Illinois hasn't always been corn, soybeans, and canal-like waterways. Historical accounts speak of huge trees, vast grasslands, and extensive wetlands. These impressive landscapes, however, rapidly became timber leases, farmsteads, and urban sprawl. Illinois citizen interest in the protection of natural communities and their species grew with time and resulted in the passage of the Nature Preserves Act and the creation of the Nature Preserves Commission in 1963. In addition, the Illinois Legislature, recognizing species as important entities, enacted the Endangered Species Protection Act in 1972. This act gave the Endangered Species Protection Board the responsibility of identifying species as endangered or threatened and the Department of Conservation [now Illinois Department of Natural Resources—IDNR] the authority to develop a permit system for endangered animals and their products. Plants were added in 1977. The Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act "prohibits the possession, taking, transportation, sale, offer for sale, or disposal of any listed animal or products of listed animals without a permit issued by the Department of Conservation [IDNR]. Also prohibited are the taking of listed plants without the expressed written permission of the landowner and the sale or offer to sell plants or plant products of endangered species."
An endangered species in Illinois is defined as breeding or naturally reproducing native species likely to be extirpated from the state in the near future; threatened species are those likely to become endangered in the near future. The Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board regularly updates the Checklist of Endangered and Threatened Animals and Plants of Illinois. Listed are 19 endangered and 12 threatened fishes, 3 endangered and 6 threatened amphibians, 10 endangered and 8 threatened reptiles, 25 endangered and 5 threatened birds, 5 endangered and 4 threatened mammals, 42 endangered and 12 threatened invertebrates, and 251 endangered and 81 threatened plants.
Endangered or threatened species aren't always the most impressive or the showiest organisms. Yet these rare individuals have become the standard bearers of the conservation movement and are signals of our deteriorating environment. These species are the messengers of change, a message we must heed if we are to keep them as part of the natural world.