Frequently Asked Questions

This webpage will be updated as needed during the public review period for the draft conservation vision document. The public review period is from June 29, 2021 through August 13, 2021. Please reference this page prior to submitting any questions you may have, as you may find your questions answered here. 

  • What we heard at the open houses

    The open houses were a wonderful chance to talk and listen. For those of you who weren’t able to attend, the open houses were about the draft visioning document for the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. The majority of conversations focused on clarifying information and a common thread of enjoying the outdoors by all ages.

    Here’s important things to know that were covered at the open house:  

    • It is our policy to not use eminent domain to develop refuges. We will only buy from willing sellers.  
    • The refuge’s purpose is wildlife and habitat conservation. Buildings and structures don’t make good wildlife habitat so we avoid them. We are interested in providing habitat for migratory birds like the indigo bunting and pollinators like the monarch butterfly.   
    • The final size and extent of the refuge is wholly dependent on the interest of local landowners. The refuge can only grow up to 12,716 acres, which is 59% of the 21,552-acre administrative boundary. The development of a refuge can take decades and we may never reach the acreage cap. In addition, these acres can include privately owned land that remains on the tax roll by protecting habitat through permanent conservation easements.   
    • It will be our responsibility as a landowner, within the state of Illinois, to follow drainage laws. It is our policy not to restrict the flow of waters from other lands, even if that flow passes through our lands. If we inadvertently create a water-related problem for any private landowner such as flooding, soil saturation, increase in water table height, etc. from our management, we will correct the problem at our expense. We strive to be a good neighbor.  
    • Education is one of our best conservation tools and youth are some of the best conservationists. We are here to provide outdoor recreational and environmental education opportunities for everyone.  
    • The draft conservation vision document outlines our priorities when someone approaches us with a conservation interest. Our draft ranking priorities are to first work with people to conserve existing habitat. Our next priority is to focus on lands that provide a protective buffer, followed by areas that require habitat restoration. The map in the document provides a picture of these priorities. We have also identified an area served by municipal sewer and water within Hopkins Park that is a not a priority for conservation.  
    • The draft conservation vision document also describes how we can work within the community to provide advice and possible funding for private landowners to restore their own land without becoming part of the refuge.

     

  • Introduction

    The frequently asked questions have been organized by themes to help you better find answers to your questions. The following themes have been identified Background Information and History, Land and Public Use Management, Private Property Rights, Land Acquisition and Economic Considerations.

    Background Information and History

    Reference the background information and history section to learn how this refuge and conservation area became part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. You can also learn more about who we are and how we engage with the public, as well as conservation partners and tribal and local government agencies. 

    Land and Public Use Management 

    Interested in learning about how we manage  the land we own and access to the refuge for outdoor recreation opportunities? Go to the land and public use section for more information. 

    Private Property Rights 

    The private property rights section covers questions you may have if your land is located in the refuge planning area boundary. The short answer is, you keep all your rights and we will not condemn your land..   

    Land Acquisition 

    In the land acquisition section, you’ll learn about the tools we have in our conservation toolbox and what options there are for permanent conservation if you are interested. The refuge acquisition cap is 12,716 acres within the refuge planning areas, but it only grows as people engage with us.   

    Economic Considerations 

    The last section is focused on economic considerations and talks about property tax concerns, the economic benefits of refuges and how the refuge has the potential to grow considering a balanced land use approach.

  • Background Information and History

    Who is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? 

    We are the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We enforce federal wildlife laws, administer the Endangered Species Act, manage migratory bird populations and restore nationally significant fisheries. We also conserve and restore wildlife habitat, like wetlands and work with foreign governments to honor shared conservation treaties across the world. Congress also charged us to oversee the Federal Aid program, where we distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes from fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. We strive to ensure a healthy environment for wildlife and people, while providing opportunities for Americans to enjoy the outdoors. 

    What is the National Wildlife Refuge System? 

    The National Wildlife Refuge System is the world's largest and most diverse collection of lands set aside specifically for the conservation of wildlife. It is a system of public lands for the purpose of conserving and restoring fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the benefit of present and future Americans. Today there are more than 560 national wildlife refuges all over the United States of America. National wildlife refuges offer the public a wide variety of wildlife-related recreational and educational opportunities. Many refuges have fishing and hunting programs, visitor centers, wildlife trails and environmental education programs. Nationwide, some 61 million visitors annually observe and photograph wildlife, participate in interpretive activities, hunt or fish on national wildlife refuges. 

