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Wetlands preservation     Send a link to a friend

A chance to save Illinois' wetlands at risk

By state Sen. Terry Link and state Rep. Karen May

[JAN. 6, 2004]  When the Illinois State Senate reconvenes on Jan. 14 legislators will have a chance to protect clean water and wildlife and provide flood control as they consider a proposal to protect the state's wetlands.

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 Washington.

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.


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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.

This 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.

[Sen. 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 Editorial Forum.

The Illinois Editorial Forum is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization that provides the media with the views of state experts on major public issues in order to stimulate informed discussion. Letters should be sent to Illinois Editorial Forum, P.O. Box 82, Springfield, IL 62705-0082.

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