Underlying the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s mission are laws that authorize the agency to work on the conservation of threatened and endangered species and migratory birds, and the management of fisheries. The refuge system is set up to provide spaces by which US Fish & Wildlife Service can fulfill that mission, alongside their work on private property with private citizens. The US Fish & Wildlife Service also maintains a close relationship with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), and their priorities are often highlighted within refuge discussions.
Given the long period of planning that has taken place for the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge, and how the proposed refuge has changed during that time, the conservation priorities of the refuge have become lost on the local citizens who live there. A lack of meaningful planning and communication has eroded an understanding of the intentions of the refuge – in the 1990s and today.
It is clear to local citizens that the “Conservation Area” approach to National Wildlife Refuges will complicate the management of natural resource concerns given a checkerboard landscape of multiple uses. An eroded understanding of the natural resource missions of this refuge will only become more blurred without meaningful changes in communication and relationships.
It is important to recognize that local farmers have their own natural resource concerns for the area and that those need to be recognized and addressed alongside the planning effort for the refuge.