Wildlife Preserve in Champaign County


Wildlife preserves are habitats set aside for the preservation and protection of native animal and plant species, with special attention paid to threatened and endangered species.  These sites provide recreational opportunities for hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, nature watching, and canoeing.  Currently, there are three significant forest preserves in Champaign County.  Lake of the Woods County Park, located near Mahomet, Illinois, runs along the Sangamon River.  It occupies 900 acres of rolling woodlands.  Middle Fork River Preserve occupies 1,530 acres of forest and grassy meadows.  It provides areas for recreation, as well as the protection of wildlife.  The Waterfowl Management area, is of significant importance at this site.  The last preserve is the Salt Fork Forest Preserve, which is approximately 800 acres of recreation and wildlife habitat.  The demand on recreational facilities has skyrocketed in recent years.  In order to meet the demand and provide a high quality experience for users and still preserve quality habitats for wildlife, planning for another preserve will be necessary.

Importance of Wildlife Preservation

The continual spread of development, increases the number of endangered and threatened species.  The destruction of wetlands is not only hazardous to our water supply, but is also a major factor in the increasing number of endangered and threatened species.  There are many species that rely on wetlands for survival.  Some benefits of the habitat necessary for a wildlife preserve are the following:  increase in protection and natural habitat for threatened and endangered species, increase in biodiversity, increases value of adjacent properties, improves air and water quality, provides educational services, and increases positive aesthetic perception of Champaign County.


The major goal of this project, is to preserve approximately 2000 acres and recreate the ideal habitats for the native wildlife of the Champaign County area.  A Wildlife Educational Center will be built, to provide the following functions:  as a place to educate the public on wildlife, to be used by ecologists, biologists and foresters, to be used by applicable departments of the University of Illinois, and to accommodate injured/orphaned wildlife.  A wildlife corridor will be created to connect available habitats, in order to make wildlife dispersal possible.  This will increase biodiversity and allow species to interact with each other.  The public will be able to use educational trails, that will run from the Wildlife Educational Center through the wildlife corridor.  These trails will be marked with interpretive signs, which will be perfect for school groups and young children.

Established wetland areas will be desirable for waterfowl and other animals.  Additional bodies of water can be created by constructing dams and digging large pits.  Marshes can be formed, by finding water holding soils.  Native marsh plants will be planted to help establish desired habitat.

It is proposed that the funding will be obtained from special interest groups and organizations that deal with wildlife conservation.  Any surrounding residents will be asked to help aid with conservation efforts.  Another way of acquiring funds, would come from pollution credits from major utilities.  Utility companies and other manufacturing industries will often pay parks and refuges, because trees and vegetation recycle and absorb compounds that pollute the air.

People need to be educated that most reptiles and amphibians are beneficial and not dangerous.  These animals are useful to us because they eat certain types of harmful insects and destructive rodents.  Natural habitats that are still present, should be preserved and new areas that mimic natural habitats should be created.  Areas should be set aside, for future forest preserves to be protected from any grazing, cutting or burning (Hansen 1963).

Suitable plantings of native trees, shrubs, and herbs that will attract different kinds of birds will be provided.  Also, areas will be provided for nesting and roosting.  Certain trees will provide dense canopies of protective cover.  These native plants will also make the habitat more desirable for different species of insects, in hopes that they will recolonize.  Evergreen trees will be planted to provide protection from snow.  Other trees will provide food.  Also, shrubs will be planted in dense groupings, to provide the maximum amount of coverage, for birds.  It is important to use native selections of plants, because they are best adapted to survive in the soils and climate of this area.  The native plants are important to the wildlife, because they have adapted to rely on these plants, for food and shelter (Hansen 1963).  (Refer to attached plant list)

Conservation measures will be performed, in order to preserve the native fish in Champaign County.  The proposed wildlife area will be guarded against harmful amounts of erosion and pollution.  Also, there will be no insect spraying or herbicides usage, to keep contamination of water to a minimum.  Streams will be left in their natural state (Hansen 1963).

The remaining natural habitats should be preserved to conserve the native mammals in Champaign County.  The proposed wildlife area, will recreate their natural habitats.  In  order to achieve this, both forest and grassland areas will be provided.  Hunting will only be allowed for certain species of mammal and only at certain times of the year.  These will comply with the regulations of the state and under the supervision of a game specialist (Hansen 1963).


