At the forefront of conservation in Illinois is The Nature Conservancy’s State Director, Leslee Spraggins. Freshwater and grassland resources are among her priorities as she leads staff working across the state from floodplains to grasslands. Joining the state office in 2007, Leslee has quickly made an impact on locally based programs that often serve as national and international conservation models.
A steward of Midwest landscapes for the bulk of her career, Leslee previously served as the Conservancy’s Arkansas Big Woods Project Manager. More recently, she helped develop conservation programs for the Mississippi River as the Conservancy’s state director in Iowa. Those experiences have carried through to Illinois, where she continues to work in the basin and alongside the Illinois River at Emiquon, the largest wetland restoration of its kind outside of the Florida Everglades. With freshwater equaling just one percent of all water on Earth, Leslee is working to protect resources of local importance and also collaborate across state and country borders to manage entire systems.
Leslee talks about the ways people can work with nature to adapt to repurposed landscapes and a changing climate. In the agricultural area of central Illinois, for example, the Conservancy’s demonstration farm is testing the ability of wetlands to filter water run-off from crops. The goal is for water to carry fewer nutrients with it on its way into the Gulf of Mexico, where a high level of nutrients has caused hypoxia, or dead zones. In addition, the Lake Michigan shoreline at the top of the state is a window to the entire Great Lakes system. Land there provides key habitat for migrating birds and countless plant and animal species. At places like Kankakee Sands and Indian Boundary Prairie, Leslee’s team is working to preserve remaining native habitat and restore additional land alongside the growing urban area of Chicago.
In Illinois, where just one tenth of one percent of the state’s native grasslands remain, Leslee is vigilant about preserving what we do have in places like Nachusa Grasslands, and restoring what can be recovered with the support of partner organizations and members. In all, she is driving conservation programs that benefit people and nature in Illinois and beyond.