How can we overcome fragmentation and unite behind a big picture vision?
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Over 90%
Cornfield with houses in distance

Illinois land that has been modified by agriculture or urban land uses

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Over 90%
Canoeist surrounded by wetland plants

Illinois wetlands lost due to agriculture, dams, channelization, and paving of Illinois lands
photo courtesy of Ron Wu

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4.5 million
Trees in a forest

current acreage of Illinois forestland, mostly fragmented into small parcels

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Trees and prairie grasses in spring

percentage reduction of Midwest (including Illinois) savannah since the early 19th century

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21 million
Flat landscape under cloudy sky

acres of Illinois prairie in the early 19th century

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Butterfly weed on green hillside

acres of high-quality prairie remaining in the Prairie State

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2.6 million
Young people walking on boardwalk through woods

number of Illinois people who regularly enjoy wildlife-related recreation
photo courtesy of Tom Rollins

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Opossum in snow

Percentage of Illinois mammal species that are threatened, endangered, or in need of conservation
photo courtesy of Eric Mace

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Red-winged blackbird on a branch

Bird species regularly seen in Illinois; of these, 83 are threatened, endangered, or in need of conservation
photo courtesy of Bob Schifo

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Head of Eastern Spiny Soft Shell Turtle

Species of Illinois amphibians that are in need of conservation
photo courtesy of Tim Lindenbaum

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Prairie with Blazingstar wildflowers with Gray Hairstreak butterfly on leaf

Prairie with Blazingstar wildflowers; Gray Hairstreak butterfly on leaf


A shared vision for conservation

Vitally important and irreplaceable natural landscapes across Illinois are threatened by development, pollution, and other pressures. These lands are in urgent need of preservation. But land conservation in Illinois has long been highly fragmented; public and private, local and statewide, Chicago metro and downstate efforts operate independently, with vastly different resources and priorities. After 10 years of supporting a variety of land conservation efforts, in 2008 Grand Victoria Foundation decided to address conservation groups’ frustration at the lack of coordination by bringing together nonprofit conservation leaders to begin changing the picture. Through periodic statewide Summits and an ongoing working group, conservation leaders set a new comprehensive vision: “An interconnected system of land and water of sufficient scale and ecological health to allow habitat, wildlife, and people to thrive.”

Embodying the vision in grantmaking

In an extraordinary collaboration, Grand Victoria Foundation invited the conservation leaders to help set priorities for the Foundation’s grantmaking in support of Vital Lands Illinois. The guidelines they drafted, approved by the Foundation’s board in 2009, spell out criteria for ensuring permanent protection of high-quality, strategically located lands and engaging local partners and community residents to cherish Illinois’ natural heritage. The conservation groups have set out a course of action to implement the vision and conservation practices set out in the guidelines through their own work and collaboration.

Prairie with farm buildings in background Virginia bluebells and trees against white rock bluff Meandering creek under cloudy sky Man with beard and long hair Woman in pink shirt smiling White bird on snowy ground with black bird poised over it
Red fox emerging from log Map and aerial shot of same location marking several parcels of land Woman and man talking Two men cutting and collecting material from tall plants
The Vital Lands Illinois
: An Interconnected
System of Land
and Water of Sufficient Scale
and Ecological Health to Allow Habitat, Wildlife,
and People to Thrive.”

Vital Lands Illinois is an extraordinary collaboration of land conservation leaders across Illinois to pursue a coordinated statewide vision of land conservation and engage citizens and public officials to ensure the long-term preservation and connectivity of Illinois' most vital landscapes. Grand Victoria Foundation grantmaking supports land acquisition and preservation under Vital Lands Illinois. 

Brochure cover for Vital Lands Illinois: Bringing the Pieces Together Vital Lands Illinois:
Bringing the Pieces Together

Why Illinois needs a systemic approach to improving land conservation.