Saving a globally threatened ecosystem

Post by Allison Frederick

The Chicago Wilderness alliance recently honored the Lake County Forest Preserves in Illinois for achieving the Excellence in Ecological Restoration accreditation.

From vast woodlands to rolling prairies, the Chicago Wilderness Excellence in Ecological Restoration program showcases conservation leadership and site-based restoration by recognizing high-quality natural areas and the organizations that manage them.


Natural areas are assessed by a set of rigorous, science-based standards that recognize best practices in natural resource management. Conservation experts from across the region review the assessments to determine if a site meets one of the accreditation levels: Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze.

The Lake County Forest Preserves recently received a Platinum accreditation, the highest level possible, for Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve. This accreditation recognizes the expertise, creativity and drive of our natural resource staff in forming and leading a coalition of federal, state and regional partners to restore this site.

Home to a rare tallgrass savanna, Middlefork Savanna features a mix of oak savanna and woodlands, wet and mesic prairies, sedge meadows and marshes. Middlefork provides valuable protection for many state and federally listed species. A 25-acre parcel here is the highest quality tallgrass savanna of its kind in the nation and is recognized as a globally threatened ecosystem.

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Once part of a large glacial lake, Middlefork Savanna provides safe harbor for endangered plant and wildlife species, and several environmentally sensitive wetlands that feed into the North Branch of the Chicago River. Chicago Wilderness has identified Middlefork Savanna as one of the most important sites for biodiversity in northeastern Illinois. Because of its size, this site supports an impressive list of uncommon birds, butterflies and other species that need large open areas for survival. Middlefork also serves as a national ecological research site and outdoor classroom for universities, schools and other organizations.

The natural areas of Chicago’s wilderness are home to a wide diversity of species and rare habitats that offer the region’s residents with opportunities for recreation and exploration, as well as clean air and water, flood protection and so much more. Yet there are threats to the region’s natural areas, such as fragmentation, invasive plant and animal species, pollution, and the impacts of climate change.

LILMIC-MISA-20140706-002Before we begin to restore a preserve’s health, restoration ecologists and wildlife biologists inventory its condition. They analyze the animals, plants, soils and water flow, and they review historical records of the site. With that information a plan is created for restoring and managing the ecosystem. Our leaders seek sound public and incorporate it into the plans.

Then the hands-on work begins. Along the way, ecologists evaluate progress and fine-tune the strategy.

Our natural resource management plans are complex. But the idea of preserving Lake County’s plants, wildlife and our natural legacy for future generations is not.

Grab some work gloves and join other volunteers to save Lake County’s natural areas. Restoration workdays are held nearly every day at preserves throughout the county. Workdays are a great opportunity to spend time outdoors, make new friends who share a concern for the preserves and make a meaningful contribution.

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