Habitat & Conservation  |  05/31/2023

Illinois Catching Fire

Growing season prescribed burn conducted on private land as part of an EQIP project in southern Illinois.

PF on the Landscape in Illinois

Story and photo by Jeremy Kunick

2022 was a big year for Illinois Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever staff and our desire to create a prescribed fire culture that will change the face of our state’s landscape for generations to come. 

Historically a sea of open prairie, oak savannas, wetlands and open woodlands maintained by fire, Illinois has encountered drastic change. Like many neighboring states, we have fallen victim to urban sprawl, increased agriculture, fire suppression, unmanaged natural areas and the spread of invasive species. All have a negative impact on native ecosystems.

This past year, increasing prescribed burning was a top priority for Illinois. One of our biggest factors in this initiative’s success is the dedication of our Farm Bill Biologist staff. We have been fortunate to add several more positions across the state, all of which promote the use of prescribed fire through workshops, field tours, and writing NRCS burn plans for programs like CRP, EQIP and CSP for thousands of acres.

Additional funding from NRCS and Working Lands for Wildlife has been secured to plant two new prescribed fire coordinator positions, one in northern Illinois and another in southern Illinois. I have been on the ground as southern Illinois’ burn coordinator since June 2022; the northern position will be filled in 2023. Duties include writing burn plans, coordinating burn permits, conducting trainings and workshops, assisting partner agencies and local chapters with fire needs, and creating a movement across Illinois to establish volunteer, landowner-led Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs). 

Our very first example launched in October 2022 with great success. Forty interested folks attended a PBA interest meeting, have signed up additional members, and scheduled multiple spring burns. We have been able to assist them with equipment grants, burn plan guidance and fire education. There are plans for at least two more PBAs to start in spring 2023. We expect this concept to really take off around the state!

We will be sure to share updates from our Illinois fire initiative throughout the next year as more and more drip torches hit the land. Of course, these movements aren’t possible without the hard work of our staff, volunteers and state coordinator!

Jeremy Kunick is the Illinois prescribed fire coordinating wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever.

This story originally appeared in the 2023 Spring Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!