Illinois Habitat Highway: A New Partnership for Wildlife Habitat Conservation

Pheasants Forever and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have forged a new partnership to manage for pollinator habitat and critical wildlife corridors throughout the state. Titled the “Illinois Habitat Highway” and a first of its kind partnership in the Prairie State, local chapters of Pheasants Forever  are working in conjunction with IDOT to make roadside habitat improvements that will benefit pheasants, quail, pollinators, and a host of other grassland wildlife.
“IDOT as an organization is working to find ways to better utilize our rights-of-way as habitat for the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. Partnering with Pheasants Forever has provided us with people around the state who have the hands-on experience and knowledge to complete these restoration projects,” stated Stephanie Dobbs, IDOT’s roadside maintenance manager.
Focusing specifically on pollinators with a myriad of benefits for other grassland wildlife, the Illinois Habitat Highway seeks to mimic the “Monarch Highway” established in six states along I-35 to leverage transportation rights-of-way as habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. The program is designed with Pheasants Forever diverse seed mixes which provide seasonal habitat for pollinating insects, particularly monarch butterflies. These sites will also provide critical nesting habitat while creating a insect-rich environment for pheasant and quail broods - an essential component of any upland habitat management plan.
“Illinois lies in the heart of the USFWS Monarch Butterfly National Conservation Priority Area. IDOT staff at the state and district levels, along with our dedicated local chapters, truly understand the importance of putting quality habitat on these vital rights-of-way corridors for monarchs and other wildlife,” stated Jason Bleich, senior Farm Bill wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever in Illinois. “The excitement, enthusiasm, and outstanding teamwork this new partnership has generated for pollinator habitat in our state has been extraordinary.”
Established projects for the new venture can already be found on state highways Route 45 and Route 54 in Ford County, as well as select areas of Illinois Route 180 in Knox County. This year, local chapters anticipate completing further projects on I-57 in Ford County, I-55 in Livingston County, Route 34 in Kendall County, Route 1 in Iroquois County, Route 150 in Vermilion County, and Route 45 in Champaign County. Illinois Habitat Highway projects include converting brome and fescue roadsides to highly-diverse pollinator habitat, protecting remnant prairie roadsides from mowing and spraying, and creating connectivity to larger wildlife complexes. Here’s how it works:
  • Pheasants Forever biologists provide technical assistance and project coordination
  • IDOT provides chemical and herbicide applications (already built into their budget) for site prep
  • Local Pheasants Forever chapters provide native seed for each project
  • IDOT tractors utilize native seed drills provided by Pheasants Forever for planting
  • Pheasants Forever and IDOT partnership signs are posted at each project site
About Pheasants Forever
Pheasants Forever, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever, is the nation's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have more than 149,000 members and 720 local chapters across the United States and Canada. Chapters are empowered to determine how 100 percent of their locally raised conservation funds are spent; the only national conservation organization that operates through this truly grassroots structure. Since creation in 1982, Pheasants Forever has spent $708 million on 517,000 habitat projects benefiting 15.8 million acres nationwide. 

Media Contact
Jared Wiklund
(651) 209-4953