CFBs, IFB detail refuge concerns

New website outlines farmer concerns with wildlife refuges around Illinois.

By Deana Stroisch

Concerned about revived plans for a national wildlife refuge, two county Farm Bureaus and Illinois Farm Bureau recently called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to be transparent, responsive and “a good neighbor.”

Kankakee County and Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureaus hand-delivered a 27-page report outlining past and continuing ag concerns about the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

Concerns include:

- Farmers aren’t respected as natural resource stewards.

- Farmers feel the federal government is putting them out of business.

- Natural resource goals remain unclear.

- Refuge areas and associated work will negatively impact critical drainage needs.

- Wildlife are not managed appropriately and can cause damage to nearby farms.

- Weed control is not taken seriously and can cause problems for farmers.

The concerns – although specific to Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area – can also be applied to some other wildlife refuges in the state, said Lyndsey Ramsey, IFB’s associate director of natural and environmental resources. In addition to the report, IFB developed a website, www.RethinkTheRefuge.com, that spells out farmer concerns.

“The work that we did was to lay out our members’ concerns with how the refuge is authorized and established, and then how the wildlife refuge is managed over time. Both of those things take decades,” Ramsey said.

In 1996, FWS began exploring a new national wildlife refuge in the Kankakee River Basin in northwestern Indiana and northeastern Illinois. There are eight other refuges in Illinois. FWS said the process began in response to the declining status of numerous fish and wildlife resources. The proposal was met with strong opposition.

The refuge was officially authorized in 1999, but Ramsey said it wasn’t until 2015 when FWS expressed further interest in pursuing the refuge.

In May 2016, FWS accepted a 66-acre donation and formally established the “Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.”

Farm Bureau circulated a petition of opposition in 2017, which garnered more than 1,400 signatures.

“The petition drive got the attention of elected officials, who began to raise questions and helped put the brakes on the refuge,” recalled Adam Nielsen, IFB’s director of national legislation and policy development. “At that point, FWS took a step back and began to seriously listen to and consider the community’s many concerns.”

Nielsen said the offices of U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates, and U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, and Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, have been engaged in the ongoing dialogue.

IFB and the counties want member concerns incorporated and addressed in a Land Protection Plan for the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. The plan, according to FWS, describes resource protection needs, and identifies in priority order the land that might be acquired from willing sellers and other methods to improve habitat, like conservation easements and cost-share opportunities.

“Their project timeline is so long – decades. The opportunity for public comment was back in the 1990s, they don’t necessarily have to come back and get public input,” Ramsey said. “Absent any new official public comment period, we are creating our own.”

IFB awaits response to its report. It includes stories from Farm Bureau members, such as Doug Anderson, who farms in Donovan. His family has more than 200 acres of various Conservation Reserve Programs on six farms.

“We feel that having individual farmers manage and control their own conservation acreages is beneficial to the environment and our community,” Anderson said. “Removing large tracts of land as proposed by the refuge would have a huge detrimental effect on the area.”  

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.
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