Will County is home to 95 threatened and endangered species that are relying on human help to survive into the coming years and decades.
This summer, some of these species will be highlighted by the Forest Preserve District as part of a slate of programs focused on animals and plants in population decline.
The biggest part of this effort will be the national touring “Endangered Species Quilt Exhibition,” which runs from June 19-July 25 at four Forest Preserve visitor centers. The exhibition features 24-inch-by-24-inch quilts depicting endangered, threatened and vulnerable species from around the world. Each visitor center will host 45 or 46 of the 182-quilt collection.
Other programs include:
- "Endangered in Illinois," an online Zoom webinar on Thursday, June 10.
- "Endangered Species Quest” from Saturday, June 19, to Sunday, July 25, at Plum Creek Nature Center.
- "Your Backyard Endangered Species," a Zoom webinar on Wednesday, June 16.
- "Turtle-y Awesome Turtles," an online Zoom webinar on Thursday, June 24 that focuses on the state-endangered Blanding’s turtles.
"Turtle Tuesday" programs and one "Turtle Thursday" program in June and July at Isle a la Cache Museum. This series allows visitors to see one of the Forest Preserve’s state-endangered Blanding’s turtle up close. For dates and times, visit the Event Calendar.
Suzy Lyttle, a program coordinator for the Forest Preserve District, said it's likely that some people only think of exotic creatures when they hear the phrase endangered species.
“Usually, images of pandas, tigers, and elephants come to mind,” she said. “While those are so important, we also have species right in our own state that we should know about. These are animals in every category. Plus, there is a huge list of plants that are endangered in Illinois. Plants are the base of the ecosystem. Many times, they have host species that rely on them. The Karner blue butterfly's reliance on wild lupine is just one example."
The 114 threatened and 372 endangered species in Illinois are divided into seven categories: amphibians, birds, fishes, invertebrates, mammals, plants and reptiles. All species are listed online by county or by category. The list must be revised every five years, and the most recent revisions were in 2020.
The Illinois Endangered Species Act, which was established in 1972, and the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board, are in place, "... to protect those species of plants and animals native to Illinois which are in danger of being lost from the wild in the state," according to an article on the 40th anniversary of the act.
The Will County species range from the threatened redveined prairie leafhopper to the endangered yellow-headed blackbird when listed alphabetically by their Latin names. Some species are ones that people may have heard of or they can picture. Franklin’s ground squirrel or the Northern long-eared bat, for instance, might be familiar. Others, however, have obscure names and may not be well known.
For example, a snuffbox is a mussel that lives in swift-water creeks. This smallish mussel is in peril because of pollution as well as dams that disrupt the natural flow of water, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet.
The common gallinule – a name not as well known as robin, cardinal or even heron – is a migratory bird that summers in Illinois. It is endangered because of a loss of wetland habitat, the IDNR's website states.
And, while many people have heard of the Hine's emerald dragonfly, which can only live in the type of dolomite prairie found at the Forest Preserve's Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve, there also is a hedge hyssop that requires globally rare dolomite prairie to survive as well.
Of the 95 threatened and endangered species that are listed for Will County, 59 are endangered including: rusty patched bumble bee, lady slipper, shore St. John's wort, northern harrier, butternut, running pine, hairy umbrella-wort, black-crowned night heron, sheepnose, river cooter and lakeside daisy.
Among the 36 threatened species are: Kirtland's snake, queen-of-the-prairie, topminnow, four-toed salamander, slender sandwort, northern long-eared myotis, mudpuppy, osprey, tubercled orchid, monkeyface, Cerulean warbler, ornate box turtle and marsh speedwell.
Restoration and preservation
The Forest Preserve District is restoring the habitats that will help these threatened and endangered species survive. Allowing species to decline or go extinct could mean more struggle for all remaining plants and animals.
The mission is to preserve what is good and restore what needs to be better. The Forest Preserve is saving wetlands, savannas, prairies, grasslands and forests. And it is converting farmland back to its natural state; conducting prescribed burns to keep invasive species at bay; rerouting farm tiles, ditches and streams to their natural flow; and reseeding areas with native species.
Through these and other measures, the District will continue to work toward giving these wild and wonderful species that are in jeopardy a chance for survival.
And there are things you can do too, the Forest Preserve's Lyttle said.
“You can learn what plants and animals are endangered, she said. “Then the next step is to work together to do something. One of the easiest things to do is planting native plants in your yard. By creating a natural native space, you will encourage new insects that will encourage more birds and the chain continues.”
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website, protecting habitat and working together to prevent the extinction of individual species benefits all species.
"All living things are part of a complex, often delicately balanced network called the biosphere, which is comprised of ecosystems," the website states. "No one knows how the extinction of organisms will affect the other organisms in the ecosystem, but the removal of a single species can set off a chain reaction that can have deleterious effects for the system as a whole."
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