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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2003 02:20 pm

A call to conserve what remains of Illinois natural habitats

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Creating Habitats and Homes for Illinois Wildlife, 2003

When the everyday grind gets to be too much, some of us fantasize a bucolic life, picturing ourselves tucked into a little country place full of birds and sunshine. The irony of this particular fantasy is that birds, could they daydream, might be having the same flights of fancy. In the past couple of centuries, the places they call home have rapidly been disappearing, and as a consequence, so have many of the birds.

That's especially true in Illinois, which ranks 49th among the nation's states measured by the amount of intact natural land. A large portion of Illinois plant and animal species has been lost or diminished as natural habitats were altered or destroyed by development. Creating Habitats and Homes for Illinois Wildlife, a new book published under the aegis of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the University of Illinois, hopes to help reverse that trend.

Authors Debbie Scott Newman, Richard Warner, Phil Mankin and Susan Post, whose backgrounds lie in biology, conservation, and ecology, wrote the book collaboratively. Photographers Richard Day, Michael Jeffords and Robert Reber, have captured the state's most colorful flora and fauna on film, and designer Lynn Hawkinson Smith has brilliantly showcased their exceptional work. The creators of this book have steered clear of the pitfalls of composition by committee. Newman, as primary author, seamlessly weaves the story of Illinois' natural history, giving a fair account of how much has changed since the first European settlers arrived. Since the early 1800s, two-thirds of our state's forests no longer exist, and most of the state's prairies followed, literally turned by the plow into crop fields and pastures.

Restoring what we've lost can begin in your backyard, your pasture, your parking lot. Plant some prairie flowers; keep kitty away from the bird feeder; choose trees over concrete. But first, read this book.

The cost of Creating Habitats and Homes for Illinois Wildlife is $25, plus a shipping and handling fee. Copies are available at the Illinois Conservation Foundation, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62702, or call toll free (in Illinois) 800-720-3249

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