Chosen Species

The best available resources were used to identify and document wildlife species native to Champaign County.  These were chosen to achieve a properly balanced natural ecosystem.  Special considerations for dangerous animals were not necessary, because none live in the county.  Special attention was put on threatened and endangered species, to help preserve their populations, for future generations to enjoy.  (Refer to attached wildlife charts)

Amphibians & Reptiles

Only twelve types of amphibians reside in Champaign County area.  The twelve types consist of four salamanders, six frogs, and two toads.  The spotted, marbled and red-backed salamanders, have not been seen since the 1960s.  These animals lived in the woodland areas, until they were timbered.  The five most commonly seen amphibians are the dwarf American toad, small-mouthed salamander, Blanchard's cricket frog, upland chorus frog, northern leopard frog, and bullfrog (Hansen 1963).

There are twenty-two species of reptiles living in Champaign County.  The twenty-one species are made up of, thirteen snakes, one lizard, and eight turtles.  The broad-banded water snake, eastern plains garter snake, common snapping turtle, and eastern spiny soft shell turtle, are the most common reptiles found in Champaign County.  The reason why these reptiles have survived, is the fact that they have adapted to their changing environment.  They seem to thrive in vacant lots or anywhere where there are piles of trash.  However, several are killed by man each year (Hansen 1963).

Amphibians and reptiles are under a great amount of pressure, due to the fact that they are disappearing, at a substantial rate.  This is happening because of pollution and the destruction of their habitats.  This factor has threatened four reptiles, which are the prairie kingsnake, eastern milk snake, graham's water snake, and Blanding's turtle (Hansen 1963).


There are 270 or more species of birds in the Champaign County area.  Only around 45 of these birds stay year round.  There are 115 species that nest in this area.  However, in the last 165 years, it has been noticed that several of these birds are becoming extinct.  The greater prairie-chicken, although not extinct has not been seen for several years.  Furthermore, other species are reducing in number, due to the destruction of their natural habitats.  Hawks and owls have been main targets, because it is thought that they kill farmer's chickens.  This reoccurring event has drastically reduced the red-tailed hawk and the barred owl (Hansen 1963).

Several years past, it was common for people to kill and sell songbirds, either for food or money.  Fortunately, these killing attacks have stopped, because they are now protected by law.  Some types of birds are more in danger from the destruction of their natural habitats, then being hunted by man.  The destruction of prairie and marshes has put suffering on rails, ducks, shorebirds, sparrows, wrens, owls, and hawks.  Also, the destruction of woodland areas has depleted numbers of the black-crowned night heron, cooper's hawk, barred owl, hairy woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, scarlet tanager, and carolina wren.  They use the woodlands for nesting purposes.  However, the principal source that is depleting the bird inhabitants, is the growing number of the human population (Hansen 1963).

Over 90 species of fish live in Champaign County.  However, some fish that were here before the land was settled have become extinct, due to the draining of marshes.  Although, several species have been introduced into this area, which has increased the fish population immensely.  The important groups of fish are the minnows, suckers, sunfishes, bass, darters, catfishes and buffalo fishes.  The other groups only contain a few fish      (Hansen 1963).

The changing of stream characteristics, has reduced the fish population.  The cultivation of farmland causes erosion, which increases the muddiness in streams.  This factor has caused fish populations to decrease.  Pollution is another factor.  Other fish have decreased in number, due to the destruction or changing of their original environments.  However, several species of fish still survive.  The most common fish found in Champaign County, are the following:  northern hogsucker, green sunfish, bluegill, white crappie, and flathead catfish (Hansen 1963).


There are 40 species of wild mammals that reside in the Champaign County area.  They range from the tiny mole to the large coyote.  There is a chance that there once lived buffalo or bison, bear, mountain lion, and otter in this area.  The house mouse was introduced by man several years ago.  The white-tailed deer and the beaver have been missing for many years.  They have chosen to live in more suitable areas of Illinois (Hansen 1963).

The mammals that are common to the Champaign County area are, the opossum, deer mouse, house mouse, prairie vole, muskrat, Franklin's ground squirrel, woodchuck, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, skunk, raccoon, red fox, and cottontail.  Although the species of mammals in this area are not in immediate danger, the badger, least weasel, gray fox, coyote, flying squirrel, and chipmunk, are becoming rare.  The destruction of their natural habitats, along with illegal killing, is leading to the extinction of these species  (Hansen 1963).

