TWI wades into Illinois River Conference

The Wetlands Initiative had a role in sessions covering both conservation and outreach at this year’s Illinois River Conference in Peoria on October 27–29. 

The biennial Governor’s Conference on the Management of the Illinois River System, begun in 1987, focuses on bringing together citizens, nonprofits, researchers, and agencies committed to the protection and restoration of the Illinois River to discuss solutions to river issues. With the Illinois River Watershed being TWI’s current project focus, our enthusiastic participation is not surprising!

TWI senior ecologist Gary Sullivan presents on the results of the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge's first-ever BioBlitz at the Fellowship of the Stream workshop.

TWI’s involvement began with the Fellowship of the Stream on October 27. This new workshop provided an overview of various citizen science and river education programs and opportunities for educators. Gary Sullivan, TWI senior ecologist, presented during the “lightning round” on the results and lessons learned from our first-ever BioBlitz held in June at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge. In addition to showing colorful photos of some of the 675 species found during the BioBlitz, Gary discussed how TWI engaged more than 30 expert scientists and 50 members of the public to help survey the Refuge’s biodiversity over an exciting and action-packed weekend.

The 2015 conference theme was “A Watershed Partnership,” and many sessions emphasized the collaborations needed to enact solutions to watershed problems. That same afternoon, Gary and TWI’s executive director, Paul Botts, participated in the Watershed Partners Café, facilitated by the Middle Illinois River Conservation Collaborative (MIRCC).

TWI Executive Director Paul Botts participates in brainstorming about the Illinois River system during the Watershed Partners Cafe.

MIRCC is a group of local, regional, and national conservation entities seeking to protect and restore the lands and waters within the Illinois River ecosystem. TWI helped establish this new partnership, which also includes Ducks Unlimited, National Audubon Society–Chicago Region, Prairie Rivers Network, The Nature Conservancy, and others.

The Watershed Partners Café brought together a “brain trust of practitioners,” including representatives from conservation groups, state and federal agencies, and city and regional governments to share updates on their new projects along the Illinois River. Paul gave an overview of the latest news about the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, covering TWI’s recent strategic decisions about the site, its historic Ramsar designation, the addition of the new Hickory Hollow tract, and the Refuge’s expanding public access. Networking and informal discussion of the Illinois River’s history and future challenges and opportunities capped off the café event.

These dialogues were just the beginning in a flow of ideas that continued throughout the three-day conference. TWI staff look forward to building on our new connections and bringing even bigger restoration news to the next conference!