A Publication of WTVP

The restored floodplains near Lewistown gain international acclaim.

McGraw-Hill, a leading publisher of higher-education textbooks, recently made an example of the Emiquon Complex in Lewistown, Illinois. One of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the Midwest, Emiquon sparked the company’s interest, and they have featured the site as a case study in the 11th edition of Biology, a textbook distributed to 100,000 college-level, non-major biology students across the globe.

Author David Cox, a professor of conservation at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois, recently toured Emiquon and was immediately impressed by the diverse 14,000 acres and restoration efforts underway. In addition to supporting thousands of waterfowl, Emiquon can help clean the water entering the Illinois River and offers a variety of recreational opportunities.

“It was important to include Emiquon because the research is current,” Cox said. “Since this biology text is for non-majors, it was helpful to note not only the science going on here, but the economic impacts that occur when changing or restoring land.”

Reflecting the Past

Emiquon was once a vital component of the Illinois River, a major tributary of the Mississippi River. As noted in the textbook, the diverse plants and animals at Emiquon supported human civilization for over 10,000 years. The Nature Conservancy and its partners are working to restore the natural flow of the waters between Emiquon and the Illinois River that was altered by levees and agricultural development, and which left the area uninhabitable for most native plants and animals.

On the forefront of the evolving field of restoration science, Conservancy experts and partners have created computer models to guide the site’s restoration and management. These models are used by Conservancy scientists to evaluate different management scenarios.

The Conservancy also works closely with the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois and other partners to collect monitoring data about the current state of Emiquon’s species and natural communities. These activities will continue throughout the restoration and give scientists a means to measure progress and provide for adaptive management of the project.

Preaching Beyond the Choir

Doug Blodgett, director of river conservation at Emiquon, says that sharing the restoration efforts beyond the conservation community is key to ensuring sustainability of the earth’s resources.

“Educating the general public—especially future decision-makers—about the many values of functional floodplain wetlands and other natural habitats is critical to the future health of our planet,” Blodgett said. “Most of the public and those decision-makers are not biology majors, so preaching beyond the choir seems extremely important.”

Blodgett credits the inclusion of the restoration efforts in Biology in part to Dr. Michael Lemke, a professor at University of Illinois at Springfield. Cox, a former student of Dr. Lemke, agreed to investigate and author the work at Emiquon when Dr. Lemke proposed including the site’s project to illustrate the ecological benefits of restoration to a broader audience.

McGraw Hill staff indicates that the inclusion of the work at Emiquon will probably be reproduced in future editions, along with project updates.

Gaining International Acclaim

Some of Illinois’ most precious jewels have also received a highly prestigious international honor. The Emiquon Complex and the 2,750-acre Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, located at Hennepin and Hopper Lakes along the Illinois River, have been designated as “Wetlands of International Importance” by the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty in which member countries commit to the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It’s believed to be the first time that two sites on one river have earned this distinction.

“At Emiquon, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have restored a thriving and productive wetland mosaic, and we’re delighted our work and successes are being confirmed by this important designation,” said Blodgett.

Emiquon is one of eight proof-of-concept sites within the Mississippi River Basin used by the Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership to facilitate the exchange of science and practices among those who manage large rivers around the globe.

“I’m pleased these wetlands are being recognized for their international importance, as they play a key role in Illinois tourism,” said Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon. “These sites draw folks from all around to hike, bird-watch, kayak and fish. This designation recognizes the work that’s been done to restore these natural resources and will boost efforts moving forward.”

The Ramsar Convention, with 162 member nations, including the United States, encourages countries to promote wetlands conservation, and lays out strict criteria for a wetland to be deemed internationally important. A total of 2,031 sites around the world—including just 34 in the United States—have earned Ramsar designation. iBi