    What is the history of Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area? 

    In 1996, we started a planning process to look at the feasibility of developing a national wildlife refuge in the Kankakee River Basin stretching from northwestern Indiana to northeastern Illinois. The process started in response to the declining status of many fish and wildlife resources for which we have stewardship responsibility. Throughout the process the public has been able to provide a review of conservation opportunities and provide their input. 

    In August 1999, the planning process concluded with the preparation of a National Environmental Policy Act Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. While that action officially authorized the development of a new national wildlife refuge in the Kankakee River Basin, it was not until May 25, 2016, that we formally established Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Illinois, when we accepted a 66-acre donation from Friends of the Kankakee. The refuge was renamed as part of a process to modernize the original refuge concept and recognize the collaborative nature of conservation, while keeping the same refuge purpose. 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 holistic approach to natural resource conservation. 

    What are focus areas or planning units? 

    Focus areas were identified during the initial planning process and are still important today. They are now referred to as the wetland planning unit and the prairie and oak savanna planning unit. They represent large areas in the Kankakee River Basin that contain significant existing, and or, restorable natural resource values like wetlands, grasslands and oak savanna. The planning units combined represent the authorized refuge boundary. This is an administrative boundary that gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the ability to offer conservation options specific to landowners wishing to implement long-term natural resource stewardship on their property. For properties that fall within the authorized boundary, interested landowners can sell all or part of their property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. We have no intention to acquire all of the land within the authorized refuge boundary. In fact, the authorization for this refuge capped the acreage at approximately three-fifths of its authorized boundary, or 12,716 acres.  

    How large will Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area become? 

    The growth of any refuge is a long-term process that progresses as willing sellers and funding allow within the terms of its authorization. The authorized refuge boundary in Illinois totals about 21,500 acres, of which we are limited to protecting up to 12,716 acres.  

    Why was Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area only established in Illinois? 

    We moved forward in Illinois because the state of Illinois formally requested us to establish the refuge within the state of Illinois in 2012.  

    Does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intend to expand Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area into Indiana? 

    Currently we are supporting conservation efforts with local Indiana landowners on their property by providing technical assistance and cost-sharing of habitat restoration under the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program that is a part of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. We will continue to support the state’s lead in Indiana and be a conservation partner. If we move forward with the establishment of the refuge in Indiana, a renewed planning effort will be completed. 

    Why is there a refuge in this area? 

    A number of factors go into determining locations for national wildlife refuges. Generally, we look at areas with significant wildlife values or the potential for restoration of significant wildlife values. In many cases, refuges seek to fill a void in habitat availability for a group of species of federal interest, like protected migratory birds or interjurisdictional fish. National wildlife refuges also are established to support specific trust species that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. In the case of Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, it is habitat and migratory birds that make the area valuable as a national wildlife refuge. Once part of the largest and most biologically productive ecosystems in the region, these lands represent special habitats that have largely been lost to development. Currently, biological records estimate that less than one-tenth of one percent of northern tallgrass prairie, one tenth of Illinois’ forests and less than 1/100th of 1 percent of the 27 million acres of oak savannas that once stretched from Ohio to Missouri remains. Fortunately, the planning unit of the refuge still provides some outstanding remnants and restorable habitat for migratory birds. Reestablishment of riparian areas, wetlands, wet prairies, sedge meadows and associated grasslands would create habitats that are essential for many nesting and migrating songbirds. It can also contribute to the long-term recovery of some migratory bird populations.  

    Why is the federal government involved in planning national wildlife refuges? Why shouldn't states manage their own refuges? 

    The purpose of creating and expanding national wildlife refuges is to preserve wildlife, plants and their habitat for the benefit of everyone. Federal designations like refuges help state and tribal governments, as well as private landowners all work collaboratively across human made boundaries and constructs to protect and restore America’s lands and waters. These areas provide opportunities for large-scale conservation for efforts like managing a sustainable flyway for ducks and other migratory birds on a continental scale. While state departments of natural resources are responsible for managing the bulk of wildlife and habitat issues, federal involvement in refuge planning reflects the broader public interest to work across governmental divides for the greater good. 

