Thursday, January 15, 2009

Resolving to enjoy, conserve Illinois rivers in 2009

Resolving to enjoy, conserve Illinois rivers in 2009

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I have a short list of perennial New Year’s resolutions, which always begins with my determination to fish more than I did in the previous year. As you might imagine, this one doesn’t get me much immediate respect at home, but I think it immensely important for people to pursue the connectedness that outdoor recreation provides. I never feel more fully myself than when I’m hip-deep in flowing water with a fishing rod in my hand. Without such moments of connectedness, I think people are liable to forget that they are truly part of the natural world, and lose sight of the need to protect and restore it.

In order to maintain fishing opportunities for myself and for others, I also resolve yearly to work for the benefit of Illinois waterways. [Photo: A bucket and an aquarium net are all the equipment needed to enjoy the shallows of the Middle Fork River at Kickapoo State Park.] This effort begins at home, with the steps my family and I take to conserve water and reduce pollution. But it goes beyond that, too, since no amount of individual effort can bring about change on a scale as large as the watershed of the Mississippi River.

To catch up on prospects for stream conservation in 2009, I checked in recently with Glynnis Collins, who is executive director of Prairie Rivers Network, the Champaign-based, statewide affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, which aims “to protect Illinois’ rivers for people, fish, and wildlife.”

Collins explained with great enthusiasm that Prairie Rivers is currently working to articulate a comprehensive vision for healthy Illinois rivers over the long term, an answer to the question, “What do we want to see 30 years from now?” To do this the group will convene scientists who work on all aspects of river research and gather their input on the state of streams now, and the potential for their improvement in the years to come. Prairie Rivers will then work with policy experts to assign priorities and develop strategies for making those potential improvements real. Collins noted that the Illinois River was once the most productive fishery in the nation, and asserted that the road to reclaiming the many benefits our waterways can provide--for humans and wildlife--begins with envisioning them in a healthy state.

Collins noted that while that vision is in its early stages, in the end it will likely include some features that are already familiar to conservation-minded people: natural corridors to provide a buffer between streams and agriculture or other development, streams that are once again connected to their floodplains, and stream flows that are protected from over exploitation.

Indeed, Prairie Rivers already has a goal for 2009 of working to make sure that Illinois adopts a framework for dealing with conflicts among water users that accounts for the needs of aquatic life in addition to the accommodation of other uses.

This year Prairie Rivers Network will continue also to provide citizens with knowledge about various activities that have the potential to damage waterways so that they may take effective action, whether that’s monitoring streams near factory farms or keeping tabs on coal mines around the state.

Whether or not your New Year’s resolutions extend to fishing, I would encourage you to take time to enjoy the streams and rivers of Illinois in 2009. And if you’re inclined to work for their benefit of those waterways, either as an individual or part of a group, check in with Prairie Rivers Network at to see what you can do.