In one of his last actions before announcing he was leaving the Department of the Interior, Secretary Ken Salazar in January heralded the establishment of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge on the Illinois–Wisconsin border northwest of Chicago.

Hackmatack is the 561st national wildlife refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System and the 10th refuge established during Salazar’s four–year tenure as Secretary.

The refuge was formally established with the acquisition of a 12–acre habitat conservation easement donation from Openlands, a Chicago–based organization dedicated to the protection of the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region.

Restoration of wetlands, prairie and oak savanna at Hackmatack Refuge will offer environmental education and conservation opportunities for the estimate d 3.5 million people who live within 30 miles of it.

“Thanks to the vision of conservation leaders and organizations throughout the greater Chicago metropolitan area, Hackmatack will provide a way to connect children, families and all urban and suburban residents to nature and wildlife,” said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

The refuge will benefit a variety of wildlife and plants and their habitats. The refuge acquisition boundaries were formulated based on the soils, historic vegetation, watersheds, existing conservation areas, habitat requirements of desired wildlife species, public roads and comments received from the public. The refuge will link and expand existing conservation areas to benefit migratory birds, endangered species, and provide wildlife–dependent recreational opportunities.

Land conservation methods for four core areas, encompassing up to 11,200 acres in total, will include purchase from willing sellers, conservation easements, public–private initiatives and partnerships aimed at creating contiguous natural habitat. Conservation corridors that connect the core areas will be established primarily through use of partnership efforts and to a lesser degree through willing–seller purchase.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius had words of praise for Openlands, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Friends of Hackmatack and the wider Hackmatack Planning Partnership.

“This truly collaborative effort underscores our commitment to pulling in the best science together with the best community support,” Melius said. “Taken together, these components create a project far greater than the sum of its parts.”

Habitat for 109 Species

Hackmatack Refuge will provide habitat for 109 species of conservation concern, some of them federal and state threatened and endangered species. The species include 49 birds, five fishes, five mussels, one amphibian, two reptiles and 47 plants.

Salazar made the Hackmatack Refuge announcement at a plank–laying ceremony at Pelican Island Refuge in Florida. The ceremony recognized the six new refuges established in 2012, including Swan Valley Conservation Area in Montana, which had not been announced previously.

That conservation area, which helps connect the Canadian Rockies with the central Rockies of Idaho and Wyoming, was established with an 80–acre conservation easement donation from The Nature Conservancy. Southwest of Glacier National Park, the conservation area offers the potential protection of 10,000 acres via easements and up to 1,000 acres in fee–title land adjacent to Swan River National Wildlife Refuge.

The conservation area will protect one of the last low–elevation, coniferous forest ecosystems in western Montana that remains undeveloped. The Swan Valley provides habitat for several trust species, including grizzly bear, gray wolf, wolverine, American marten and Canada lynx; migratory birds, such as harlequin duck, black tern and peregrine falcon; and native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.

The plank–laying ceremony also celebrated the 2012 renaming of Noxubee Refuge in honor of the late Sam Hamilton. Hamilton, a 30–plus–year veteran of the Service, was Director from September 2009 to February 2010. The northern Mississippi refuge is now Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.