Organization Overview

For 65 years, the Natural Land Institute has helped residents of northern Illinois conserve the land they cherish. We are one of the oldest private conservation groups in the Midwest.

We are a member supported, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving land and natural diversity for future generations. Since 1958, NLI has protected, managed, and restored more than 18,000 acres throughout Illinois and southern Wisconsin. These include prairies, forests, wetlands, and river corridors.

Click HERE to see our impact map.

Serving as a regional land trust, the Institute accepts donations of properties, buys lands, manages natural areas, and helps landowners establish legal agreements that permanently limit harmful use and development.

Our Mission

The mission of the Natural Land Institute is to create an enduring legacy of natural land in northern Illinois for people, plants, and animals.

We are living at the time of man’s final conquest over the wilderness. What we have saved, and what we may save in the next few years, will be all the true wild nature that will remain to pass on from generation to generation in the years ahead. There will never be another chance.George B. Fell, founder of the Natural Land Institute

The role of Natural Land Institute (NLI) includes both advocacy for land preservation and land use planning and direct action to preserve areas by acquisition, either on its own or in conjunction with other organizations and agencies

We need your help to fulfill our vision for the future – a world in which people recognize that we are a part of nature and act with the knowledge that our future depends upon preserving the natural systems that support all life on Earth.

The Natural Land Institute’s programs include five main categories:

  • Acquiring and protecting natural areas.
  • Managing, protecting, and restoring natural areas and native species.
  • Conducting research and managing information.
  • Disseminating information about land and nature conservation.
  • Developing sound public policies and plans.

Our History

George B. Fell founded the Natural Land Institute in 1958 and served as Executive Director until his death in 1994. George’s dedication to the preservation of natural areas continues to inspire the programs of NLI.

George created a land conservation movement that has protected the wonderful diversity of native plants and animals and the beautiful tapestry of life that we enjoy. Supporters and staff of the Natural Land Institute have sustained his important work of protecting the forests, rivers and wetlands that are threatened throughout northern Illinois.

NLI has negotiated the acquisition of more than 100 tracts of land totaling more than 18,000 acres. A few of these areas include Harlem Hills Nature Preserve, Rockton Nature Preserve, Sugar River tracts, Nachusa Grasslands, Markham Prairie, Franklin Creek State Natural Area, Matthiessen State Park, Briggs Wetland, Apple River Canyon and the Castle Rock area.

NLI currently owns and manages 25 preserves totaling 3,118.77 acres and holds 49 conservation easements on 3,814.15 acres.


Land Acknowledgement

We at the Natural Land Institute remain committed to preserving and stewarding species,
populations and ecosystems of the land and waters of our home, northwest Illinois. We
recognize that these lands and waters served as the traditional, ancestral and contemporary
lands of indigenous people that have dwelt here for millennia. These are the traditional lands
of the Illinois Confederacy including the Peoria; the Kikaapoi (Kickapoo), Waazija (Ho-
Chunk/Winnebago), the Bodewadmiakiwen (Potawatomi), the Sauk and Meskwaki, the
Myaamia, the Ochethi Sakowin (Sioux or Seven Council Fires), and other native peoples who
lived in deep connection with this land as its original stewards.

We acknowledge our indebtedness to traditional ecological scientific knowledge with its
interwoven perspectives. We pledge to work with indigenous groups and nations to share
information and build mutual respect, making our conservation better.


Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

NLI is committed to building a culture that respects everyone and where many voices
can be heard. Our effectiveness and impact across our region will be enhanced, and
our mission well-served as we recognize diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in all
aspects of our work.

Our Changing Climate

By preventing the destruction of native habitats and implementing land conservation as
one of our core strategies, NLI’s actions are instrumental in mitigating the impacts of
climate change and providing clean air, clean water, healthy soils and resulting in
significant levels of carbon sequestration. We are committed to managing our natural
areas to make them more resilient and adaptable to those changes. We recognize that
protecting our natural areas is imperative to protecting our quality of life in the face of
our changing climate.

This reflects our commitment to using science and emerging knowledge, as well as a
collaborative approach to conservation, to benefit all of the region’s residents.

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