More Funding Needed for Illinois Natural Areas
A new report estimates that more than $3B is needed over the next five years.
My job takes me to all corners of the state, from bustling Chicago neighborhoods to the tranquil forests of southern Illinois. Whether I’m heading north on I-94 or driving south on I-88, I always notice the parks, restored prairies, and forest preserves where Illinoisans have worked so hard to protect and restore a little bit of green to their worlds. And I can tell you this—we don’t have nearly enough.
A new report, the Illinois Assessment of Parks and Land Conservation Funding Needs and Economic Benefits, estimates that forest preserve, conservation, and park districts will need more than $3 billion in funding over the next five years to meet land acquisition and capital needs. The report, produced by The Trust for Public Land, the Illinois Association of Park Districts, and The Nature Conservancy, also found that there is community support for projects that protect valuable natural areas.
We cannot wait to make these investments in our state’s natural treasures. The fact is that our natural areas provide a host of benefits that all Illinoisans need to not only survive—but thrive. Our prairies, forests, and wetlands filter the fresh water we drink, ensuring that it is free from pollutants and sediment. The plants that thrive in these places, from vibrant purple coneflower to majestic oak trees, store the carbon that is accelerating climate change, while also cooling the air around us. In addition to keeping our air and water clean, these places improve our quality of life by giving us and our children opportunities to get outside and enjoy nature. Investing in land and water conservation will protect Illinois’ quality of life for future generations, ensuring that our children and grandchildren can enjoy our land, water, and natural beauty the way we do.
With the current environmental challenges we are facing, we need our natural areas now more than ever before. The threats from climate change are mounting—the last five years have been the hottest on record, which intensified the trends of sea level rise, coral bleaching, and record hurricanes. The Nature Conservancy’s research shows that restoration and management of forests, grasslands, and wetlands can deliver up to 37 percent of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep global temperature increases under 2 degrees. And those benefits don’t even factor in the habitat these places provide for native wildlife, or the thriving outdoor recreation economy they support, which generates $25.8 billion each year and sustains 200,000 jobs across our state. (In 2017 alone, park visitors spent an estimated $13.8 million and generated $20.3 million in economic output in Illinois.)
The good news is that people across the state recognize the need to protect nature. Separate research conducted by The Nature Conservancy shows that initial support for a proposal to protect open space with $600 M over five years has majority support of 56 percent. Additionally, nearly three in five believe the state should be spending more on protecting land, water, and wildlife, with two-thirds of respondents willing to pay $40 per year to make that a reality and three-quarters willing at $10 per year.
The need is there, the public demand is there—now it’s time for us to act. With the new budget, lawmakers have already taken many positive steps forward. We have documented the need and the support for action. Now the General Assembly can continue this trend and provide the funding that will grow and protect our natural areas today and for generations to come all across the Prairie State.