Updated: November 5, 2011 1:28PM
BEAVERVILLE, Ill. — Vehicles lined the side of the country road from the crossroads to the secondary gravel entrance to Iroquois State Wildlife Area on Thursday morning. As I walked to join the camouflage-clad crowd outside the site office, another hunter spotted a bobcat. It’s that kind of place: wild and wonderful, but within reach of Chicago.
There’s a reason a record 130 hunters came for the drawing for 48 pegs for opening day of dove hunting. There’s a desperate need for public hunting areas in Illinois, but especially near Chicago.
Now there’s a wrongly justified movement to take a 77-acre chunk of land away from Iroquois SWA and put it into an Illinois Nature Preserve.
The natural world will not end if the Leesville East Savanna, a fork-shaped strip of land extending west from the Indiana line near the border of Kankakee and Iroquois counties, is dedicated into the Carl N. Becker Nature Preserve.
Nature preserves have it too good in Illinois. Because of the way the legal language is written, once property is a nature preserve in Illinois, it is locked for perpetuity. There is no turning back into a multi-use piece of land.
The Leesville tract is the only know location in Illinois for yellow false indigo (Baptisia tinctoria). That’s not enough reason to take a tract of land out of general public use. So the push came from a bizarre set of scenarios, according to an IDNR memo:
◆ “The proposed development of the third airport continues to move forward.’’ If the Peotone airport is moving forward, it’s at a fraction of Paul Konerko’s foot speed.
◆ ‘‘The proposed Illiana Expressway is moving closer to becoming reality, as well.’’ That’s a smidge closer to reality than the Peotone Airport, but it is decades away, and even the southernmost proposed route is 15 miles to the north.
But what really angered me is under the Hunting Opportunities section, apparently written by somebody who flunked math in junior high and never recovered.
Iroquois SWA has 2,240 of its 2,807 acres as huntable. The Division of Natural Heritage a few years ago swapped the 200-acre Baron Tract (where dove fields are north of the site office) for 77 acres (where the old dove fields were). which were added on the east side of Hooper Branch Savanna Nature Preserve. That added 123 acres of huntable land — a 5 percent increase. But the Nature Preserve Dedication Fact Sheet reads ‘‘That is a 65% increase in hunting opportunity.’’ And underlined it for emphasis. Underlined and all, that’s wrong.
Add the 30 acres of Leesville West, and that makes a 6 percent increase in huntable acres. But the Nature Preserve Fact Sheet reads, again underlined for emphasis, ‘‘Together, these two transactions resulted in a 70% increase in huntable acres at Iroquois State Wildlife Area.’’ That’s so ludicrously wrong, I don’t know how to respond.
On Thursday, I was one of those who didn’t draw a field peg. So I hunted other areas, like dozens of other unlucky hunters. At the noon start, there was a barrage of shooting. It was done after 10 minutes. Another smaller barrage came around 1 p.m.
When I get riled, I walk it away. Bureaucratic stupidity riles me. The flight of goldfinches, red-headed woodpeckers and dragonflies gave me adrenaline flares. Iroquois SWA is a rare spot in Illinois where both red squirrels and red-headed woodpeckers may be seen. And it’s in an area where hunters walk past both by the thousands.
The heat built. In a couple hours, I drank a gallon of water and a quarter of lemonade and was still parched. Some things you can’t fight. I saw six doves total without a shot.
It was time.
If you want to fight the switch of the Leesville East Savanna, e-mail IDNR director Marc Miller at