Members of Moraine Valley Community College participate in a workday at Kickapoo prairie, removing invasive species so native plants can thrive.
Staff members of Moraine Valley Community College participate in a workday at Kickapoo prairie, removing invasive species so native plants can thrive.

Ecological Restoration

Ecological restoration is the practice of bringing back the conditions that support healthy nature.

It means getting outside, getting fresh air and enjoying the camaraderie of like-minded people as you collect seed, remove invasive brush and weeds, and learn about the connections between people and healthy nature.

Over 100 years ago great civic leaders knew they better get to work setting land aside, because soon, there would be 10 million people in the Chicago region. Today, we have some of the best remaining examples of native Illinois ecosystems are right here in the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

Today about 20% of the nearly 70,000 acres of forest preserves are in a natural state.

FUN FACT: If assembled all the forest preserves into one piece, it would cover about half of the City of Chicago

Unfortunately the majority of our forest preserves are in ecologically poor condition. The good news is every weekend, in all parts of the county, teams of dedicated volunteers enjoy the company of other eco-minded people while saving the flora and fauna of some of the best natural areas in the state.

We have a lot of work to do, and we need your help. So join us for a volunteer day, get outside and enjoy nature!

View our handout on ecological restoration! What Is Eco Restoration?

Restoring Healthy Nature

Invasive Plants + Lack of Fire  = Unhealthy Woodland

Unhealthy Conditions: Dense shade from invasive trees killed the grasses and flowers that should cover the ground. Birds and butterflies that should live here are gone. Soil now washes into creeks

Unhealthy Conditions: Dense shade from invasive trees killed the grasses and flowers that should cover the ground. Birds and butterflies that should live here are gone. Soil now washes into creeks

Ecological Restoration Begins

Unhealthy Woodland: Volunteers are cutting down the invasive tree European buckthorn.

Unhealthy Woodland: Volunteers are cutting down the invasive tree European buckthorn.

Sunlight Returns

An Oak Woodland Revealed! The buckthorn stumps will be cut lower and native grass and flower seeds planted to speed the healing.

An Oak Woodland Revealed! The buckthorn stumps will be cut lower and native grass and flower seeds planted to speed the healing.

Healthy Nature Restored

Healthy Woodland:  Several years later a healthy woodland now exists. Birds and butterflies have returned.  Proper structure will be maintained with regular prescribed fire.

Healthy Woodland:  Several years later a healthy woodland now exists. Birds and butterflies have returned.  Proper structure will be maintained with regular prescribed fire.

Proper Structure Is . . .

Prairie. Full Sunlight. 0 - 10% tree cover.

Prairie. Full Sunlight. 0 – 10% tree cover.

Savanna. Mostly full sun, some shade. 10% - 50% tree cover.

Savanna. Mostly full sun, some shade. 10% – 50% tree cover.

Woodland. Dappled sunlight. 50% - 80% tree cover.

Woodland. Dappled sunlight. 50% – 80% tree cover.

Proper structure is restored by removing invasive plants, planting appropriate ones, and returning fire. We remove invasive plants by cutting them down, pulling them up, and if necessary applying herbicide to prevent regrowth. We plant the appropriate mix of flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees to stop soil erosion and provide homes for wildlife.

Why can’t we just let nature take its course?

Humans have always managed nature. Ever since the glaciers receded some 13,000 years ago we have been cutting, burning, and otherwise manipulating nature. We chose to stop setting fire to the land and to release invasive plants. We can now choose to let the health of our forest preserves decline or choose to restore the conditions for healthy nature.

Prescribed Fire:

Prescribed fire is the most efficient and cost effective tool to restore healthy nature. It can kill invasive plants, release nutrients into the soil, allow plants to grow sooner in spring-time, and increase seed germination rates.

Path to Stewardship

People are the key to healthy forest preserves! The Path to Stewardship is open to any volunteer wanting to increase their dedication to restoring healthy nature. Field experience, classes, and mentoring give you the qualifications you need to become a leader. Regardless of your age, schedule, or fitness level there are ways you can contribute!

Case Study: Kickapoo Prairie

Over several years, we carefully restored the prairie at Kickapoo Woods, but we’re not done yet! Read Brenda Elmore’s, our Calumet Invasive Species Conservation Corps crew leader, blog post about the revitalization of Kickapoo.

Forest Preserve Leadership Corps crew leader Daiva Gylys and Calumet Conservation Corps crew member Devon Brown hep lead a volunteer workday to collect native seeds at Kickapoo prairie.
Conservation Corps Crew Manager Daiva Gylys and Calumet Conservation Corps crew member Devon Brown help lead a volunteer workday to collect native seeds at Kickapoo prairie.