Site Selection 

Ideal Habitat Description

The data compiled on wildlife suggests, that a variety of terrain and habitats are favorable for successful establishment of the desired species.  Unlike other preserves, which may attempt to create habitats for specific types of animals, this proposed wildlife preserve will be home to a greatly diverse ecosystem.

Specific criteria include the following:

Potential Sites

Site 1.  Sangamon River
Size: 1922 acres
Landcover:  690 acres (36%)
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:  7 miles
Drainage area:  277 acres
Pre-settlement forest:  more abundant than other sites
Distance from hazards:  3 miles
Additional Notes:
Composed of AG and Conservation-Recreation zoning
Has potential to create a variety of habitats
Future expansion possible
Has largest and deepest basin
38 acre lake also possible for human use
Does not have the potential for aquifer contamination
Contains five types of wetlands, with great amount of varied topography

Site 2.  Middle Fork
Size:  1920 acres
Landcover:  710 acres (37%)
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:  18 miles
Drainage area:  69 acres
Pre-settlement forest:  very little remains
Distance from hazards:  9.5 miles
Additional Notes:
Composed of AG and Conservation-Recreation zoning
County park nearby
Severe siltation found in 1963
Has the potential for aquifer contamination
Contains three types of wetlands
Some varied topography
Site 3.  Salt Fork
Size:  1914 acres
Landcover:  470 acres (25%)
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:  5 miles
Drainage area:  346 acres
Pre-settlement forest:  very little remains
Distance from hazards:  1 mile
Additional Notes:
Composed of AG and Conservation-Recreation zoning
Site has moderate to severe pollution
Pollutants found from sanitary drains
Does not have the potential for aquifer contamination
Contains four types of wetlands
Not much topography

Selected Site

Site 1 was chosen as the ideal site for the proposed wildlife preserve.  It is approximately the same size as the two other sites and has a similar percentage of landcover as site 2, however site 1 is found to be the least polluted and it is also, a prime location.  It is away from the county's major population center, but close enough that people would still visit it.
Site 1 has the greatest opportunities for the creation of a variety of habitats and for future expansion.  It also, has potential for linking up other Conservation-Recreation sites.  There are five different types of wetlands, found at site 1.  Site 1 is far enough away from hazards and has no potential for future aquifer contamination.


Urban sprawl continues to claim wildlife habitat every year, making wildlife populations more dependent upon nature preserves, as secure habitats.  Outdoor recreation use has been on a steady rise since W.W.II, and there is no foreseeable decrease to this trend, in the near future.  This increase in outdoor recreation puts greater stress on nature preserves as they must accommodate larger numbers of visitors, in the same amount of space and still provide a pristine habitat for wildlife.  The creation of the proposed wildlife preserve would reduce stress placed on other preserves, in the county by taking some of their visitors.  It would also help to reduce stress from the ecosystem, by providing more suitable habitat for wildlife. The combination of location, quantity, and quality of natural resources, make site 1 ideal for a nature preserve.  In addition to environmental benefits, it will provide excellent educational opportunities for school children and researchers.  The acquisition of some farmland will be necessary to achieve the desired goals of this project, and some farmers may not be too eager to part with some of their land.  However, the advantages of this proposal, still vastly outweighs this disadvantage.  When settlers first arrived to the new world, the natural resources were limitless and it seemed that they would never run out.  However, now that society knows this to be false, steps should be taken to preserve and recreate natural ecosystems, for future generations to experience and enjoy.

Click here to view a chart of Wildlife in Champaign County


Anonymous.  "Riparian Restoration."  Landscape Architecture.  February  1996.

ArcView.  Landcover.  CD Rom, volume 1.

Bohlen, David H.  The Birds of Illinois.  Indiana University Press:  1989.

Hansen, Donald F.  The Natural Resources of Champaign County.   Champaign County Conservation Education Council.  2nd Edition.   1963.

Hoffmeister, Donald F.  Mammals of Illinois.  University of Illinois Press:   1989.

Larimore, Weldon R. and Peter B. Bayley.  The Fishes of Champaign  County, Illinois, During a Century of Alterations of a Prairie  Ecosystem.  Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin, Vol. 35,  Article 2, October 1996.

Mansergh, I.M. and D.J. Scotts.  Habitat Continuity and Social  Organization of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum Restored by Tunnel.   Journal of Wildlife Management.  53, 1989.