Restoring our woodland habitats

Post by Allison

The wooded habitats along the Des Plaines River in southern Lake County, Illinois are changing. Last winter, the Lake County Forest Preserves completed 194 acres of canopy and understory thinning in woodland communities at MacArthur Woods and Grainger Woods Forest Preserves. This winter, woodland habitat restoration has begun at Captain Daniel Wright Woods and Ryerson Conservation Area, in addition to continuing at MacArthur Woods.


The restoration and species monitoring that will continue within these natural areas for the next 20 years will help ensure the sustainability of oak woodlands and the wildlife they support for many generations to come.

Winter visitors to these preserves, or vehicular passersby, will notice the use of heavy equipment, burning piles of brush, and an already visible difference in the openness of the woodland landscape. A number of canopy trees are being removed to increase the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. Visit these areas again when the leaves return, and early results of the Woodland Habitat Restoration Project will be obvious. Last spring, the increase in blooming marsh marigolds was visible to the casual onlooker, and the view into this woodland now has a more open feel. Monitoring efforts of plants and wildlife last spring and summer indicated positive results, and further research will quantify the long-term changes.

The Woodland Habitat Restoration Project is a large-scale effort to restore the health of local oak woodlands, which were once more prevalent in northern Illinois. Today, healthy oak woodlands are rare. Since 1830, 88% of the oak-dominated natural communities in Lake County have been lost. Much of the remaining acreage is under acute pressure from a combination of threats, including habitat fragmentation due to development, invasive species, and changes in the frequency, intensity and pattern of fires.

Oak woodlands have changed drastically since European settlement in this region. Historically, many oak trees had wide branches, allowing broad rays of sunlight to reach the woodland floor. The plant community in these woodlands consisted of a variety of blooming plants that tolerated fire and colored the landscape for almost nine months of the year. This ground layer of vegetation also prevented soil erosion and retained rain water. Low depressions in these woodlands formed pools of water, providing habitat for salamanders, frogs and aquatic invertebrates—an important food source for snakes, wood ducks and other native wildlife. A healthy woodland provides homes for large diversity of wildlife, trees, shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, fungi, and countless other groups.

This ongoing woodland restoration effort will create a mosaic of habitats, improving conditions for rare plants and wildlife while maintaining conditions for common native species. These efforts will also allow future generations of oaks, hickories and walnuts to mature, rebuilding a sustainable forest ecosystem.

Learn more about this project at

5 thoughts on “Restoring our woodland habitats

  1. The open oak-hickory forest is what this region was for hundreds of years. Kudos to Forest Preserves for keeping this climax forest in place! All that can be done to remove multiflora rose, buckthorn (introduced for some reason) and other invasive species that have succeeded only because of a lack of wild fire is welcome. I look forward to some of diversity mentioned in the article.

  2. I heard the Lake County Forest Preserve is leading an effort with the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Wilderness members to develop a plan to protect and restore our valuable oak ecosystems like these you are working on. I hear the report will be out the beginning of next year (2015)

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