In the closing days of August, TWI’s Senior Environmental Engineer Jill Kostel and Field Outreach Specialist Jean McGuire showcased Smart Wetlands at the Illinois Farm Progress Show. It’s the nation’s largest outdoor farm show, with 90 acres of exhibits, 300 acres of field demonstrations, and more than 600 exhibitors—from tractor manufacturers to seed purveyors to ag-tech startups. The three-day show drew more than 100,000 attendees to Decatur from around the world to learn about the latest in farming.
For the past several years, the Wetlands Initiative has been an active partner in a new collaboration of conservation groups called the Middle Illinois River Conservation Collaborative (MIRCC). Earlier this summer, that partnership led to a grant to Ducks Unlimited (DU) from the federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) program that will support infrastructure improvements at TWI’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, among other benefits for Illinois River Valley wetland conservation sites.
This summer, TWI’s biggest hunt for biodiversity didn’t take place in a prairie, a pond, or a seep: We had our eyes firmly on the porch lights, where a dizzying number of moths and nocturnal insects hide in plain sight, waiting to be discovered. Most people think of moths as little more than clothes-eating pests but these winged insects are gorgeous pollinators, often overlooked in favor of their daytime counterparts.
The winter season has been far from slow and quiet for the Wetlands Initiative’s restoration projects at the U.S. Forest Service’s Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. At this 30-square-mile former site of the Joliet Army Arsenal in Will County, Illinois, TWI recently completed our largest amount of native seeding ever. Working closely with the Forest Service and another critical restoration partner, the National Forest Foundation, we seeded 574 new acres that are going into restoration with 183 native prairie and wetland plant species—a total of 9,817 pounds of seed planted!
The Wetlands Initiative had a big presence at Wild Things 2019—from the breakout sessions to the poster presentation. Grants Manager and Development Associate Vera Leopold was involved in two different sessions and, with Ecologist Anna Braum and Development and Communications Assistant Phoebe Thatcher, also exhibited a richly detailed poster on TWI’s 2018 BioBlitz at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge. Their poster showcased all the hard work that went into planning and executing this successful event, and it provided inspiration for other environmental nonprofits planning their own BioBlitz in the future.
Do any of the following sound like a grand day out to you in Chicago’s Calumet region?
Beginner-friendly birding on May 25 to scope out scaups, sandpipers, and stilts along the shores of a hemi-marsh restoration-in-progress (with its own iNaturalist hotspot), followed by some hands-on fun planting native sedges that will help increase bird habitat.
A sunset walk on July 26 through a burgeoning oak savanna with TWI’s Trevor Edmonson, stopping along the way to identify members of a cryptic clade: moths!
A celebratory hunt on August 4 for the botanical Bigfoot of Chicago—a minuscule mushroom-dependent flower known as Thismia americana—followed by lunch, games, and storytelling by local luminaries.
If any of these activities catch your fancy, great news: These events and more are coming to Indian Ridge Marsh in 2019.
On August 3 and 4, participants in the Wetlands Initiative’s second-ever Dixon Refuge BioBlitz made biodiversity history by finding and identifying 883 species of living things over two days—far exceeding the final tally of 675 species from our first BioBlitz in 2015. From eastern red bats and raspberry pyrausta moths to indigo milk cap fungus and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, the 2018 BioBlitz was a vibrant and immersive nature experience to remember.
TWI recently built our third and largest constructed wetland to date on farmland in east-central Illinois. This past August, the Wetlands Initiative held its 2018 Construction and Conservation Expo at Fulton Farms in the town of Cullom, IL. The purpose of this event—part of TWI’s Growing Wetlands for Clean Water project—was to showcase the installation and capabilities of a TWI-designed wetland to local farmers. As the first-ever TWI constructed wetland in Livingston County, it will help reduce nitrogen and phosphorous entering the Vermilion Headwaters Watershed.
As summer winds down, big seasonal changes are taking place at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Squirrels and muskrats are stocking up on winter food, trees are dropping their leaves to save energy for the cold weather ahead, and many of the Wetlands Initiative’s Midewin staff are headed back to school.
