoundment, livestock grazing, logging, direct discharges of industrial wastes and municipal sewage, and indirect pollution from urban and agricultural runoff. Today, with urban land continuing to sprawl into the surrounding landscape, there is an even more urgent need to accurately identify and protect the most important unprotected natural lands in the state before they are lost. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), and Conservation and Forest Preserve Districts have many programs for land acquisition, easements, and other forms of land and resource protection. Timely knowledge of where key lands and corridors are situated would facilitate these processes. A spatial analysis was proposed as a way of assessing the landscape quickly, efficiently, and frequently. Using existing statewide digital data and Geographic Information System (GIS) software allows for periodic review of the landscape and as additional statewide data becomes available, adjustments in the ranking system can be made. Indeed, the use of GIS software and landscape ecology has been a proven tool to aid the locating of remaining areas of ecological significance.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherIllinois Natural History Survey
StatePublished - Jul 31 2014

Publication series

NameINHS Technical Report 2014 (45)


  • INHS


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