Stop The Proposed Project Endangering Emiquon Preserve
The Emiquon Preserve covers the historic beds of Flag and Thompson lakes near Havana, Illinois. These lakes were shallow, alluvial and created by the Illinois River during the geological period that followed the last ice age. In 1923, a levee was built around the Emiquon area to convert the lake beds into farmland. In 2007, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) enrolled part of this privately owned site in the federally subsidized Wetlands Reserve Program. It was stated that the Emiquon Project was the second largest wetlands restoration project in the United States, behind the restoration of the Everglades.
More than 30 fish species including state-endangered redspotted sunfish and the state-threatened starhead topminnow inhabit the waters of Thompson Lake. Because of the abundant aquatic vegetation and its attendant fauna, the reborn lake and adjacent wetlands had also attracted numerous species of waterbirds, including 20 species of waterfowl, white pelicans, and rare species. In its current condition, the restored Emiquon Preserve is a phenomenal biological success story, largely because it is protected from the river by the levee. However, this jewel is in the path of a catastrophic demonstration project that is partially funded by federal taxes. The Army Corps of Engineers has already spent $1.3 million on this project and plans to spend at least $5.2 million more of your tax dollars. The TNC plans to allow river water access to Emiquon and create a series of islands with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers.
It’s no secret that the sediment-based and carp infested waters of the Illinois River has destroyed backwater lakes and affected restored areas as well. TNC’s Spunky Bottoms near Meredosia has been an experiment with no proactive fish management, poor water level control and back siphoning into the site from the Illinois River, and then surface connectivity to the river. The result has been a complete loss of submerged aquatic vegetation, fish kills, extremely degraded native fish community and now a rearing area for Asian and common carp. Spunky Bottoms is, because of river connectivity, just another example of a degraded backwater habitat of the Illinois River.
TNC and the Corps of Engineers need to prove they have a solution to the Spunky Bottoms mess before they subject a superior high quality habitat like Emiquon to the same fate. TNC’s plan to control the anticipated exploding populations of Asian and common carp is to drain Thompson Lake every 6 years. This band-aid solution will surely result in degradation and destruction of the present lush wetland and aquatic plant community. When this base of the ecological pyramid collapses, all that depend on it will collapse as well......e.g. the marvelous populations of waterbirds and native fish species, including the state-endangered species stocked a few years ago.
A second undesirable component to the project is the use of federal funds to create 10 islands dredged up from the fragile and sensitive lake beds. This aquatic garden will be drained and transformed into a heavy equipment construction zone under the guise of providing habitat for colonial nesting birds. In reality, the islands will be of little biological significance and come with a hefty public price tag. No islands existed historically in Thompson and Flag lakes and islands are rare in the other bottomland lakes in the Illinois Valley. There is no need to wreak havoc on the lake bottoms that are now a prestigious Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and a Wetland Reserve funded with taxpayer dollars.
Many well-known and respected biologists have raised serious concerns with the reconnection and islands proposal. However, TNC and the Corps of Engineers plan to continue their journey toward what undoubtedly will someday become an ecological train wreck. I’m asking you to sign my Emiquon petition, which will be forwarded to appropriate legislators, media outlets and the Corps of Engineers, and take a stand against destroying, with even more of your money, a wildlife mecca that represents the preservation of our natural resources. The fragility of this environment underscores its compelling beauty; such a pristine site must be preserved not only for the enjoyment of our future generations, but also for its importance in sustaining a well-balanced ecological interchange between fauna, flora and water. Let us honor it by making a concerted effort in protecting the integrity of this treasured resource.
Thank you! You will make a difference!
Illinois DNR Fisheries Chief, RETIRED 1971-2009
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