The State of Land Stewardship in Illinois

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. While this “protect, restore, transfer” model is still practiced, budgetary constraints across levels of government have undermined the viability of this model. Macro-economic and political issues have resulted in insufficient funding for governmental conservation agencies to purchase land from conservation land trusts. Furthermore, governmental conservation agencies may also lack sufficient funding to fully steward conservation lands that they’ve acquired from land trusts or otherwise.

This presents an opportunity to rethink the current land conservation model and develop innovative, sustainable approaches to support land protection in the state. However, data regarding the unmet need for land stewardship is scarce, and few tools exist for conservation organizations to use to address these challenges.

Building on previous work, a team comprised of Delta Institute, Natural Land Institute (NLI), Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation (JDCF), Openlands, and Illinois Environmental Council (IEC), collaborated on a research project to understand and map out the current conditions of conservation organization-based land stewardship in Illinois. The team’s approach utilized interviews and surveys from conservation land trusts throughout the state. Analysis was organized into five main categories: stewardship capacity, partnerships, funding and financing, policy, and behavioral and organizational dynamics. Explore details of the study and our findings; a recording of our January 2020 webinar on our recommendations is available on our YouTube channel.

Together, we are helping to preserve beautiful natural and working lands across Illinois.

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