Photo by Sarah Marjanovic.
CICADA: A Resource for Developing Wildlife-friendly Habitats
When it comes to land management, economics often trumps biodiversity. Public lands managed for recreation and wildlife management are vital to sustaining wildlife populations. However, in a state such as Illinois, where about 97 percent of the land is under private ownership, it quickly becomes apparent that wildlife management on private lands is critical to the long-term survival of wildlife. Simply put, the decisions of private landowners to share the land (or not) with a diverse array of species plays a large role in which species survive, which thrive, and which could even become extinct.
In an effort to help conserve habitats of threatened and endangered species, as well as to keep common species common, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center created the Conservation Inclusive Construction and Development Archive (CICADA) website. Homeowners and private landowners have a lot of options when it comes to providing wildlife habitat on their properties, but knowing where to begin can be daunting for those without a natural resources background. And land developers planning residential, commercial, or industrial construction projects are increasingly aware of the benefits of protecting green space and may want to consider using wildlife-friendly development practices. CICADA provides easy-to-read fact sheets and other publications to assist both groups with meeting their land management objectives. For the homeowner, the site is divided into six sections for exploration: plant management, landscape management, pollinators, wildlife habitat, aquatics & water resources, and habitat management.
The plant management section focuses on landscaping with native plants and removing invasive plant species. Since native plants are adapted to the Illinois climate, they require little care once they are established. Many of these plant species require minimal watering and are amazingly resilient to Illinois weather extremes, insects, weeds, and many plant diseases. This means fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers will be needed, which in turn improves local water quality. And unlike annuals, these perennial plants will regrow each year.
Controlling invasive plants is as important as adding native plants to the landscape. If a plant is labeled as invasive it means that the plant is typically not native to Illinois, sustains itself outside of cultivation, and is expanding its range in the natural landscapes of Illinois. There are two main reasons for ecological concern when invasive plants become established. The first is that native insects and other wildlife did not evolve with the introduced plants, which means they often cannot use them as a source of pollen, host plants for caterpillars and insect larvae, or other sources of food. The second cause for concern is that invasive plants eventually out-compete native plants and take over an area. This can leave an area with a substantially altered ecosystem, making it difficult or impossible for most wildlife to survive in that area.
Looking more broadly, landscape management decisions drive what other species, besides people, can use the space. In most residential areas manicured lawns cover a significant amount of land and they are often heavily managed with the potential to contribute to runoff pollution due to improper application of fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, lawns are often comprised of a single grass species or a mix of non-native grasses, which does little to promote biodiversity. Proper timing and application of chemicals and mowing the lawn with the mower at its highest level—usually 3 to 4 inches, will encourage a robust lawn while helping to reduce the potential for local water pollution. But keep in mind that while lawns may benefit a handful of common species, a diverse planting of native trees, shrubs, warm season grasses, and wildflowers will encourage more wildlife to your yard.
In rural areas, conservation mowing can be a useful landscape management tool if it is not used too frequently or incorrectly. The bulk of grassland wildlife nesting and brood rearing occurs from April 1 thru August 1. Mowing roadsides, field borders, pastures, and grasslands after August 1 or later will help avoid destruction of late broods of ground nesting birds, rabbits, and late-born fawns. Set the mower at the highest level and leave some areas unmowed. When possible, wait until early spring to mow to help provide winter refuge for wildlife.
Historically, the Illinois landscape was shaped by regular fire events and the flora and fauna adapted accordingly. Today, most natural landscapes in the state (public or privately owned) are no longer burned because of safety concerns or lack of manpower. But without fire, natural landscapes become overrun with thickets of invasive plants, and native plants and animals struggle to survive in these degraded habitats. Ecologists agree that prescribed fire is an important stewardship practice in maintaining and restoring healthy landscapes. While prescribed burning is not feasible in some areas because of proximity to residences, smoke issues, local ordinances, liability issues, or safety concerns, opportunities do exist for private landowners to use prescribed fire safely as a management tool.
Land use decisions have a direct impact on the species composition of an area. Healthy populations of pollinators are essential to native plants and agricultural crops and to the insects, animals, and people that eat those plants. Additionally, many of the plants that provide people with fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products would not successfully reproduce without assistance from pollinators. It is estimated that pollinators provide more than $10 billion in economic value annually in the United States. But pollinators are in decline around the world as they struggle to survive habitat loss, pesticide use, mites, competition from non-native species, and diseases. Providing habitat for pollinators can help support healthy populations of butterflies, bees, moths, and other pollinators.
All creatures need food, water, shelter, and space to survive and thrive. The wildlife habitat section of the CICADA website discusses ways to provide the essentials to wildlife by installing nest boxes, pollinator pockets, water features, and more. The site provides information about threatened and endangered species as well as more common species. Illinois supports approximately 54,000 species and has habitats and species representing five biomes. The state is divided into 14 natural divisions which are home to an amazing number of wildlife. To learn about individual wildlife species check out the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Wild About Illinois! series pages which provide species galleries; information on adaptations and conservation; and educational resources about many species groups including mammals, birds, fish, mussels, amphibians, reptiles, moths and butterflies, and more.
The aquatics and water resources section discusses effectively managing water quality and quantity, including best management practices for stormwater management, riparian zones, and flood control. When it rains heavily or when there is an abundance of snow melt, low-lying lands, and areas with extensive impervious surfaces, such as roofs, roads, and driveways, can flood when there is more water than the ground can absorb. Adding rain gardens or bioswales to the landscape provides an area for stormwater to accumulate and absorb into the soil. There are also resources available for those looking for information about pond management or streambank restoration.
The habitat management section of the website reviews what can be done to improve woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, cropland, coastal areas, and urban spaces. The Illinois Wildlife Action Plan (IWAP) guides the conservation of wildlife and their habitats for the people of Illinois. The plan focuses primarily on non-game species, especially vulnerable species, known as the Species in Greatest Conservation Need. The IWAP is organized by habitat into seven Campaigns, each with its own strategic plan for increasing the quality and quantity of wildlife habitat in Illinois. These plans are implemented across the IDNR and by partner organizations and agencies, collectively known as the Illinois Wildlife Action Team.
The CICADA website was designed to provide wildlife-friendly practices for private landowners and developers of residential and commercial properties. A main goal of the website is to offer homeowners and landowners guidance on conserving and improving wildlife habitat on their properties. Additionally, the site showcases habitat friendly projects to serve as inspiration for future projects. And the site provides easy access to other wildlife-related websites such as Wildlife Illinois, the IDNR’s Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Illinois Monarch Project. Want to learn more? Check out the CICADA website at: https://cicada-idnr.org/ and follow @livingwithwildlife on Facebook and Instagram for updates on wildlife research, education, and tips for making your land more wildlife friendly.
Laura Kammin is an Educational Programming Specialist with Lewis and Clark Community College. She formerly held positions at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, University of Illinois Extension, Prairie Rivers Network and the Illinois Natural History Survey. She received her master’s degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.