Refuge aims to protect rare prairies, oak savannas

RINGWOOD, Ill. (AP) — Nature lovers have a new place to enjoy the outdoors.

The 11,200-acre Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois' McHenry County and Wisconsin's Walworth County includes tallgrass prairies, oak savannas and wetlands. It's also home to threatened animals and plants.

The U.S. Department of Interior approved the Hackmatack in August. It became official in November, when the Fish and Wildlife Service acquired its first easement.

It's part of a plan to restore native ecosystems and bring urban and suburban dwellers closer to nature. There are more than 10 million people within about an hour's drive.

Some of the land is owned by conservation groups and the McHenry County Conservation District, but much is owned privately. The government will buy land over time, but won't force anyone to sell.

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Online: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/planning/Hackmatack/

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