Last May, we established Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Iroquois County and since then we’ve heard feedback and concerns from some members of the community. As an agency, we strive to work closely with local communities, and I wanted to take this opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions about the new refuge.
As part of the establishment of the new refuge, we released maps with areas outlined in black in Iroquois and Kankakee Counties. Some have expressed concern about their property being located within these boundaries and are worried that we will forcibly expand the refuge until all the outlined areas are owned by the U.S. government. This will not happen, much of this area will remain in private ownership.
Rest assured, you will not be forced to sell, and we will never force a landowner to leave their property. We have a longstanding policy to only acquire land from willing sellers. To be clear, we will not use eminent domain or condemnation to acquire lands for this wildlife refuge. We will work with interested landowners who wish to sell, or place easements, on their land for permanent protection. When this happens, we offer landowners fair market value for their property, and landowners are under no obligation to accept an offer they do not like.
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. Our entire agency is structured around partnerships, collaboration, and conservation to benefit the American people. We want to work cooperatively with you to make this refuge a good neighbor that has a long-term positive impact on the community and your way of life.
We probably could have done a better job of explaining this, and I assure you we will do a better job in the future. I have asked my staff to increase their communication efforts in the region and to host or attend public meetings as needed.
I know we are new to Kankakee County and Iroquois County and there may be mistrust or misunderstanding about our intentions. I hope that you allow us to become a part of your community and eventually earn the title of “good neighbor.”
Tom MeliusU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceMidwest Regional Director
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Black-crowned Night-Herons use the area’s wetlands, rivers and wet agricultural fields as resting and feeding places.