Boasting nearly 70,000 acres of wild and wonderful, the Forest Preserves of Cook County are home to thousands of species of plants and animals. From strategic restoration efforts to research to public engagement to partnering with volunteers and other organizations, it takes a lot of work to ensure our natural lands are places where native plants and animals thrive.
Every department of the Forest Preserves works year-round to protect our diverse natural systems—which includes savannas, prairies, woodlands and wetlands. Staff ecologists help monitor the health of the Preserves and guide restoration projects. Biologists track wildlife, monitor water and invasive species, conduct research, and investigate zoonotic disease. Police patrol and protect the land, while landscape maintenance crews remove trash and garbage from wild areas.
Our countless partners and dedicated volunteers step up, too. With the help of partner organizations, we’ve been able to conduct decades-long wildlife research, successfully propagate osprey and provide necessary habitat for species including bats and turtles. Last month, we witnessed a bald eagle return to its nest thanks to the public, volunteers and our friends at the DuPage County Forest Preserve District. And recently, we’ve engaged the public to help with one of our newest research efforts, the Urban River Otter Research Project.
I’m proud to say that today, more than 15,000 acres of Forest Preserves land are under active ecological restoration or maintenance. Further, the Forest Preserves are home to 27 dedicated Illinois Nature Preserves, bringing the Forest Preserves’ total state-protected lands to approximately 10,405 acres. Dedication of a site as a Nature Preserve provides the highest level of protection for land in Illinois and is granted only to natural areas of exceptional ecological or cultural significance.
I encourage you to join our efforts. Consider heading out for a volunteer ecological stewardship day. Plan a visit to a nature center to learn about the plants, animals and natural communities of the region. Or simply take a walk along a trail to appreciate the natural wonders of the Preserves.