A parcel of land recently added to the Wetlands Initiative’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge now has a new name and, by this summer, will have many new amenities for the public. Sandy Hollow will feature a robust trail system leading through its varied habitats, informational signage, and a special open-sided pavilion with a sweeping prairie vista. Come and explore this unique new area of the Refuge any time after June 15, 2018, when it officially opens to the public!
This past February, TWI Senior Ecologist Dr. Gary Sullivan was a presenter at the annual Wetland Science Conference organized by the Wisconsin Wetlands Association. He was invited to present because his 15 years here at the Wetlands Initiative have given him an unparalleled perspective on the conference’s 2018 theme: restoring wetlands to mitigate and withstand the effects of climate change.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Joliet, Illinois, is undeniably huge. Clocking in at 20,283 acres (more than 31 square miles!), this U.S. Forest Service site is the largest prairie restoration east of the Mississippi. But there’s more going on here than just bringing back the site’s native prairie–wetland ecosystems. Archaeologists, historians, and others are also hard at work at Midewin, exploring the powerful influences both natural and human that have shaped the site over thousands of years.
The striking black-and-orange monarch butterfly, once a common sight flitting through American backyards, has sharply declined in numbers in recent years. With a new two-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, the Wetlands Initiative will give this charismatic insect a helping hand in Illinois through habitat restoration at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and a special seed production effort at both Midewin and our Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.
With this summer’s Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” officially declared its largest ever, solutions to nutrient runoff are urgently needed in the Midwest. The Wetlands Initiative has been advancing the use of one such solution in the form of small constructed wetlands on farms designed to naturally remove the excess nutrients leaving through tile drainage. The first two farm-based wetlands have been built on properties in Bureau County, Illinois, and TWI is building new partnerships to get the word out on these wetlands’ ability to improve water quality.
Two hours southwest of Chicago, the Wetlands Initiative’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge is a year-round attraction. There’s no month when our flagship restoration site doesn’t boast some seasonal feature nature lovers can enjoy. Spring and fall play host to remarkable migrations, while winter brings a fresh, alien landscape that’s quiet and peaceful. Summer, however, is unmatched in engaging opportunities that bring the site to life for visitors.
Spring is the season for planting plugs (seedlings), an essential activity during the early years of a restoration to reintroduce native species. This year the Wetlands Initiative had three projects at this early stage of restoration, and lots of volunteer help was needed to get all the plugs in the ground. Over the course of three volunteer days in early June—one at each of the projects—more than 90 volunteers helped TWI plant almost 8,000 plugs by hand.
Over the years of restoration at our Dixon Waterfowl Refuge in north-central Illinois, you haven’t heard much from us about shrubs and trees. Until now, that is. The 283-acre Hickory Hollow tract on the southeast side of the Refuge, acquired in December 2014, is the first area at the site to require extensive planting of native shrubs and trees as part of its restoration. More than 1,000 have so far been planted in this new upland area of the Refuge.
There’s nothing like a “before and after” to show the transformative results of a period of hard work. This past September, with support from Ecolab and the Grand Victoria Foundation, TWI was able to capture just such a snapshot by collecting post-restoration monitoring data at our Lobelia Meadows site at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Water is at the heart of what we do as an organization; “wet” is even in our name! So naturally, the Wetlands Initiative had a strong showing at the biennial Illinois Water Conference in Champaign this fall. On October 27, TWI’s farm-based wetlands project in north-central Illinois and our new restoration work in Chicago’s Calumet region were featured in back-to-back conference sessions.
This past summer, 12 organizations came together in the name of water quality during construction of the second farm-based wetland in Bureau County, Illinois. As part of the Wetlands Initiative’s “Growing Wetlands for Clean Water” project, the Illinois chapter of the Land Improvement Contractors of America (ILICA) built the 4.8-acre wetland designed for nutrient removal on Bonucci Farms between August 29 and September 1.