    Is the planning process the only opportunity I will have to provide input on what goes on at the refuge? 

    No. Community involvement is important in refuge planning and refuge management. We encourage public participation in developing new refuges, as well as in detailed management plans for individual refuge units. As hunting, fishing and other resource-dependent activities are evaluated for compatibility with the refuge, we share potential changes with the public and look for feedback. Additionally, many refuges have citizen or "friends" groups that support the refuge through actively participating in refuge activities and operations. You can also become an active volunteer. 

    Who are your conservation partners? 

    We commonly work with individuals and organizations who are interested in conservation to define how we can best help with conservation efforts in and around refuge lands. Over the years, we’ve looked to local partners from the Community Development Corporation of Pembroke and Hopkins Park, The Nature Conservancy, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Farm Bureau, Friends of the Kankakee and others for perspective. We look forward to partnering with anyone in the refuge acquisition boundary and furthering conservation of the area.  

    What is the purpose of Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area? 

    The purpose of Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, as defined by the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956, is “for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources.” It is further defined by the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986, which states that the purpose is “the conservation of the wetlands of the nation in order to maintain the public benefits they provide and to help fulfill international obligations contained in various migratory bird treaties and conventions...” 

    The mission is to facilitate protection, restoration and management of high quality habitats that benefit listed species, waterfowl and other migratory birds, native fish and mussels, and diverse flora and fauna populations, while providing, to the extent possible, high quality wildlife-dependent environmental interpretation, education and recreation experiences that foster an understanding and appreciation for these resources, as well as the role humankind plays in their stewardship. 

    Why wasn’t a new Environmental Assessment prepared for the acceptance of the 66 acres that established the refuge or for the release of the Conservation Vision Document that serves as the Land Protection Plan for this refuge? 

    An Environmental Assessment (assessment) was prepared in the late 1990’s to evaluate the possible impacts to the human environment of developing a national wildlife refuge in the Kankakee River basin as required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA). This assessment was finalized with the signing of a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on August 16, 1999 and authorized the development of a refuge within the administrative boundaries shown in the preferred alternative described in the assessment.  In addition to evaluating the impacts of developing the wildlife refuge, the assessment outlined the purpose and need for a refuge and described the natural resource priorities for the refuge.  

    A new environmental assessment was not required in 2016 when we established the refuge by accepting the donation of a 66-acre parcel of land from the Friends of Kankakee because this action was the implementation of the 1999 assessment authorizing the refuge. Once a refuge is authorized, realty transactions from willing sellers within the authorized administrative boundary of that refuge are covered under NEPA by a categorical exclusion, specifically 516 DM 8.5 A(4). 

    The Conservation Vision Document, or Land Protection Plan, was written to give more specifics and clarity to the federal action of developing a national wildlife refuge in the Kankakee River Basin that was evaluated and authorized by the 1999 assessment and FONSI.  It is the result of our commitment to the public following the establishment of the refuge in 2016 to be clear and transparent about our priorities for working with people interested in conservation. Because the Conservation Vision Document is an informational document it is not a new federal action that would require an environmental assessment to be completed.    

  • Land and Public Use Management

    Who maintains and manages Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area? 

    We do. As additional land is permanently protected,  it becomes part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As the refuge grows, its staff will grow. Currently there is a refuge manager assigned to manage the refuge and conservation area and we have a small team of restoration biologists who work collaboratively with local landowners through the Partners For Fish and Wildlife Program. We also work closely with conservation partners and volunteers in habitat management. When possible, local contractors and vendors may be needed to build and maintain the refuge and its facilities in the future.  

    What species will the refuge benefit? 

    Federal trust resources include migratory birds, federally threatened and endangered species and interstate fisheries. The refuge was crafted out of concerns for migratory bird species and any threatened and endangered species that may occur in the refuge boundary. As the refuge grows, it will greatly enhance the populations of hundreds of species of plants and animals that depend on rivers, wetlands and prairies 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. One of our main objectives in the wetland planning unit would be to increase breeding populations of dabbling ducks, such as mallards, blue-winged teal and wood ducks. The refuge also benefits wetland birds of concern, such as the prothonotary warbler, cerulean warbler, black tern, American woodcock, least bittern and king rail. 

