Long term vision for Forest Preserves outlines restoration priorities and future needs of vital Cook County resource
The Forest Preserves of Cook County in partnership with the University of Illinois’s Prairie Research Institute today presented the Natural & Cultural Resources Master Plan to Forest Preserve board members. The plan is a long range vision for the forest preserves and provides the guidance needed to implement the district’s restoration goals.
“A century ago, visionary civic leaders understood how important it was to set aside open land for the public,” said Forest Preserves President Toni Preckwinkle. “The Natural and Cultural Resources Master plan provides a holistic look at the state of the preservers, its habitats and wildlife as well as identifies the framework we need to restore and preserve this natural treasure for the next century.”
The Natural and Cultural Resources Master plan is the first-ever plan of its kind for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The NCRMP acts as a guide on how to implement the goals of the Next Century Conservation plan issued in 2014 which aims at restoring 30,000 of the forest preserve’s 69,000 acres in 25 years.
“With more than half our 69,000 acres either developed or degraded, it is imperative that we restore our land, and bring it into good ecological health,” said Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall. “Forest Preserve staff along with many partners, stewards and volunteers continuously work on our lands, but if we are to truly make an impact we need to have a strategy in place that identifies where and how to best address the land and habitats with the most need.”
The plan prioritizes sites in need of restoration. Of top priority is land identified within four separate blocks; Deer Grove and Ned Brown (Busse Woods) in the northwest part of the county, Palos Complex in the southwest and Jurgensen Complex in the southeast.
Cook County is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Midwest, but as the NCRMP points out, “in a county with one of the highest human population densities in the United States, many natural features are at risk.”
The four areas were chosen based on a variety of factors including lands currently under restoration, lands that could be brought to high natural quality relatively quickly, and the number of threatened and endangered plant and wildlife species found therein.
Documented in the plan are 115 species that are threatened and in danger of being wiped out from Cook County. An additional 108 plant species are also threatened and endangered and sixteen amphibians and reptiles are categorized as “of concern.”
The Prairie Research institute spent more than a year collaborating with forest preserve staff.
“The development of the Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan is one of the most robust professional and public engagement efforts as it relates to conservation,” said Brian Anderson, Executive Director of the Prairie Research Institute. “In addition to all the field work, extensive interactions between PRI scientists, Forest Preserve staff, volunteers and stewards participated in the process including Cook County residents who were also surveyed in order to perform a well-rounded assessment.”
Not only were land quality and wildlife considered, but cultural and historic aspects. Forty-six percent of the 1,200 archeological sites in Cook County are on Forest Preserve land. Artifacts dating back to the retreat of the glaciers as well as other prehistoric areas of significance must be preserved just as much as the living creatures in our area.
PRI staff also made recommendations on future land acquisition, wildlife management, how to best deal with invasive species and outside threats as well as monitoring methods to track wildlife data.
About the Forest Preserves of Cook County
Don’t you sometimes just want to escape? Explore the natural beauty of Cook County for an hour, a day or even a night. When you’re surrounded by 70,000 acres of wild and wonderful there’s no better place to feel free.