Illinois is one of highest density farmland states with some of most productive soils in the world. Yet, across the state, expanding metropolitan growth and low density development is consuming and threatening to convert that farmland. Illinois also has a dramatic need for improved habitat solutions. Illinois’ vulnerable wildlife species need better and more connected habitat across the board, but there are only limited, stretched resources to support solutions. At the same time, Illinois’ agricultural land contributes a disproportionately high amount of nutrient run-off to the Mississippi River and Gulf Hypoxia. Public and private partners across Illinois launched the Illinois Working Lands, Water and Wildlife Partnership to address these problems.


The Conservation Fund launched the partnership in direct response to the varied farmland, habitat and water quality needs in Illinois. Serving as lead partner, The Fund works with project and funding partners – including Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and Kinship Foundation and the Searle Funds at Chicago Community Trust – to prioritize and implement key projects.

With an investment of $8.1M from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, the project will use permanent agricultural land easements to build protected habitat corridors along targeted stream segments in Illinois. The project will also support diversified farm operations transitioning to organic, agroforestry and other perennial systems, and use of continuous living cover such as cover crops.


The Partnership creates a new model by stacking resources targeting habitat, resources targeting water quality and partner capacity and expertise. The Partnership will ultimately accelerate the use of conservation easements to slow farmland conversion, increase acreage for vulnerable wildlife, accomplish measurable improvements in soil health and water quality, and support farm economic resiliency.