Areas along the Illinois River Valley stand to benefit ecologically and economically from a $5 million award for conservation efforts.

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood announced last week that the Conserving the Illinois River Legacy project received more than $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Ducks Unlimited and several other conservation organizations. The funding will go toward protection and restoration of about 13,000 acres of wetlands on public and private land near the Illinois River.

“Preserving wetlands along the Illinois River is essential to restoring wildlife habitats in the Illinois River Valley and will conserve resources along the River,” the Peoria Republican said in a prepared statement. “ ... This will ensure the Illinois River remains a habitable environment for wildlife and can be enjoyed by future generations for years to come.”

Some $1 million will come from a Department of the Interior wetlands conservation grant, and another $4.1 million from Ducks Unlimited and other groups. Those other groups include: Wetlands America Trust, The Nature Conservancy, The Wetlands Initiative, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Peoria Park District, Friends of Sanganois, Illinois River Valley Conservation Group and U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.

The project will protect 1,522 acres of wetlands, restore water to more than 18 acres of drained wetlands and revitalize 11,461 acres of existing degraded water, according to proposed plans.

According to Ducks Unlimited, specific areas for work include parts of Donnelley-DePue State Fish and Wildlife Area in Hennepin, Emiquon Nature Preserve near Havana, Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area near Canton and Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area near Beardstown. Anderson Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area between Astoria and Bath is also on the list. Those sites are among a total of 11 locations. The locations stretch across 19 counties and include large backwater lakes, expansive marshes and bottomland hardwood forests.

According to Ducks Unlimited, the Illinois River Valley wetlands are “critical for birds, creation and water quality.” The national conservation organization stated in a prepared release that it is leading the $5 million conservation effort to “safeguard (wetlands) from further human development and climate change.”

“It’s a major corridor for birds funneling between northern breeding grounds and southern wintering grounds,” said Michael Sertle, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist. “The Illinois River Valley provides critical habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds for the food and rest they need to safely continue their journeys.”

DU will provide engineering assistance to Emiquon Preserve, enabling water level management of 5,289 acres of wetlands to benefit waterfowl, shorebirds and rare species.

Improvements will improve current and future wetland and waterfowl research. Improvements at Rice Lake will enhance 2,623 acres within the Goose Lake and Copperas Creek units to benefit waterfowl and shorebird habitat.

“Working in concert with partners like Ducks Unlimited and The Wetlands Initiative allows us to maximize the return on our investment in nature. Our combined efforts, which involve a host of partners, volunteers and donors, have yielded incredible restoration and protection results in this region while providing an enhanced experience for both people and nature,” said Michelle Carr, The Nature Conservancy Illinois state director. “We eagerly anticipate the infrastructure upgrades that will protect the Conservancy’s 5,500-acre wetland at Emiquon as well as our neighboring landowners.”