The Illinois River makes no allowances for good intentions. Lee Albright has seen that firsthand in his early weeks at the helm of the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges, a complex that covers more than 12,000 acres and is spread over 125 miles.
The Illinois River makes no allowances for good intentions.
Lee Albright has seen that firsthand in his early weeks at the helm of the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges, a complex that covers more than 12,000 acres and is spread over 125 miles.
Flooding is a natural seasonal occurrence. But floods are coming more and more often and at odd times of the year.
That makes it even tougher for natural resources managers to mimic historic conditions that are optimal for native plant growth — and hence food for migrating birds.
“If you can get the right amount of water at the right time, you can create tremendous habitat,” he says. “But if the river comes up at the wrong times, your plans can be washed out.”
Already, Albright’s crew of two full-time maintenance staff members is busy trying to repair levees and remove trees and other debris washed onto them. The entire refuge complex operates with a manager, assistant manager, administrative system, two maintenance staff and a wildlife biologist.
Albright, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officially started March 1 as manager of Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge north of Havana and its companion, the Cameron-Billsbach Unit in Marshall County. He also is in charge of the Meredosia National Wildlife Refuge and the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge.
The Emiquon Refuge is across the river from Chautauqua and adjacent to The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve in Fulton County. The three complexes add up to nearly 14,000 acres of wetlands and backwater lakes along the Illinois River — all in close proximity.
Albright says he is busy getting to know the partner agencies and organizations in the area, including The Nature Conservancy, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the University of Illinois at Springfield, Dickson Mounds Museum and the Illinois Natural History Survey.
“TNC has been great,” he says, “As has Michael Lemke, director of the UIS Field Station and Michael Wiant, director of Dickson Mounds and the staff of the Forbes Biological Station (of the Illinois Natural History Survey).
“All of these folks have been really cordial.”
Albright says it is important that everyone work closely together because the properties are contiguous.
“I’ve been trying to get to know all the partners and see what their priorities are,” he says. “We want to work together with (The Nature Conservancy) to manage (Emiquon) as one unit.”
Albright attended a meeting of the Illinois River Coordinating Council held at the DNR headquarters building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Tuesday.
At the meeting, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other government agencies discussed the disposition of federal economic stimulus funds and how some of these funds may help pay for conservation projects in the Illinois River watershed.
Albright says the Illinois River complex likely won’t see as much stimulus money as other units within the Midwest’s Region 3 of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We were treated very well last year, so they moved a lot of the stimulus money to other stations,” he says.
A new repair shop costing $700,000 and a bunkhouse for housing volunteers, seasonal workers and scientists was completed as well. The total tab for the two projects was about $1 million.
Albright is a Peoria native who has worked as a volunteer and seasonal worker in North Dakota for the Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy. He worked as a government observer for the National Marine Fisheries Service on commercial fishing vessels.
He worked at several sites in North Dakota for the Fish and Wildlife Service and later in Colorado, and most recently at the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Washington state.
While he’s house-hunting in central Illinois, Albright is living with his mother, Edith, in Peoria and commuting an hour to Havana.
“I’m getting to know the Manito blacktop real well,” he said.
Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528 or email@example.com.