Branch of Conservation Planning
Midwest Region

Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area Planning Web Page

Proposed Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation AreaHistory

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) initiated a planning process for the Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in 1996 and released a Draft Environmental Assessment (114 MB pdf format) in 1998 for public review and comment.  After reviewing and analyzing all of the comments, the Service issued a Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) (18 MB pdf format) in 1999.  A final Decision Document (145 MB pdf format) was signed on June 23, 2000, completing the refuge authorization process.  Due to lack of funding and other planning priorities, we put the project on hold until recently.

In response to a specific request from the State of Illinois in 2012, we re-engaged in this effort in the original focus areas in the State of Illinois. The refuge has been re-named the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area (NWR&CA) as part of a process to modernize the original refuge concept.  Natural resource conservation in the 21st Century is collaborative, and we understand the need to integrate conservation lands into the existing fabric of our human communities, working lands, and local economies. The new name highlights this public-private partnership concept.

The NWR&CA was formally established on May 25, 2016 when we accepted a 66-acre donation of land in Iroquois County, Illinois from the Friends of the Kankakee. The Friends of the Kankakee is an organization that has been dedicated to the development of a new national wildlife refuge in the Kankakee River Basin ever since the refuge was authorized in 1999.

We Need Your Help

The next step in the refuge planning process is to develop a Land Protection Plan (LPP). The purpose of the LPP is to communicate our priorities for wildlife conservation and strategies to achieve this within the authorized focus areas. In October 2016 we produced a draft Conservation Opportunities Map showing our initial ideas for prioritizing our work with interested landowners on wildlife conservation within the focus areas. These are based on the conservation priorities and objectives in the Environmental Assessment. We work only with interested landowners on wildlife conservation at the level they wish to participate.

After we produced the map we asked you to tell us your thoughts via mail, email or phone and provide us with constructive suggestions about the map based on our conservation goals and priorities presented there. Your input will help us develop the Land Protection Plan and revise the Conservation Opportunities Map. All the comments we have received through April 2017 are now located in the Public Comments box on this web page.

Below you can find more information about our conservation goals, ideas and proposals, as well as some important background information. Once we have completed a draft LPP, it will again be available for you to review and provide additional input.

The Changing Landscape of Conservation

As population centers like Chicago continue to expand, and small towns continue to strive to retain their sense of community, conservation lands must increasingly become integrated into the places where people live and work so we can all enjoy their benefits of wildlife habitat, clean water, and recreational opportunities.  Much of this conservation work is done by private landowners.

With the establishment of the first county forest preserves in the early 1900’s, northeastern Illinois began a long tradition of successfully building public conservation lands into local communities and working landscapes.  These efforts have been augmented more recently by State lands, such as the Momence Wetlands Land and Water Reserve and the Iroquois County State Wildlife Area.  All of the various forms of land conservation, both private and public, have a role to play in conserving the wildlife and wildlands that we value as a society.

Over the past several decades, the Service has been supporting habitat restoration on private lands, encouraging conservation activities by partners, building relationships, and fostering support for conservation in the Kankakee River Basin.  Through our new refuge and conservation area approach, we have added the ability to acquire easements or land from interested landowners, as funds allow. It also prioritizes this area for our programs that support conservation efforts by landowners on their own property, such as our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

We work with a broad range of partners, including private landowners; local community organizations; local, state and federal agencies; and others to understand where common or complimentary goals exist that will allow us to work together collaboratively. We strive to work together towards a set of conservation actions that would serve multiple interests and achieve a shared vision for the basin that will sustain natural and human communities. The Service’s contribution to this overall effort is to restore and conserve priority wetland, oak savanna, and grassland habitats for the benefit of people, fish and wildlife. Lands we own are open to the public for wildlife-related recreation including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation where safe and compatible.


At the same time that we began re-engaging in this effort in Illinois, we also initiated discussions with partners and stakeholders within the Kankakee River Basin in Indiana.  Those discussions are continuing but no detailed planning has begun in Indiana.  Meanwhile, we continue to support voluntary conservation efforts by local partners in Indiana through technical assistance and cost-sharing of habitat restoration on their land under our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program


The 1999 Environmental Assessment (EA) Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) serves as the foundational document for our detailed planning. The EA identified focus areas that contain important natural resources. For the detailed planning effort we are currently undertaking in Illinois, the focus areas are considered broad Planning Units within which we will prioritize areas for conservation action based on the conservation needs of the area and the priorities of the human communities within them.

Momence Wetlands Planning Unit

The Momence Wetlands Planning Unit is important for wetland-dependent migratory bird species of concern. Although seemingly plentiful here, Illinois has lost more than 90 percent of its wetlands statewide and many animals dependent on these habitats are in decline. One of our main objectives in this planning unit is to increase breeding populations of dabbling ducks, such as mallards, blue-winged teal, and wood ducks, and other wetland birds of concern such as the prothonotary warbler, cerulean warbler, black tern, American woodcock, least bittern, and king rail. To achieve this objective, we will work with interested private and public landowners in the area to maintain the existing bottomland hardwood forest habitat and to enhance and restore more, building a continuous corridor of protected and managed land in public and private ownership along the Kankakee River. This corridor will extend all the way to LaSalle State Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana.