    Can the agency conserve wildlife without owning the land? 

    Yes. We work with private landowners in several ways to help landowners conserve wildlife on their land if they are interested. The property remains in private ownership and on the tax roll. 

    • Conservation easements are voluntary agreements where we purchase permanent property rights from an interested landowner to restrict certain uses, such as development, for habitat conservation. In this case, the agreement is recorded with the county as part of the deed. Properties with easements can be sold or transferred like any land, and the conditions of the easement remain attached to the land. This is the only practice described under this question that would count toward the refuge 12,716-acre cap as it results in permanent protection.  
    • Our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program works with interested private landowners to improve fish and wildlife habitat on their lands. We provide technical assistance and sometimes cost-share these activities.  
    • On rare occasions, options like cooperative agreements and no cost lease agreements may be considered. 
      • Cooperative agreements are agreements between the federal government and interested landowners that identify management actions or habitat restoration practices that we both agree to. For example, a landowner may agree to delay mowing hay until after a certain date to allow birds that nest on the ground to hatch their young before equipment is run across an area. 
      • Lease agreements are short-term agreements with interested landowners to manage a piece of land for a specific use to benefit wildlife in return for an annual rental payment to the landowner. 
    • Other voluntary, individual and community-based stewardship activities for fish and wildlife conservation, including providing technical assistance for things as simple as rainwater and natural gardens and bird feeder and birdhouse plans. 

    Will federally owned lands be open to the public for recreation? 

    Yes. One of the goals of the refuge and conservation area is to provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation and we plan to provide those opportunities as the refuge grows. Nature observation and photography, environmental education and interpretation, hunting and fishing are allowed on most lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System. Currently the 66-acre refuge is already open to nature exploration through berry and mushroom picking, photography and wildlife observation, as well as turkey and deer hunting, according to state regulations. Additional areas will open to public uses when a large enough block of land is in federal ownership or agreement, so that these activities can be carried out safely and without negative impacts to neighboring properties. As lands are acquired, we will ensure maps are updated so the public knows where there is access.  

    Will current public access to the river or travel on public roads be restricted when the refuge owns land in the area? 

    No. The agency has no authority to close roads or interfere with traffic or maintenance without township and county concurrence. Most national wildlife refuges are overlaid by roads or highway easements without consequence. State, county and township roads that traverse the refuge will remain open to public traffic. Private roads and trails on lands sold to us may be closed. However, they could be open to the public for wildlife-related recreation including river access for fishing, hiking and wildlife observation, where feasible. We will provide equitable access for recreational uses found compatible on the refuge. 

    Is harvest of wild plants allowed on the refuge and conservation area? 

    Yes. The wild harvesting of wild plants or plant materials, including seeds, fruits, berries and nuts, for food or medical use, is allowed on the federally-owned lands within the refuge and conservation area, as it has been found to be compatible with wildlife conservation. 

    What is your stance on agriculture and farming for communities within the planning unit boundaries? 

    We recognize the importance of agricultural ecosystems and the role farmers play as vital natural resource stewards. We work regularly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and farmers on many conservation issues. Use of sustainable agricultural practices like cover crops, pasture, riparian buffers and restored wetlands results in wins for both wildlife and farming community. We feel strongly that agriculture and the refuge can coexist and work in harmony to conserve natural resources of the area. We look forward to working with landowners in an agricultural landscape to protect and restore biological diversity. 

    Will sustainable farming or community-supported agriculture be allowed on the refuge and conservation area? 

    Generally long-term farming or community-supported agriculture is not allowed on land owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If already occurring at the time of purchase by the refuge, these practices may continue for a period to keep the land weed-free until habitat restoration begins. Cooperative farming is sometimes used as a tool to prepare lands for habitat restoration. 

    Is the refuge required to act in accordance with the Federal Farmland Protection Policy Act as the refuge develops? 

    Yes. Refuge programs are administered in a manner that, to the extent practical, are compatible with state and local government, as well as private programs and policies to protect farmland. 

    If the refuge acquires land in an active drainage district with an easement for maintenance of drainage, does that district retain the right of access for maintenance of drainage ditches, tile and outlets? 

