Illinois' wetlands protect us
from flooding; provide a critical habitat for many species of fish,
birds and other wildlife; and support outdoor recreation activities
such as hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing. Wildlife recreation
accounts for more than 20,000 jobs, more than $100 million in tax
revenue and $1.6 billion in economic activity, according to a 1996
Illinois Department of Natural Resources study.
Now these fragile wetlands need
our help to protect them. Approximately 90 percent of Illinois'
original wetlands have been lost to make way for agriculture and
development. There is pressure to develop those wetlands that
remain, particularly in fast-growing parts of our state.
Historically, we have depended on the federal government to protect
the wetlands we have left, but we can't count on them anymore to
protect all of these areas.
The Illinois Department of
Natural Resources estimates that as much as 60 percent of our
remaining wetlands have lost all federal protection, following a
January 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said wetlands are not
protected unless they are connected to navigable waters. The court
held that protecting wetlands that aren't connected to waters that
cross state lines is the business of state and local government, not
Because Illinois has no wetland
protection program of its own, this loss of federal protection
directly threatens our communities and results in increased
flooding, water pollution, loss of recreational opportunities and
wildlife habitat destruction. Three counties -- Lake, DuPage and
Kane -- have passed local ordinances protecting wetlands and Cook
and McHenry counties are considering doing so, but there are no
protections planned or in place in the other 97 Illinois counties.
That means the isolated marsh
in your community that soaks up a heavy rainfall, provides a home
for wildlife or filters your drinking water may now have no
protection from the bulldozers.
[to top of second
column in this article]
A proposal in front of the
legislature would change that. The Illinois House has already
approved a proposal to establish state protections for those
wetlands now unprotected by the federal government. The state Senate
will review the proposal in January.
The proposal would establish a
wetland protection program that works for Illinois. It would allow
counties that are protecting their own wetlands successfully (Lake,
Kane and DuPage) to continue doing so. It guarantees that permits
for approved activities, such as development that affects wetlands,
would be issued promptly, and it contains reasonable exemptions for
all agricultural activities. The state would charge a reasonable fee
to developers and others who apply for wetland permits, so there
would be no added cost to taxpayers.
is a common-sense proposal to plug a major loophole that threatens
our families and our communities by making us more vulnerable to
flooding and pollution.
Terry Link and
Rep. Karen May]
The authors of this commentary
are state Sen. Terry Link, D-District 30, and state Rep. Karen May,
D-District 58. Link can be reached at (847) 735-8181, in Lake Bluff.
May can be reached at (847) 831-5858, in Highland Park.
Copyright 2003 by the Illinois
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