Current Status of Ecosystems in the Region
Scientists and researchers have conducted regional ecological inventories and surveys over the past few decades which have provided useful data to monitor and analyze the conditions of our ecosystems. Unfortunately data has shown that conditions are critical for some ecosystems in our region. The 1978 Natural Areas Inventory found that less than 1% of the original Illinois landscape (forests, prairies, savannas, wetlands, lakes, and ponds) remained in a relative high-quality undisturbed condition (Chicago Region Biodiversity Council, 1999). Ironically in the "Prairie State" only one one-hundredth of one percent (0.001%) of the original high quality prairie survives. In addition greater than 90% of wetlands have been drained or filled (IDNR) (Sullivan, 2003). For more details on current conditions, click here to view sample data from the Chicago Wilderness Report Card.
The reduction of open space in our region also has compounded effects on animal and plant species. Chicago Wilderness states that "if 50% or fewer sites on which a species occurs are protected, the species is at a much greater risk of being lost" (Chicago Region Biodiversity Council, 1999). Compared to plants, animals face less risk when their habitat is destroyed because they are mobile; however, with increasing fragmentation of the landscape, there is still significant risk.
Illinois has 114 state level endangered or threatened animal species; five of these are federally listed. Furthermore, more than half of the all known animal species found in our state are unprotected including 81.1% of fish, 85.7% of mammals, 23.1% of amphibians and reptiles, 57.5% of birds, and 4.3% of invertebrates (Ibid). Plant species are facing similar situations with about a quarter of plants species unprotected or with semi-protection. The State lists 237 plants species as endangered or threatened. These same species represent "nearly 15% of the region's native plant species" (Ibid).