Thursday, November 18, 2004

Pitch for Book, Creating Habitats and Homes for Illinois Wildlife

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Are you nagged by the feeling you should’ve done some holiday gift shopping already? Here’s a natural solution to ease some of your discomfort. It’s a book published by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the University of Illinois called Creating Habitats and Homes for Illinois Wildlife.

Now if the title of this book conjures up images of a how-to manual for building birdhouses, please listen, because that’s not what it’s about. The book does contain extensive practical advice, but it’s advice about creating landscapes that are hospitable to wild creatures.

Before I talk about the practical aspects of the book, though, I want to emphasize that it contains other elements that will make it attractive to folks who have no immediate plans to makeover their property.

Chief among these are the many first class photographs that call to mind the plants, animals, and landscapes we Illinoisians have to protect and restore. These include striking images of common creatures—red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, white-tailed deer and the like. Such images are complemented by equally artful depictions of uncommon subjects: a stunning shot of fungi on a rotting log; a short eared owl arrested in flight, its intense gaze fixed on the viewer; a tight shot of a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar, its lurid green and yellow skin and oversized false eyes reminiscent of a creature out of science fiction.

In addition to its beautiful photographs, Creating Homes and Habitats provides readers with important information for understanding wildlife issues. For example, one chapter provides historical perspective, explaining how agriculture and other development over the past two-hundred years has left Illinois forty-ninth among the states in the amount of intact natural areas remaining. Another chapter includes an overview of ecological principles. This helps people understand why it makes sense to do things one way or another on their own land, and also helps citizens participate in matters of how to manage land held by other private entities, and public policy.

The practical chapters of Creating Homes and Habitat are divided according to habitat types: there is a chapter on grasslands including prairies, a chapter on woodlands, a chapter on wetlands and other aquatic habitat, and a chapter on agricultural areas.

More to the point for most people, who live in urban or suburban settings, this book provides practical direction for managing backyards and other small tracts for wildlife. As the authors point out, while many of our individual yards are not large, their collective value is quite significant; residential areas cover 2.5% of the state.

When our yards are landscaped with wildlife in mind they serve to maintain healthy populations of the resident species we enjoy seeing—toads, garter snakes, cardinals and cottontails—and they provide a crucial network of stopovers for migratory birds in the spring and fall.

The book, Creating Homes and Habitats for Illinois Wildlife can help you or someone on your gift list provide and important boost for wildlife in our state.