In the first 20 years of our more than 100-year history, the Forest Preserves of Cook County acquired almost half of the nearly 70,000 acres that we hold today. Although the Forest Preserves has added land in every decade since, the pace of growth has slowed due the loss of ecologically significant land to development and the rising cost of acquiring real estate as Cook County’s population has grown.
However, the critical need to continue to find ways to preserve open land in a natural state for our region—to provide more habitat for native plants and animals, help mitigate the effects of climate change and address inequitable distribution of preserves throughout the county—remains.
That’s the case made by a new position paper, “Acquisition and Disposition of Land by the Forest Preserves of Cook County,” which was approved by the Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners at their October board meeting. The paper is the second of four to be released by our Conservation and Policy Council, each a relatively short document setting out long-term guidance for the future of the Forest Preserves.
The Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan calls for the Forest Preserves to add an additional 21,000 acres over 25 years, an aspirational goal that the Council indicates is important enough to “expand existing strategies, including taking a lead role in identifying opportunities for collaborative land conservation.” The paper’s recommendations include finding creative new ways to continue to buy more land and begin exploring land conservation models beyond ownership.
The paper also recommends that the Forest Preserves put a moratorium on selling or using the Preserves’ land for purposes that do not meet our mission until principles have been established that makes this loss of natural space “possibly solely in rare and extreme instances,” and calls for more emphasis on equity in the land acquisition prioritization process.
“Acquisition and Disposition of Land” follows “Moving Toward Racial Equity in the Forest Preserves of Cook County,” which was adopted by the Board of Commissioners in July and begins with a clear acknowledgement that the Forest Preserves exists within a pervasive culture of structural racism that has produced deep inequities.
“The Forest Preserves should work with the Conservation and Policy Council and other partners to ensure that voices from communities that are impacted by racial inequity are incorporated throughout the planning and decision-making process, and by applying a racial equity lens to major policy and budget decisions,” the paper states. Other recommendations include ensuring an equitable distribution across the county of access to nature-related recreation opportunities and building a staff that is diverse and promotes racial equity.
Still to come are position papers on nature-compatible recreation and scaling up the Forest Preserves’ volunteer programs.
Read more about each approved paper:
- Moving Towards Racial Equity in the Forest Preserves of Cook County (PDF) – Adopted July 2020
- Acquisition and Disposition of Land by the Forest Preserves of Cook County (PDF) – Adopted October 2020