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Lake Plain Designated as “Wetlands of International Importance”

Monday, October 5, 2015  


Volunteers help release young Blanding’s turtles as part of the species’ recovery program


Chicago Wilderness congratulates its Illinois and Wisconsin partners who helped the Chiwaukee Prairie Illinois Beach Lake Plain (Lake Plain) become a designated Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty for protection of exemplary wetland systems around the world.

The Lake Plain joins Everglades National Park in Florida and San Francisco Bay Estuary in California as one of only 38 sites in the United States to achieve this designation. This is the fourth designation of its kind in Illinois and the fifth in Wisconsin. This is only the third Ramsar site in the United States that crosses state boundaries.

“Here in northeastern Illinois, Lake Michigan’s coastal wetlands have long been recognized as special places for nature and people,” stated Brent Paxton, Lake County Board Commissioner of District 4. “It is with great pride and gratitude, to all people—past and present—who have contributed, that I announce designation of the Chiwaukee Prairie Illinois Beach Lake Plain as a Ramsar “Wetlands of International Importance.” Through the Ramsar designation, 3,914 acres of our lakefront from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Waukegan, Illinois have now been acknowledged as having significant value not only for Illinois and Wisconsin, but globally.”

The Lake Plain, covering approximately 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, contains the highest quality coastal dune and swale ecosystem in the region. This coastal landscape supports six globally rare representatives of fen, sedge meadow, freshwater marsh and seep wetland communities, as well as critical sand savanna and dry prairie upland habitat. The publicly and privately protected ecosystem connects 14 different community types, seven of which are wetland communities. Among the reasons cited for recognizing the international importance of the Lake Plain were the following:

• The Lake Plain contains six representative community types of exemplary high quality, which are designated with a global conservation status ranking of imperiled or vulnerable.
• The Lake Plain supports two federally protected wetland dependent species, including the only highly viable population of eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) in the region, as well as 1,236 acres designated as critical habitat area for the federally endangered piping plover (Charadrius melodus).
• The Lake Plain serves as important breeding habitat for many wetland dependent bird species and provides critical migratory stopover habitat for at least 310 migratory bird species. A portion of the Lake Plain (2,039 acres) is designated an Important Bird Conservation Area by the National Audubon Society.

“Designation as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance is a great honor and it’s a fitting tribute to the hard work and perseverance that citizens, agencies and organizations on both sides of the state line have shown in protecting this coastal gem,” said Owen Boyle, acting director of the Natural Heritage Conservation Program for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The Great Lakes are considered some of the most important natural resources in the world. They provide drinking water for tens of millions of people and support a huge diversity of plants and wildlife, including hundreds of globally rare species. This immense network of unique habitat types provides vital ecological services, such as flood control, carbon storage and water filtration.

The Lake Plain connects 14 community types and provides habitat for over 500 plant and 300 animal species, including 63 state and four federally listed species. Future conservation projects in this region will re-establish native plant communities, minimize flow of storm water into high quality wetlands, and increase populations of threatened and endangered species through enhancement of the surrounding habitats.