It is important to provide long-term protection in this corridor because animals depend on connected natural habitats for their long-term survival. Corridors of natural habitat such as these are used as travel ways for wildlife and places where they can nest and raise their young.

Within the broad boundaries of the Momence Wetlands Planning Unit, the most important areas for wildlife are the existing bottomland forests and wet meadows that experience periodic flooding and are concentrated along the Kankakee River channel. These are our first priority to work with others on conservation action. Our secondary priority areas are those in the flood zone that are currently in agriculture. These places have the potential to be restored to natural habitat. Once restored, these areas can expand the habitat core within the flood zone and buffer the natural corridor area to help keep it healthy.

Both of these categories are shown in shades of blue on the map, and represent our first approximation of the area where we would like to work with interested landowners to explore short and long-term conservation options. These options range from technical assistance and cost-sharing of habitat restoration practices to the purchase of property interests and are always voluntary. It is our policy to not use eminent domain when acquiring land or interests in land for the National Wildlife Refuge System. We work with willing sellers only.

Other places, shown in gray on the map, are not a priority from a NWR&CA standpoint. They are our first approximation of where residential lots, businesses, upland agricultural areas, and similar intensively used lands exist and therefore not priorities for us.  Because this map was created with best available computerized data, we may not have captured these categories properly. Ultimately, conservation decisions are made as interested landowners contact us and we conduct detailed on-site investigations and analysis.  You can help us refine our approach by providing comments now using the methods described in the To Provide Comments or Get More Information section at the bottom of this page.

Oak Savanna Planning Units - Kankakee and Iroquois County

Oak savannas and prairies were once dominant communities in Illinois, but now are among the most endangered. Currently, less than 0.01% of Illinois’ original 5.5 million acres of oak savanna and 22 million acres of prairie remains. With the loss of these habitats, there has been a similarly steep decline in the species dependent on them for their survival.

Land in and around these planning units are important to many grassland-dependent migratory birds species that are declining, such as the Henslow’s sparrow, bobolink, dickcissel, meadowlark, and grasshopper sparrow. They are also important to savanna bird species of concern such as the red-headed woodpecker, northern bobwhite, northern flicker, field sparrow, and Baltimore oriole. The overall conservation objective here is to increase the diversity of the species in the area and their numbers. To do this, we will work with interested private and public landowners to maintain the existing high quality oak savanna and grassland habitat in the area and to enhance and restore other areas on a voluntary basis. We will also strive to create connections between the current natural lands in the area, including Iroquois County State Wildlife Area, Willow Slough State Fish and Wildlife Area and private conservation lands.

The Pembroke Township area in southern Kankakee County is the focus of a partnership-based Quality of Life process that will provide community input into the LPP process for that area. This process is designed to generate information on how best to work together to find mutually achievable objectives for the community and natural resources. The process is scheduled to continue through March 2017, so there are no outputs from this process for analysis at this point.

In the Iroquois County Planning Unit the conservation objective is to increase the size and connectivity of existing and restorable prairie and oak savanna, and to create a corridor linking the existing natural areas. To date we have gone no further than to show general land cover types on the Conservation Opportunities Map for this unit. We have not yet modeled proposed priority areas. The general goal will be to work with interested landowners to maintain existing natural cover and enhance or restore other areas that would help expand existing protected lands and create connections between the Iroquois State Wildlife Area and the Willow Slough State Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana.

Land Protection Plan

As described above, we are in the process of developing a detailed Land Protection Plan (LPP) that will be available for public input and review. The purpose of this plan is to identify areas that will be our priority places to work collaboratively with citizens, organizations and agencies to achieve our mission of “working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”  Above are our initial ideas about these areas. The LPP will also outline possible ways to achieve our goals.

The comments we receive on our ideas will help us develop the draft Land Protection Plan and revise our Conservation Opportunities Map. That draft will then go through another public review process, which may include public meetings and other opportunities, to continue the conversation.  Public comment on the draft will be incorporated into the final LPP.

Your input is critical to the process of developing this important plan.  Please stay engaged and provide us with thoughtful, constructive comments throughout the plan development.

Learn More about Kankakee NWR&CA

You can find more information about visiting Kankakee NWR&CA and the unique wildlife and habitats we conserve there at

To Provide Comments or Get More Information Black oak savanna. Credit: USFWS

To comment or get more information on the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area please contact us by emailing, calling, or writing the Midwest Region Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning at:

People with hearing impairments are invited to use the Federal Information Relay System: 1-800-877-8339

Email: (Please put Kankakee NWR&CA in the subject)

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning
Attention: Kankakee NWR and Conservation Area
5600 American Blvd. West, Suite 990
Bloomington, MN 55437-1458

* This web page that you are visiting is for conservation planning. See the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area website for more information about the NWR&CA, including resource management, partnerships, and wildlife and habitat.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Last updated: February 15, 2018
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