Prairie Research Institute

Land-use and Natural Resource Planning


PRI expertise, data, and extensive mapping activities support land-use and natural resource planning and management activities across Illinois.

Long-term Environmental Assessments

PRI monitors and studies Illinois’ diverse ecosystems, providing data and insights that are critical to decisions about endangered and threatened species, invasive species, and other conservation, restoration, and management activities.

PRI scientists:

  • contribute crucial expertise to transportation infrastructure projects by the Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois State Toll Highway System, enabling compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.
  • are using the latest genetic and modeling techniques to monitor invasive big-headed carp reproduction and assess methods aimed at halting their spread, as well as identifying, managing, and predicting the ecological impacts of these invasive carp on native fisheries.
  • evaluated the climate change vulnerability for all 331 of Illinois’ threatened and endangered plant species, making Illinois the first state to review every listed plant. Findings showed that 88 percent of threatened and endangered plants are vulnerable to climate change, and 6 percent are extremely vulnerable.
  • have conducted aerial inventories of Illinois’ waterfowl species along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers since 1948. These long-term data are used by state, federal, and private-sector entities to direct waterfowl management, conservation planning for habitat acquisition, ecological research, and education. IDNR, for example, relies on these inventories to guide the establishment of hunting season dates, zones, and other regulations and to prioritize wetland habitat acquisitions.

Digital Elevation Data

PRI provides high-resolution digital elevation data for every Illinois county. This information is essential for planning by local, state, and federal agencies.

The data were collected using airborne light detection and ranging (lidar) technologies. Products derived from lidar data have proven to be efficient and accurate tools for: mapping river forecasts used in flood emergency response for public safety; implementing flood control; floodplain mapping and regulation; risk analysis; delineating building footprints; identifying geological landforms and archaeological features; planning for dam removal; conducting levee and watershed analyses; and evaluating habitats, including tree canopies and individual tree counts and heights. By comparing LiDAR from different years, it’s possible to discern many land-use changes over time, thereby providing planners and developers with accurate measurements for assessing climate change effects on water and biota.

Other PRI mapping activities identify potential hazards, like sinkholes, and resources, including groundwater and valuable minerals.

Lake Michigan Coastline

PRI scientists improve understanding of the dynamic Lake Michigan coast, including issues like shoreline erosion, protection, and redevelopment strategies; sedimentation; beach replenishment; and near-shore lake bottom paving.

The Illinois Capital Development Board approved $45 million to construct offshore protective structures at Illinois Beach State Park to reduce shoreline erosion. PRI scientists will measure the effectiveness of an innovative lake-bed “rubble blanket” that will be installed adjacent to critical terrestrial habit to protect continued shoreline loss. To assess this pilot project, PRI will use drones, lake bed mapping with sonar, and underwater videography. PRI also provides up-to-date depth information that is critical for projects like this, and works with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to evaluate sources of sand for beach replenishment projects.

Archaeological Predictive Model

The Illinois Archaeological Predictive Model (IAPM) can be used by land managers, developers, and others to avoid impacting cultural resources when making land-use decisions.

IAPM is a GIS-based tool that considers the known locations of prehistoric Native American sites, landforms that lack archaeological sites, and other environmental and geophysical variables to predict the probability of encountering an archaeological site in every 2-acre square across the state.