A Guide to the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act (INAPA) serves as a crucial tool for safeguarding the state's most valuable ecological treasures, ensuring that future generations can enjoy the benefits of these unique landscapes. This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of the INAPA, providing a clear understanding of the regulated activities, entities, and substances that fall under its purview. By exploring the Act's structure, key provisions, and compliance obligations, readers will gain the knowledge necessary to navigate the regulatory landscape and effectively manage projects in a manner that respects Illinois' protected natural areas. The guide also highlights recent developments and offers a glimpse into the future of natural areas preservation in the state, equipping readers with the insights needed to stay ahead of the curve in this dynamic field.


Key Details of the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act

Issuing Agency: Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Year Established: 1972 Last Amended: 2021 Statutory Authority: Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, 525 ILCS 301 Primary Legal Reference: Illinois Compiled Statutes, Chapter 525, Act 30

Overview of the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act

The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act (INAPA) is a state-level regulation that operates within the broader framework of Illinois environmental laws. It complements federal regulations such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by providing additional protections for unique and ecologically significant natural areas within the state.

The primary goal of INAPA is to preserve, protect, and defend natural areas and endangered species habitats in Illinois. It aims to maintain these areas in their natural condition and protect them from development, exploitation, and other human activities that may cause degradation.2

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is the primary state agency responsible for administering and enforcing INAPA. The regulation was first enacted in 1972 and has undergone several amendments over the years, with the most recent significant changes occurring in 2021.

INAPA achieves its goals by establishing a system for identifying, designating, and protecting natural areas of significance in the state. It authorizes the IDNR to acquire, manage, and maintain these areas, as well as to provide grants and assistance to local governments and private organizations for natural area preservation.3

The regulation applies to all lands within the state of Illinois, including both public and private properties. However, it does not apply to lands owned by the federal government or Native American tribes.

What does the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act protect?

The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act protects a wide range of environmentally significant resources within the state, including:4

  1. Habitats of endangered, threatened, or rare species
  2. High-quality examples of natural communities, such as prairies, wetlands, and forests
  3. Geologic features of scientific or educational value
  4. Unique or outstanding natural features, such as waterfalls, canyons, or scenic vistas

INAPA protects these resources from various human activities that may cause harm or degradation, such as development, mining, logging, and pollution. The regulation achieves this protection by allowing the IDNR to designate qualifying areas as "dedicated state nature preserves," which imposes strict land use restrictions and management requirements to maintain the area's natural condition.5


Regulated Activities & Entities

The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, enacted in 1981, is a comprehensive state law designed to protect and preserve natural areas, including land and water, that are deemed to have significant ecological, scientific, or educational value6. The Act regulates various activities and entities that may impact these protected areas, focusing on conserving biodiversity, rare species, and unique natural features.

The following activities and substances are prohibited under the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act:

  1. Unauthorized land development: Any construction, alteration, or land use change within a designated natural area without proper approval from the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC)7.

  2. Destruction or removal of natural resources: Collecting, harvesting, or damaging protected plants, animals, or geological features within a natural area, unless permitted for scientific or educational purposes8.

  3. Introduction of non-native species: Releasing or planting exotic species that may compete with or disrupt the native ecosystem within a natural area9.

  4. Pollution and waste disposal: Discharging pollutants, chemicals, or waste materials into a natural area or its surrounding water bodies, which may degrade the environmental quality and harm the protected species10.

These prohibitions are crucial for maintaining the ecological integrity and biodiversity of Illinois' natural areas, which serve as vital habitats for rare and endangered species, as well as providing important ecosystem services and recreational opportunities for the public11.

Structure and Key Provisions

The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act is structured into several key sections that outline its purpose, definitions, administrative responsibilities, and enforcement mechanisms. Some of the most important provisions include:

Section 2: Definitions12

This section defines key terms used throughout the Act, such as "natural area," "dedication," and "nature preserve," providing clarity and consistency in the application of the law.

Section 3: Illinois Nature Preserves Commission13

This provision establishes the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) as the primary administrative body responsible for implementing the Act and overseeing the protection and management of natural areas.

Section 4: Powers and Duties of the Commission14

This section outlines the specific authorities and responsibilities of the INPC, including the ability to designate and acquire natural areas, develop management plans, and enforce regulations.

Section 5: Dedication of Nature Preserves15

This provision sets forth the process by which land can be dedicated as a nature preserve, including the requirements for dedication, management agreements, and the rights and duties of landowners.

Section 6: Prohibited Activities16

This section lists the activities that are prohibited within dedicated nature preserves, such as land development, resource extraction, and the introduction of non-native species, unless specifically authorized by the INPC.

While this overview provides a general understanding of the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act's structure and key provisions, it is essential for stakeholders to consult the full text of the regulation and engage with the INPC for project-specific guidance, as the applicability and requirements may vary depending on the specific circumstances and location of a proposed development.


Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act establishes various standards and limitations to protect and preserve natural areas in the state. These include:

  • Designation of natural areas: The Act empowers the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission to identify and designate natural areas that possess significant ecological, scientific, educational, or aesthetic values.17
  • Restrictions on land use: Once a natural area is dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve, it is protected from future development and land use changes that may adversely affect its ecological integrity.18
  • Management guidelines: The Act requires the development and implementation of management plans for each designated nature preserve to ensure its long-term protection and preservation.19

These standards are enforced through a combination of administrative oversight, permit requirements, and legal restrictions on land use within designated nature preserves. Developers and consultants must work closely with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission to ensure compliance with these standards and limitations.20

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

Under the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, regulated entities may be subject to various monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. These obligations are designed to ensure compliance with the Act's provisions and to track the status of protected natural areas. Some general types of requirements include:

  • Baseline inventories: Documenting the ecological conditions and species present in a natural area at the time of its dedication as a nature preserve.21
  • Management plan implementation: Monitoring and reporting on the implementation of approved management plans for designated nature preserves.22
  • Land use reporting: Providing information on any proposed land use changes or development activities within or adjacent to a dedicated nature preserve.23

Developers and consultants should understand and fulfill the specific monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations that apply to their projects.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act provides for various enforcement actions and penalties to address violations of its provisions. These may include:

  • Notices of violation: Formal notifications issued by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission or other relevant agencies to inform regulated entities of observed violations and required corrective actions.24
  • Administrative orders: Directives issued by the Commission or other agencies to compel compliance with the Act's requirements or to cease activities that threaten the integrity of a dedicated nature preserve.25
  • Civil and criminal penalties: Monetary fines and, in severe cases, criminal charges for knowing violations of the Act's provisions or failure to comply with administrative orders.26

To avoid enforcement actions and penalties, developers and consultants should prioritize proactive compliance and early engagement with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and other relevant agencies. This includes thoroughly reviewing the Act's requirements, consulting with agency staff to clarify any uncertainties, and developing project plans that fully address the Act's conservation goals. By working collaboratively with regulatory authorities, developers can minimize the risk of violations and ensure the long-term protection of Illinois' valuable natural areas.27


Recent Developments & Regulatory Outlook

The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act has undergone several significant developments in recent years that have shaped the current regulatory landscape. One notable amendment is the passage of Public Act 101-0171 in 2019, which expanded the definition of "natural area" to include lands that support threatened or endangered species, as well as those that contain high-quality examples of native ecological communities28. This amendment has broadened the scope of the Act's protection and has implications for developers and environmental consultants working on projects that may impact these newly defined natural areas.

Another important development is the increased focus on climate change adaptation and resilience in the context of natural areas preservation. In 2021, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources released a comprehensive plan titled "Adapting to Climate Change in Illinois Natural Areas," which outlines strategies for managing and protecting natural areas in the face of changing climate conditions29. This plan is expected to guide future policy decisions and may result in additional regulations or guidelines related to the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act.

Stakeholders should stay informed about these developments and any upcoming regulatory changes by regularly visiting the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website, subscribing to relevant mailing lists, and engaging with industry associations such as the Illinois Environmental Council or the Illinois Association of Environmental Professionals. These organizations often provide updates on regulatory developments and offer opportunities for stakeholders to participate in the regulatory process through public comment periods or workshops.

Additional Resources

Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act Full Text: The complete text of the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, including all amendments to date.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Natural Areas Page: Official agency webpage providing an overview of the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, along with links to related resources and documents.

Illinois Nature Preserves Commission Handbook: A comprehensive guide to the policies and procedures of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, the body responsible for implementing the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act.


  1. 525 ILCS 30, Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1739&ChapterID=44

  2. 525 ILCS 30/2, Declaration of policy, https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K2

  3. 525 ILCS 30/6, Powers and duties, https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K6

  4. 525 ILCS 30/3, Definitions, https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K3

  5. 525 ILCS 30/10, Dedication of nature preserves, https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K10

  6. Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, 525 ILCS 30/1 et seq. (1981). https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1739&ChapterID=44.

  7. 525 ILCS 30/6 (a). https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K6.

  8. 525 ILCS 30/6 (b). https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K6.

  9. 525 ILCS 30/6 (c). https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K6.

  10. 525 ILCS 30/6 (d). https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K6.

  11. Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, 525 ILCS 30/1. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1739&ChapterID=44.

  12. 525 ILCS 30/2. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K2.

  13. 525 ILCS 30/3. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K3.

  14. 525 ILCS 30/4. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K4.

  15. 525 ILCS 30/5. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K5.

  16. 525 ILCS 30/6. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=052500300K6.

  17. 525 ILCS 30/6. Dedication of nature preserves.

  18. 525 ILCS 30/14. Prohibited actions.

  19. 525 ILCS 30/11. Management of nature preserves.

  20. 525 ILCS 30/1. Short title. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1739&ChapterID=44

  21. 525 ILCS 30/6. Dedication of nature preserves.

  22. 525 ILCS 30/11. Management of nature preserves.

  23. 525 ILCS 30/14. Prohibited actions.

  24. 525 ILCS 30/21. Civil penalties.

  25. 525 ILCS 30/22. Injunctive relief.

  26. 525 ILCS 30/23. Criminal penalties.

  27. Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. 2021. A Comprehensive Guide to the Illinois Nature Preserves System. https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/INPC/Documents/INPC_Guide_2021.pdf

  28. Illinois General Assembly. (2019). Public Act 101-0171. https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=101-0171

  29. Illinois Department of Natural Resources. (2021). Adapting to Climate Change in Illinois Natural Areas. https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/conservation/ClimateChange/Pages/AdaptingtoClimateChange.aspx

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.