CHICAGO – The federal government’s partial shutdown has placed more than 128,000 acres of wildlife refuges and other lands off limits in Illinois, including a prized swath of hiking and hunting territory on the edge of the Ozark foothills that contributes millions of dollars to the area’s economy.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Saturday nationwide closures, including eight wildlife refuges around Illinois. All recreational activities at those locations – including hunting, fishing, environmental education and public events – have been canceled. The agency also shut several offices and facilities around the state.
Those closures are in addition to the recent shutdown of more than 56,000 acres of recreational land managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Illinois, including Carlyle Lake, the state’s largest man-made lake.
The wildlife refuges include Crab Orchard, a popular area of woodlands, grasslands and wetlands that juts into a lake to the west of Marion in southern Illinois. It sits on the edge of the Ozarks and draws around a 1 million visitors a year, the most of the eight closed refuges. Its recreation programs generate $25 million a year, according to the agency.
The shutdown hits at an especially bad time because so many of the refuge’s visitors come in the fall for the waterfowl and deer hunting seasons and for educational programs, agency spokesman Chuck Traxler said.
Others pour in to see the hundreds of thousands of Canada geese that use the area as a rest stop along the migratory route known as the Mississippi Flyway.
“This is prime time for hunting, fishing, just getting outside because the weather is so beautiful, enjoying scenery. Unfortunately all those lands are closed,” Traxler said.
Throughout its eight-state Midwest region, the agency has put more than 800 employees on unpaid furlough and closed more than 1.2 million acres of federal public land.
The closed Illinois refuges include Chautauqua, Emiquon and Meredosia in the central part of the state. In the south are Two Rivers, Middle Mississippi, Crab Orchard and Cypress Creek.
The only one in the northern part of the state, Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, straddles the Illinois-Wisconsin line. However, because it was authorized just last year, the Illinois side is not yet open to the public as the agency works to acquire land there.