Roughly 50,000 acres of the 1.5 million total acres of conserved land in Illinois are owned by non-governmental conservation groups, also known as conservation land trusts. Traditionally, conservation land trusts have protected land, often restored it, and later transferred it to government entities for long-term ownership, which effectively transfers the responsibility of land stewardship to those governmental entities. Funded by the Grand Victoria Foundation, a team of nonprofits led by Delta collaborated on a research project to understand and map out the current conditions of conservation organization-based land stewardship in Illinois.
With support from the Walton Family Foundation, we released this report and analysis on land ownership, leasing, and tenure as levers to expand conservation practices to rebuild soil health throughout the Midwest. This report explores the network of stakeholders, policies, and institutions through which soil health can be linked to the value of the land and serve as an incentive to change management of that land—and compiles a set of resources that may be taken in concert or used separately by a variety of stakeholders to advance soil health and agricultural conservation practices on farmland in the Midwest and beyond. Specifically, this body of work focused on land trust and publicly held land holdings in Illinois, and how rental agreements can help ownership meet their stewardship goals.
Nutrient losses and soil degradation are symptomatic of the current state of agricultural systems that define much of the Illinois landscape. Excessive nutrients in waterways are currently the leading cause of water quality impairments in the Midwest and across the globe. Furthermore, the loss of soil and its carbon-rich organic matter is detrimental to crop cultivation, water quality and infiltration, nutrient cycling, pest moderation, as well as the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The first part outlines markets drivers that could provide mechanisms to advance the plans proposed in the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS), in addition to various policy and social drivers that could be leveraged in Illinois. The second part focuses on the role of Illinois state agencies in advancing the NLRS and highlights the opportunities to leverage resources that support its implementation. The third part identifies opportunities for broader programmatic alignment between the NLRS and soil health to move toward a recarbonized rural landscape that provides water quality, climate and community benefits. We provide a snapshot of available models and tools highlighting the gaps and opportunities in utilizing those tools to support successful development and adoption of market drivers, reducing pollution, and strengthening the sustainability of agricultural systems in Illinois. This work was funded by the Walton Family Foundation.
This overview of the conservation sector in Illinois was funded by the Grand Victoria Foundation and created in partnership with the Natural Land Institute and the Illinois Environmental Council. By addressing insufficient and inconsistent funding for stewardship through the implementation of a long-term, scalable financing strategy, the Illinois conservation community can overcome the constraints of the current funding cycle and chart a new path forward through new financing and revenue partnership models outlined in this report.