The Forest Preserves is part of a new regional initiative to protect critical oak ecosystems, an effort that will produce ecological benefits far beyond the oaks themselves. Through the Chicago Wilderness Oak Ecosystem Recovery Plan, coordinated by the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, the Forest Preserves and other conservation partners identified key oak ecosystems, are in the process of restoring oak ecosystems on Forest Preserve land, and reaching out to homeowners and others who can protect their oaks, as well.
Oak trees are host to more than 600 animal and insect species, providing critical food and habitat for butterflies and moths, nesting birds and bats, and mushrooms and microorganisms. Additionally, the open canopy of oak woodlands and savannas create a unique combination of light levels, soil moisture, pH, and organic matter that support a wide range of plants and animals.
Prior to Euro-American settlement, oak ecosystems were widespread across the Chicago region. By the 1930s, only 30 percent of these original oak ecosystems remained due to agriculture, settlement and the burgeoning metropolis of Chicago (Chicago Wilderness Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan). And by 2010, only 17 percent remained, leaving a patchwork of small, fragmented and unhealthy lands.
To protect the remaining oak ecosystems, Chicago Wilderness, a network of conservation partners, developed the Oak Ecosystem Recovery Plan. At 15,000 acres, the Palos Preserves in southwest Cook County are the largest concentration of preserved land in the Forest Preserves. It is also the largest concentration of oak ecosystems in Cook County.
Yet with more than 70 percent of remaining oak trees in the Chicago region residing on private property, homeowners and municipalities will play a key role play in sustaining our oak ecosystems. In order to ensure a future for oaks, the Forest Preserves is holding series of public engagement and outreach efforts are planned to support the project and engage landowners in conservation actions. Homeowners can participate in Conservation@Home programs, take a survey and attend two upcoming events in Palos Park this spring to learn more.
Take our survey
Do you care about the trees, landscape and wildlife in your community? Please take a short questionnaire and let us know. Forest Preserves of Cook County in partnership with University of Illinois Extension is collecting data to better support your interests in building a healthy, vibrant, sustainable landscape and bring Conservation@Home to your neighborhood. Click here for the survey.
Learn more about the regional efforts of the Oak Ecosystem Recovery Plan.