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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 05:13 am

Industrial acreage to become wildlife preserve At Illiopolis plant, Monsanto partners with area scho

At Illiopolis plant, Monsanto partners with area schools

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Charlie Kilzer works to prepare the Illiopolis site for planting.
PHOTO BY NICK WINEGAR

Illiopolis residents might soon have a new area to relax and visit geese, quail, pheasants and other native wildlife within their natural environment.

The agriculture company Monsanto has 14 acres of land on its seed corn producing Illiopolis site which could become a protected place for area wildlife. The company is partnering with Sangamon Valley High School in Niantic, Mt. Pulaski High School and Tri-City Elementary in Buffalo.  

Monsanto is waiting on approval for certification for its 14 acres from the Wildlife Habitat Council, a nonprofit group that works to restore wildlife habitats by bringing business and wildlife preservation together, to be part of the council’s Wildlife at Work program. If the site receives certification, the area will be made available for the public.

Nick Winegar, a Monsanto seed technician, says his love for the outdoors sparked his interest in the Wildlife at Work program.

Applying for the program was a year-long process, which required him to take inventory of all the wildlife on the site, work with a biologist to form the plan for the site, and then submit a report to the council, he says.

“The main reason I wanted to get involved in this program came from my desire to do anything that involves improving the area’s wildlife,” Winegar says. “I’m glad Monsanto is allowing me to pursue my interest in protecting our environment.”

As a part of Monsanto’s requirements, employees must make goals each year, and Winegar chose to make this program a company goal for himself, he says.

Winegar and the Monsanto team will also grow cave-in-rock switchgrass and pheasant country, two types of grass native to Illinois that will be used to attract more animals to inhabit the area. The acres will not look “great” at first, he says, but after what has been planted grows in the next couple of years, it will begin to improve and become more visually appealing.

An additional 10 acres on the site can also later be used for wildlife restoration if the site is certified, but Winegar says he wants to make sure the site is well established first before adding more acreage.

In order to be considered for certification the facility must partner with community organizations, and work has already begun at the partner schools.

Sangamon Valley High School will partner with the program in an effort to draw in more wildlife and generate more community involvement.

Phil Johnson, a Sangamon Valley High School agriculture teacher, says the area will be an educational opportunity for students on the subject of wildlife, but also for hands-on skills like woodworking. Sangamon Valley High School will build benches and picnic tables to be used for visitors to the area, as well as for Monsanto employees during their breaks from work.  

“I think it’s really nice we have a major corporation that’s wanting to do something to get involved in the community … and they’re getting students and schools involved in it,” he says. “It’s just a really nice situation.”

In addition to the native grasses in the area, the site also has a pond, and quail, geese and pheasants are also native to the area, he says.

Mt. Pulaski High School had students build boxes for geese to nest in and Tri-City Elementary School students in Buffalo are raising quail that they are planning to have released onto the land next spring.  

“The 14 acres will be great for the entire community to be able to experience and see wildlife they might not normally get to enjoy,” Johnson says.

Contact Hannah Douglas at hdouglas@illinoistimes.com

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