    Yes. Like any landowner, the federal government is subject to any outstanding rights or easements on any of the land it acquires. 

    What is your policy regarding crop damage resulting from increases in the wildlife population? Do you intend to make wildlife food plots part of its management plan? 

    Our policy is to use tools like hunting, lure crops and habitat manipulation to assure that wildlife - particularly local Canada geese and white-tailed deer - don’t cause depredation problems on neighboring farmland. While the development of wildlife food plots is not a primary objective of this refuge and conservation area, it does remain an option, depending on the site, type of wildlife and type of food plot. It is U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy to maintain native habitats and use the most natural means available to meet wildlife objectives. If a localized depredation problem were to arise, the agency, working in concert with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control Division and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, would be available to assist in developing a damage abatement program specific to the problem.  

    What if wildlife are negatively impacting my property like a beaver dam or muskrat damage creating water control issues?  

    We will work with our neighbors as issues arise on a case-by-case basis. For management reasons, we can trap species like beaver and muskrat on refuge land to help mitigate impacts to adjacent landowners. We work together to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs, including the wildlife.  

    Who has ultimate authority over the granting of Section 404 permits for drainage activities that may impact refuge lands in a drainage district? 

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

    How will the refuge manage for sand and sediment coming from Indiana and depositing on the Illinois side of the Kankakee River?  

    Jurisdiction over stream beds adjacent to riparian ownership is complicated and we only have jurisdiction over land that we own. At refuges where we have jurisdiction over a river, we often work with individuals to address sediment issues and conduct routine maintenance of a channel through issuance of special use permits. Several factors go into planning and deciding where such work should or could occur to be most effective and efficient, while appropriately managing natural resources. We have expert hydrology staff who can also help evaluate sediment or other river issues. To help address the problem of sand and sediment traveling from upstream, we have an active Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Indiana that works with landowners along the Kankakee River to restore floodplain function and habitat to reduce run off.  

  • Private Property Rights

    Do your property rights change because you are in a planning unit or if your neighbor voluntarily sells to the refuge? 

    No. Landowners located in the planning units or adjacent to lands owned by the federal government retain all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of private land ownership. We recognize that every landowner within the project area has the following rights: 

    • The right to retain all privileges and responsibilities of private ownership 
    • The right to sell their land to anyone of their choice and the right to not sell their land 
    • The right to receive a fair market offer for any property they are interested in selling to the federal government 
    • The right to control access on their land 

    If I own land in one of the planning units or authorized refuge boundary, would I ever be forced to sell? 

    No. All habitat restoration and conservation by our agency would be on a voluntary basis, involving willing buyers and willing sellers only. The authorized boundary is an administrative boundary that gives our agency the ability to offer conservation options to landowners who wish to implement long-term natural resource stewardship on their property within that boundary. The actual refuge boundary would ultimately conform to specific land tracts purchased from willing sellers. Ultimately, the refuge may be a patchwork or checkerboard pattern of habitats comprising of land parcels acquired from willing sellers within the authorized boundary. It is not the intent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire lands already in public ownership or land that is currently connected to municipal sewer and water. 

    If I own land within the authorized refuge boundary, will my property ever be condemned? 

    No. It is our policy not to condemn land through the use of eminent domain or any other method. It is U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy to only acquire land from willing sellers. 

    Will my rights as a property owner be infringed as a result of refuge growth? 

    No. If lands are developed into a refuge area, we will have no more authority over private land adjacent to the boundaries of the refuge than any other landowner. Landowners within the planning units would retain all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of private land ownership, including the right of access, control of trespass, right to sell and payment of taxes. 

    Can the refuge flood your land if your neighbor decides to sell to us? 

    No. It is our policy not to restrict the flow of waters from other lands, even if that flow passes through our lands. If we inadvertently create a water-related problem for any private landowner such as flooding, soil saturation, increase in water table height, etc. from our management, we will correct the problem at our expense. We must comply with all federal and state regulations regarding development, some of which are specifically intended to ensure that the actions of one landowner do not adversely affect another. To prevent problems, we perform site-level studies and detailed planning before we undertake any management activity affecting drainage of private land. We will not cause any artificial increase of the natural level, width or flow of waters without ensuring that the impact would be limited to lands in which we have acquired an appropriate realty interest from a willing seller through fee title ownership, flowage easement, cooperative agreement and the like.  

