University of Illinois Extension

Wildlife - Just One Piece of the Picture

In the year 1800, Illinois had huge prairies. In fact, approximately 61 percent of Illinois was covered with prairie. There were also very large forests. Forests covered approximately 32 percent of Illinois. The streams, rivers and lakes in Illinois were clear and contained no pollution. Water covered approximately one percent of Illinois. Wildlife were very abundant. Wildlife that no longer exist in Illinois, such as the black bear, wolf and bison, could be found.

Since the early 1800's there have been many changes to Illinois' natural ecosystems. Today, about 10 percent of the forests and one percent of the prairies remain. Wetland ecosystems cover about 500,000 acres in Illinois today, compared to more than 9 million acres of wetlands in the early 1800's. People have changed the land in Illinois through agricultural use, flood control activities, development of towns and cities, and through pollution.

Wildlife depend on certain types of ecosystems or habitats for their food, water, shelter (place to live), and space (the amount of habitat needed). These basic needs must be available to a population of animals in order to survive. When part or all of an animal's habitat is removed or polluted, the animal population goes down or dies off completely.

When one population of animals in an area increases or decreases, populations of other animals or plants may also increase or decrease. All the living things, plants and animals, in an ecosystem are interrelated or connected.

There are many ways people can help wildlife populations. People that own land in Illinois can plant trees, shrubs or wildlife food plots. Streams, rivers, ponds and lakes can be protected from pollution and sedimentation (soil that is moved by rain into a stream). Nesting boxes and bird feeders can be put out for wildlife when natural nesting areas or food supplies are scarce.

There are many public and private agencies and organizations which help people understand, manage and protect the natural environment in Illinois. People can also help our environment by getting involved with these conservation organizations.

Challenge yourself to find a way to get involved in your community to help manage and protect your natural resources.

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