One hundred years ago today, the Izaak Walton League of America was founded in Chicago, with a mission of local stewardship of wild places, citizen science and celebrating outdoor traditions, and for the future, its leaders are spotlighting the value of community-led conservation. Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the League, said from conserving land and restoring wildlife to reducing water pollution, achievements have been driven by grassroots engagement. He pointed out it includes hunters and anglers who want to conserve wildlife, and protesters who demanded cleaner air and water in the 1960s and 70s.
“Folks are coming together in their own communities to respond to what’s most significant there,” Kovarovics explained. “In some places, it may be that invasive plants and animals are taking over the landscape, you know. In other places, it’s maybe wildlife at risk, or it’s water pollution, or it’s any number of things.”
He noted the League provides the tools and training for things like water-quality testing, and emphasized the model for citizen science is even more important now, with climate change and increasing threats to the natural world. Gary Struck, president of the League’s Illinois Division, said in the last century, they have fostered reforestation efforts by supporting tree-planting in the Shawnee National Forest, and in former strip-mining areas. He added early on, they also helped get the General Assembly to pass the first bond issue for conservation funded through hunting and fishing licenses, among other conservation wins. He stated today, connecting families with the outdoors is a big focus.
“Looking forward to the next 100 years, the Illinois Division is going to continue its effort to connect the youth with the outdoors,” Struck remarked. “That will include wildlife identification, and outdoor skills such as fishing.”
Struck stressed they will continue to focus on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, including silt migration in the Kankakee River. And he encouraged people to participate in the group’s Clean Water Challenge, by monitoring and cleaning up local streams and ponds.