    What can a landowner do with their land if it is within a priority area? 

    Planning units carry no land use restrictions, so landowners can care for, use and manage their land as they see fit. We will work with landowners in the area if they are interested in conservation efforts on their land, and will only purchase land or easements from willing sellers. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, exists to help individuals and organizations improve and protect wildlife habitat on non-federal land. 

    How can a landowner remove their land from the authorized boundary? 

    Since the authorized boundary is an administrative boundary that carries no legal weight on private property rights, there is no need to remove one’s land from it. Landowners within the authorized boundary retain all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of private land ownership, including the right of access, control of trespass, right to sell and payment of taxes. 

    Will activities conducted on the refuge and conservation area land affect adjacent properties? 

    No. Land access, land use, water management, hunting, fishing and general use is limited to the land that we purchase. We do not conduct or promote activities that cross over to adjacent properties without the full permission of the adjacent landowner.  

    Who is responsible for controlling plants that are considered noxious weeds by states on refuge property? 

    As a good neighbor, we will actively manage properties by utilizing a variety of habitat management techniques like prescribed fire, mowing and herbicide applications. The agency's policy is to control listed plants. Efforts to control noxious weeds are ongoing at many refuges across the country. Habitat restorations can take time and prairies can sometimes appear weedy, but after a few years of growth native plantings usually outcompete with any invasive plants. 

  • Land Acquisition

    What authorities does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service use to acquire land? 

    The following acts, or federal laws, have been enacted to govern the conditions by which Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area has been conceived and will be administered: the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 and the Emergency Wetlands Conservation Act of 1986. Section 304 of the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-645) specifically states, "The Secretary is authorized to purchase wetlands or interests in wetlands, which are not acquired under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929." 

    We are directed by the U.S. Congress to conserve, protect and restore migratory birds, threatened and endangered species and interjurisdictional fish. These are collectively referred to as Federal Trust Resources. A system of national wildlife refuges, beginning in 1903, exists today because of this national public interest. 

    Does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intend to acquire all the property within the focal areas? 

    No. The refuge and conservation area is limited to acquire interest within the authorized refuge boundary up to 12,716 acres. Since we work with willing sellers, it is unknown how much land or how many easements we will eventually buy within the planning units that make up the refuge and conservation area. It is our desire to work with landowners to promote a positive, sustainable relationship of people with the land that helps us achieve our mission of “working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.” In addition to any land purchased from willing sellers, we hope to assist where appropriate in the continued protection, restoration and improvement of habitat on private land.  

    How will the agency acquire land for the refuge and conservation area? 

    We have a longstanding policy to only acquire land from people interested in selling to us. Participation in the project is completely voluntary. We will acquire land from interested landowners within the focal areas who wish to sell or place easements on their land for the conservation of wildlife. If a landowner is interested, we offer landowners fair market value for their property based on a professionally prepared appraisal. Landowners can refuse an offer they do not like.  

    Where does funding come from to purchase land or easements in the refuge and conservation area? 

    Funding will come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund established through federal law to acquire land or easements from interested landowners. The Land and Water Conservation Fund receives money from the sale of products on federal land, such as offshore oil and gas leases, proceeds from the disposal of surplus federal property and the federal tax on motor boat fuels. The Migratory Bird Conservation Fund may be used in the future and funding is derived from the sale of federal duck stamps. Additional funding may become available as grants and private donations present themselves.  

    What is the ‘willing buyer willing seller’ policy? 

    For properties that fall within the authorized boundary, interested landowners can sell all or part of their property to us to become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. However, just because a property falls within the authorized boundary for the refuge, doesn’t mean that we will be interested in acquiring it. It depends on many factors, because we have to make sure each purchase meets the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the intent of the refuge. These transactions must benefit fish, wildlife and public use of these lands.  

    Purchases are just like any other realty transaction between two individuals. We offer fair market value for your property based on a professionally prepared appraisal and no sale is complete until the landowner agrees to the price and terms. We respect your personal right to sell your property to whomever you wish and if you wish to work with us, your privacy will be maintained throughout that process. Like selling your home to any potential buyer, you have full right to refuse any purchase offer you do not like.  

