Ecological Stewardship Workdays

a group of volunteers

Help increase native biodiversity and protect threatened plant and wildlife habitat.


The Forest Preserves covers over 69,000 acres—an impressive 11 percent of Cook County. Many of our prairies, woodlands and wetlands are overwhelmed with aggressive invasive plants that decrease the ecological health of our preserves. We depend on stewardship volunteers to help us take care of our natural areas and connect people to the Forest Preserves.


As a stewardship volunteer you will learn about native plants and animals, gain hands-on experience in ecological restoration and develop leadership skills.

Search Opportunities What to Expect Leadership & Training


Bringing Light to Amphibians from our partner Shedd Aquarium.

What to Expect

Be prepared for variable weather, uneven terrain, standing and/or walking for two or more hours, working near a fire and hazardous insects and plants. All necessary tools, safety gear and instruction will be provided on-site.



What will I be doing?

The work you’ll be doing depends on the season and the needs of the site. You can always reach out to the contact listed on a Stewardship Workday opportunity to find out in advance. Some common tasks include:


  • Removing weeds and invasive vegetation—often using hand saws, loppers or gardening tools
  • Burning cut brush
  • Collecting or spreading native seed
  • Transplanting seedlings
  • Monitoring
  • Collecting trash



What should I wear/bring?

Needs vary by season, but here’s a good place to start:


DO wear/bring:

  • Clothes that can get dirty:
    • Multiple layers
    • Non-synthetic materials (cotton, wool, etc.)
    • Long pants and long socks
    • Sturdy, closed-toe shoes
    • Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, etc.)
  • Water bottle
  • Healthy snack
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent

DO NOT wear/bring:

  • Valuables
  • Cologne/perfume
  • Shorts
  • Open-toe shoes
  • New or synthetic clothes

Leadership Roles & Training Opportunities

Have you ever left a stewardship workday feeling so inspired that you thought about playing a bigger role? We currently have the greatest need for:


Current Training Opportunities

Training classes are available to all volunteers with at least 15 volunteer hours or a recommendation from a Stewardship Leader or Forest Preserves staff:


View All Training Opportunities

Leadership Role Descriptions & Requirements


Brush Pile Burn Boss


  • Monitors weather conditions before and throughout the workday
  • Monitors fire through the workday
  • Safely shuts down fire until no flames are present
  • Makes calls to entities listed on the Site “Call Sheet”

Training Requirements:

  • Completion of the Brush Pile Building and Burning Class (3 hours)
  • Completion of 2 Field Observations at 2 different sites




  • Able to run, safe and effective chainsaw operation at FPCC Stewardship Sites
  • Basic maintenance
  • Follow site’s management schedule and fell designated trees or tree species
  • Wear Kevlar boots and other PPE during chainsawing

Training Requirements:

  • To become a Feller 1 – attend Chainsaw Training session and pass administered field observation and skills test
  • To become a Feller 2 – Be a current Feller I and attend an additional training and field portion
  • Chainsaw Maintenance Class highly recommended


Herbicide Applicator


  • Carries herbicide license whenever they are applying herbicide
  • Applies herbicide using proper herbicide techniques to species identified in the Management Schedule
  • Ability to mix herbicide according to the requirements presented on the herbicide label and the safety precautions on the MSDS sheet
  • Maintain herbicide log for their own applications. Provides log to the Forest Preserves on a quarterly basis
  • Works with other site leaders and volunteers to maintain a safe work environment including necessary measures to keep volunteers and Preserve patrons out of herbicided area
  • Posts signs as required by Land Management Guidelines and Managing Invasives class in accordance with label requirements
  • Handle all chemicals and chemical exposed tools properly and safely

Training Requirements:

  • Pass the IL Dept. of Ag. General Standards and one additional test
  • Renew license via Volunteer Resources


Herbicide Operator


  • Follows the same rules as Herbicide Applicator, but is unable to mix herbicide.

Training Requirements:

  • Pass the IL Dept. of Ag. General Standards
  • Renew license via Volunteer Resources
  • Must be listed under a Herbicide Applicator


Seed Collection Leader


  • Effectively instruct others in species identification and seed collection techniques
  • Coordinate with the Site Steward about recordkeeping, proper seed storage, etc.
  • Organize with Site Steward the administrative tasks such as workday posting, waivers, attendance, reporting hours, etc.
  • Work within management schedule for the site
  • Requires higher level of coordination and recordkeeping for all threatened and endangered species
  • May also collect and dispose of seeds of invasive plants, e.g. teasel, using the appropriate methods

Training Requirements:

  • Complete Group Leadership Training – classroom training with written exam
  • Approval by Site Steward – site specific and species specific


Weed Watchers


  • Able to effectively instruct others in invasive species identification & removal techniques
  • Able to clearly demonstrate control techniques as needed
  • Able to perform herbicide application or supervise others doing herbicide application

Training Requirements:

  • Group Leadership Training – classroom training with written exam
  • Must be a Herbicide applicator/operator if treating herbicides
  • Approval by Site Steward



Path to Stewardship

Stewardship Workday Leader

  • Stewardship Workday Leaders are responsible for decisions at workdays in the absence of a Site Steward
  • Communicate with Site Steward(s) to plan workdays that operate within the approved Management Schedule
  • Plan workday logistics – i.e. waivers and necessary tools
  • Lead introduction and communicate workday safety rules, demonstrate proper techniques for basic workday activities (for example, brush cutting, brush pile burning, collecting and sowing seed)
  • Assign roles/positions to volunteers in accordance to their experience
  • Act as an ambassador for your site and for FPCC by actively engaging & recruiting volunteers

Training Requirements:

  • Attend and complete the following trainings: Group Leadership, Managing Invasives, and Brush Pile Burning and Building
  • Work with two mentors
  • Download checklist (PDF)

Site Steward

  • Have a basic understanding of the core concepts of ecological restoration
  • Make a continuing and committed effort to learn the flora and fauna of their site
  • Collaborate with FPCC staff & other volunteers to develop a Management Schedule for their site
  • Communicate with the Regional Ecologist on updates to the Management Schedule, new challenges, progress towards restoration goals and on land management questions
  • Work with FPCC on requests for contractor, intern and Resource Management support
  • Ensure that workday leaders and volunteers understand and comply with applicable rules and regulations
  • Understand the importance of accurate and complete records including maintaining workday, seed collecting, and planting data, and entering/maintaining FPCC required records
  • Understand the importance of others’ perceptions of restoration work and be sensitive to public attitudes and education; be able to answer questions (from the public and from other volunteers) in terms that are accurate and clear to the lay person
  • Recognize situations where his/her knowledge may be incomplete and proceed with caution, seeking the advice and counsel of others more experienced and/or knowledgeable in restoration
  • Know the abilities of volunteers; choose capable leaders and assign volunteer tasks effectively
  • Give feedback to volunteers throughout workdays and consistently educate others about species, processes, and goals of management relating to natural areas
  • Act as an ambassador for their site and for FPCC by actively engaging volunteers and the public
  • Promote growth and continuity of the volunteer group

Training Requirements:

  • Complete Stewardship Workday Leader certification
  • Recommendation from Coach/Mentor (complete forms)
  • Recommendation from Stewardship Program Coordinator (complete forms)
  • Recommendation and site walk with Regional Ecologist (complete forms)


Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County