Farms to Prairies – Why Isn’t Illinois Really the Prairie State?


Prairies are one of the most under-conserved land areas in Illinois and elsewhere in the Midwest. Wetlands, forests, and riparian areas have all gotten extensive attention. So why not the prairies? Illinois at one time consisted of 22 million acres of prairie compared to 14 million acres of forest. These 22 million acres were part of a massive grassland biome that stretched from Indiana to Nebraska down to Texas and up to Canada. By 1900, most of the prairies in Illinois were destroyed and today less than 1% of the prairies remain in remnants.

It is not possible to return to the days of vast expanses of prairie in Illinois. It is interesting, exciting, and even a little romantic to read about them, but they are gone forever. Today, we need to protect, manage and learn from the prairie remnants and plant to look forward to the prairie’s future in restoration. – Illinois Department of Natural Resources

The Illinois DNR paints a pretty grim picture and while it might be true that we will never have what we once had, the Prairie State still has a chance to return to some of its glory. All around our county (Winnebago) in northern Illinois, there are large farmlands for sale. There are still more farmlands with developer signs planted prominantly by the roadside. What needs to happen is the county or state should be buying up this land to convert it prairie.
693 Lark Sparrow 03
Lark Sparrow

The conversion of farmland to prairie has already been done and has worked well in the past. Prairies can draw in a lot of tourism but their real value is what they do for the environment. Prairies consist of deep-rooted plants that help with water filtration and also reduce the amount of carbon put in the air.

Using prairie plants will reduce noise, conserve gasoline and oil, reduce pollution, and help to reduce accidents associated with lawn mowers. –Illinois DNR

There is a great site with many links about Illinois Prairies. Prairies provide some of the coolest birding. Many restored prairies are small in size, but still seem to bring in many species. At one of our local preserves, Deer Run, there is a nice grassland that has nesting Henslow’s, Grassland, Savanna, Lark, and Vesper Sparrows along with Dickcissels.

There are many acres of farmland for sale within Winnebago County and nearby Boone and Dekalb Counties. We see land for sale all over the place. Most of it will probably become businesses and sub-divisions. It is easy to envision a vast prairie taking its place, though nearly impossible to make a reality. We hope that some of this land can go back in time and become prairie again, while it is still even a possibility.

One thought on “Farms to Prairies – Why Isn’t Illinois Really the Prairie State?

  1. I hope they actually follow through with something.-In Connecticut, the fields, with a couple of exceptions, aren’t really large enough for breeding grassland species.-

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