    Landowners choosing not to sell retain all the rights, privileges and obligations of land ownership. Our management activities, such as bottomland forest restoration, moist soil management, wetland enhancement, will be carried out in a manner so as not to negatively impact private property. No one will be forced into willing seller status. 

    Can the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service help private landowners protect and conserve wildlife on their own land? 

    Yes. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides assistance for work on private land. 

    What is the land acquisition policy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? 

    We acquire lands and interests in lands consistent with legislation or other Congressional guidelines and federal executive orders, for the conservation of fish and wildlife and to provide wildlife-oriented public use for educational and recreational purposes. Written offers to willing sellers are based on professional appraisals using recent sales of comparable properties in the area.  

    Are there ways the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can acquire an interest in land without buying it outright? 

    Yes. One way is by purchasing an easement from the landowner. A conservation easement involves the acquisition of certain rights that can help achieve fish and wildlife habitat objectives. For instance, encouraging practices like delaying the haying of fields until ground nesting birds have left the nest. Easements become part of the title to the property and are usually permanent. If a landowner sells the property, the easement continues as part of the title. Easements with permanent protection are considered toward the refuge acreage cap of 12,716 acres. There are other ways to work together on private land without our agency buying your land outright. See the question, “Can the agency manage land for wildlife conservation without owning the land” for more information.  

  • Economic Considerations

    How will the area’s tax base or individual property values be affected? 

    Land where an easement has been purchased from an interested landowner remains in private ownership and on the tax rolls. The landowner pays the property taxes and assessments. If we acquire a piece of land from an interested landowner, the Refuge Revenue Sharing Act of June 15, 1935, as amended, provides for annual payments to counties based on the value of land appraised at its highest and best use. Annual payments in Illinois are calculated at 3/4 of 1 percent of the appraised, not assessed, value. Lands are reappraised approximately every 5 years to reflect current market values. Studies have shown that the value of properties near conservation lands tend to remain the same or increase. 

    The Refuge Revenue Sharing Act provides for annual payments to counties or the lowest unit of government that collects and distributes taxes based on acreage and value of national wildlife refuge lands located within the county. Funding for these payments, come from two sources:  

    • Net receipts from the sale of products from National Wildlife Refuge System lands - oil and gas leases, timber sales, grazing fees, etc. 
    • Annual Congressional appropriations 

    The act directs the counties or lowest unit of government that collects and distributes taxes to distribute refuge revenue sharing payments in the same proportion as it would for tax monies received. After payment is issued to the county they are responsible for allocating the payment to local resources as they deem appropriate.   

    What are some of the benefits of living close to federally-protected land in the National Wildlife Refuge System? 

    Several benefits of living close to a refuge have been shown: 

    • National wildlife refuges pumped $3.2 billion into the economy, supported more than 41,000 jobs and produced $1.1 billion in job income for local communities in 2017, according to an economic analysis (USFWS Division of Economics, Banking on Nature, 2017). 
    • Beyond economic impacts from recreational visits, refuges provide benefits to the local agricultural industry by serving as a home to pollinators.  
    • Refuges preserve scenic views and other “natural amenity” benefits associated with open spaces. 
    • Recreational opportunities nearby lead to more physical activity and improved health and quality of life. 

    Is land within the authorization boundary at risk of potential for land devaluation? 

    Data from other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service projects reveal that during the course of acquiring land for developing refuges, the value of land within project boundaries, as well as lands adjacent to refuge boundaries, tends to increase over time. This is due in part to the increased demand created by other, outdoor oriented buyers interested in owning lands adjacent to a national wildlife refuge because of their enhanced recreational value. 

    How can the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area contribute to ecotourism? 

    Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the wellbeing of the local people and involves interpretation and education. As the refuge and conservation area grows, it will be a new natural area in the region that provides activities for the public like birding, hiking and nature photography. Visitors will need services and supplies while they are in the area that could be provided by local businesses and private individuals. 

    How could schools in the area benefit from the refuge and conservation area? 

    Many units of the National Wildlife Refuge System have an environmental interpretation and education program. As the refuge and conservation area grows in size and staff, our agency may work with local schools and communities to create an environmental education program. In addition, we may give presentations at schools or community events.