Branch of Conservation Planning
Midwest Region

Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area Planning Web Page


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a planning process for the Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in 1996. ¬†After detailed planning and public engagement, a final Decision Document (145 MB pdf format) was signed on June 23, 2000, authorizing the refuge. Due to lack of funding and other planning priorities, we put the project on hold until a little more than a decade later.

In 2012, in response to a specific request from the State of Illinois, we re-engaged in this effort in the original state of Illinois focus areas (also known as planning units). The refuge was re-named the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area (Refuge) as part of a process to modernize the original refuge concept. Natural resource conservation 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 was chosen to highlight this public-private partnership concept.

At the same time that we began re-engaging in this effort in Illinois, we also re-initiated discussions with partners and stakeholders within the Kankakee River Basin in Indiana. Through mutual agreement, the state has taken the lead on these conservation efforts. We continue to support conservation efforts by local landowners on their property through technical assistance and cost-sharing of habitat restoration under our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

Authorized since 2000, the Refuge 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 since the Refuge was authorized.

Sun peaking through floodplain forest along Kankakee River . Photo by USFWS.Next Steps in Planning Process: Land Protection Plan

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 within the authorized focus areas. These priorities serve as a guide for prioritizing our work with interested landowners on wildlife conservation within the focus areas (planning units).

In October 2016, we presented our initial ideas for prioritizing our work at a public meeting held in Momence, Illinois.  After the public meeting, we solicited constructive comments on these priorities through April 2017. That input will help us develop the Land Protection Plan, which is currently on hold due to the redirection of our planning staff to opening recreational access on existing refuge properties in the eight states within the Great Lakes Region.

There are two planning units of the Refuge; the wetland planning unit and the oak savanna and prairie planning unit. These planning units are estimations of historical natural areas. They are areas that if a landowner were interested in working with us, conservation work would succeed based on landscape factors such as soils, water features (wetlands and rivers), location of floodplain, existing vegetation and location of intact rare habitats. From this, the LPP will identify places within each planning unit that will be our priority places to work collaboratively with interested 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.”

Wetland Planning Unit

The Wetland Planning Unit runs along the Kankakee River starting at Indiana State LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area at the Illinois-Indiana border and extends westward, connecting to Island Park in Momence, Illinois. From a wildlife conservation perspective, this corridor is important for the survival of wetland-dependent migratory birds. 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 would be 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 others to maintain the existing bottomland hardwood forest habitat and to enhance and restore more, building a connected corridor of protected and managed land in public and private ownership along the Kankakee River.

Prairie/Oak Savanna Planning Unit

The Prairie and Oak Savanna Planning Unit lies 3 miles to the south of the Wetlands Planning Unit and extends southward into Iroquois County and westward to include remnant stands of globally rare black oak savannas and prairies that were once dominant plant communities in Illinois. These two habitats are now among the most imperiled. Currently, less than 0.01% of Illinois’ original 5.5 million acres of oak savanna and less than 1% of the more than 22 million acres of prairie remains. With the loss of these habitats, there has been a similarly steep decline in the wildlife dependent on them for their survival.

Prairie and oak savanna habitats 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 wildlife conservation objective is to increase the diversity of the species in the area and their numbers. To do this, we will work with others 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.

Black oak savanna. Credit: USFWSBoth of these planning areas exist not only because of the needs of wildlife, but also because of the conservation that has already been accomplished and continues to be accomplished in the area. By authorizing this Refuge in 2000 and accepting our first parcel of land in 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is showing our desire to be a conservation partner to sustain this valuable area for wildlife and people to thrive. Additional detail about prioritization for conservation work will be provided in the Land Protection Plan. Once we have completed a draft LPP, it will be available for review and additional input. After the release of the final LPP we will work only with interested landowners on wildlife conservation at the level they wish to participate.

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 Get More Information about the planning process

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

Phone: 612-713-5327

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: March 18, 2021
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