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Startling statistic: Illinois' ranking in natural land
Another look at feeding Baltimore Orioles.
A few weeks ago, I asked a batch of TWiB subscribers a few questions about the status of natural land in Illinois. After all, if we have more natural land, we have more space for native plant species, more space for birds, less pollution, cleaner air, and a healthier ecosystem. The world would be a better place with more natural land.
You the TWiB subscriber are an environmentally conscious birding enthusiast, erudite and even polymathic. I could go on.
Just take the answer to this question:
Illinois’ official nickname is “The Prairie State.” How much acreage in prairie remains in the state?
I couldn’t fool you on this one. About a third of respondents were right on the nose, 2,300 acres, and nearly 50% went even lower, answering just 1,750 acres, which is a fair guess. Most outdoorsy people know that our nickname is a misnomer.
On this question the answer was more unexpected, and that might be a sign of opportunity:
Where do you think Illinois ranks in protected natural land nationally?
Only 8% of respondents got this question right, and most were quite a ways off. Illinois ranks 48th out of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. It’s a startling statistic. Only 4% of the state’s land is protected in some way. A mighty effort would be needed if we’re ever to restore land and hence bird populations at scale. Some neighboring states far outrank us: Minnesota (16), Michigan (21), and Wisconsin (22). Ohio (44) and Indiana (46) are a little closer, but still ahead of Illinois. Only Iowa (50) is worse. The data set looks at percentages, so even tiny Rhode Island (30) outranks us. If you’re a TWiB reader from outside the Midwest, it’s worth looking up your state here.
It’s easy to be lulled into complacency here in Chicagoland what with all of our park districts and forest preserves. The truth is that even that acreage only totals to a fraction of protected land in the state overall. State and federal land is where the bigger numbers are—including with agricultural lands kept in conservation (a sly tease for my film FLUDDLES, due out late this year).
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One might wonder why the destruction of Rockford’s Bell Bowl Prairie was so infuriating. Look no further than the data points above.
Next we’ll take a look at how Illinois is doing in actually preserving more land each year. The answer may be surprising—and may jolt us into more action on behalf of natural ecosystems.
A special thanks to researcher David Holman for his help with these statistics.
Baltimore chops: More from the neighborhood orioles
Last week, I wrote about the saga of attracting a Baltimore Oriole to a feeder with oranges and grape jelly. Here are several more photos:
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