5. The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission: Where Once We Were Opportunists
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113 In his career-long quest to preserve natural areas, George Fell suffered several notable setbacks. As relentless as rainwater in search of the sea, however, he let no obstacle impede the ultimate achievement of his goals. When his earliest efforts to cultivate a statewide system of natural areas preservation stalled, he went on to transition the Ecologists’ Union into The Nature Conservancy. After he unsuccessfully challenged the leadership of that organization, he immediately started up the Natural Land Institute. His first attempt at securing passage of a natural areas bill having failed, he threw himself into the secretariat of the Illinois chapter of The Nature Conservancy before taking up a second legislative campaign to establish the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. And when a competing natural areas bill, not the one he championed, was signed into law, he embraced the alternative commission as if it were his very own. With the passage of the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, in 1963, Fell finally achieved the statutory means to shift preservation efforts away from a chronically haphazard, opportunistic course toward one that was purposeful and strategic and that had the force of law behind it. “Where once we were opportunists, preserving what we could when we could,” he would relate in a summary overview of the natural areas preservation movement, “we now plan and direct our efforts deliberately.”1 But all the planning and direction would have amounted to very little without the money needed to manage a program and, most important, to buy and steward land. For financial support, Fell turned to the shell organization he had set up for just such a purpose. The creative public-private partnership Fell fostered between the Illinois Nature 5 The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission Where Once We Were Opportunists 114 The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission Preserves Commission and the Natural Land Institute, coupled with his willingness—once again—to work full time for little or no compensation, allowed the commission to flourish from the outset and to function for many years thereafter, nearly as independently as he originally envisioned. Protection by Dedication The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act broadly outlined a threefold system for protecting natural areas: (1) dedicating existing natural areas, either in private or public ownership, as nature preserves; (2) acquiring new natural areas by the state for the purpose of dedicating them as nature preserves; and (3) managing all dedicated nature preserves to ensure that their ecological features were passed on to future generations unimpaired or improved. As with any new system, there were innumerable details to work out, including the operational mechanics of an entirely new entity. This was familiar territory for Fell. Yet, before he could flesh out the bare bones of the statute language, he would suffer yet another unexpected setback. The first order of business at the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission’s inaugural meeting, held in Chicago on January 30, 1964, was the election of officers. Governor Kerner, in accordance with the statute, had consulted with the chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey and the director of the Illinois State Museum to appoint a well-qualified and well-balanced group of commissioners . Among the ecologists named, in addition to Fell, were Margery C. Carlson, retired professor of botany at Northwestern University; S. Charles Kendeigh, Fell’s former University of Illinois professor and colleague from both The Nature Conservancy and its Illinois chapter; and Willard D. Klimstra, professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University. Conservation organization and agency representatives included Elton Fawks, of the Izaak Walton League in Illinois, and Charles G. “Cap” Sauers, general superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Representing those with general interests in natural areas preservation were James Brown IV, executive director of the Chicago Community Trust; Edward M. Levin Jr., an attorney and the author of Fell’s alternative nature preserve bills; and Mary Ann Leslie Walgreen, a noted nature photographer and the wife of the chairman of the Walgreen’s pharmacy chain, whom Fell had approached as a prospective donor for the start-up of a statewide nonprofit preservation organization fifteen years earlier. Prior to the first meeting, Kendeigh had suggested that Fell deserved the chairmanship of the commission as the unquestioned leader for natural areas preservation in Illinois. Fell agreed.2 Aside from the Natural Land Institute, he had never been elected the head of anything, dating all the way back to his high school botany club, where he served as vice president. Even though his...



Subject Headings

  • Fell, George B.
  • Nature Conservancy (U.S.) -- History.
  • Natural Areas Association (U.S.) -- History.
  • Illinois Nature Preserves Commission -- History.
  • Natural Land Institute (Rockford, Ill.) -- History.
  • Natural areas -- Illinois -- History.
  • Nature conservation -- Illinois -- History.
  • Conservationists -- Illinois -- Biography.
  • Natural areas -- United States -- History.
  • Nature conservation -- United States -- History.
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