Habitat Restoration

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage works to foster ecological conditions that sustain and preserve native plant and animal communities in the county’s prairies, wetlands and woodlands. District staff and volunteers work to remove invasive and exotic vegetation, propagate native plant species and, in some cases, reintroduce native wildlife and plants in order to maintain the biodiversity of some of the county’s high-quality open spaces.

View a recent presentation on Woodland Management Efforts in DuPage County which shows current ecological issues and solutions for habitat restoration.

What methods are used in the program?

The District’s course of action depends greatly upon the specific goals of the site. Ecologists may use prescription burns at a prairie to give native grasses and forbs the advantage over nonnative, fire-intolerant species. They may remove brush at a woodland or savanna where European buckthorn or other highly invasive species dominate the understory. Other methods include:

  • Planting native trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers to restore the plant diversity that once existed
  • Reintroducing native wildlife species that are rare to the region
  • Returning native shoreline vegetation to help prevent streambank erosion
  • Educating the public about the function and importance of natural communities

Woody Plant Removal

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County often removes aggressive native and nonnative shrub and tree species that are taking over high-quality woodlands, savannas and prairies. Selective clearing and brush mowing work has shown that native plants and also populations of birds and butterflies can recover once the weedy vegetation is removed.

Selective Clearing
Invasive shrubs, such as European buckthorn and honeysuckle, produce dense clumps of leaves that sprout earlier in the spring and drop later in the fall than those of native plants. Their impenetrable vegetation keeps sun and water from reaching the ferns, wildflowers, and oak and hickory seedlings that grow below. As a result, the variety of plants and animals that live there declines.

Selective clearing is typically done in woodlands and savannas and involves crews cutting down individually selected invasive trees and shrubs and burn the resulting brush piles on site. They then carefully apply herbicides to the cut stumps so the plants cannot grow back. Work is done during winter to protect any dormant plants below the soil. The sparse vegetation at this time of year also lowers any risk of fire hazards from the brush piles.

Brush Mowing
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County often removes aggressive native and nonnative shrub species that are taking over high-quality prairies.

Invasive shrubs, such as gray dogwood and European buckthorn, shade sub-loving prairie plants and make the area less desirable to birds that nest in grassland habitats.

Brush mowing involves cutting shorter woody growth down using a heavy-duty mower. This work is typically done in fall, winter and spring to minimize impacts to native plants.

Prescription Burns

Before 1830, fire was as much a part of the landscape as other natural forces, such as droughts, floods, and insect infestations. Native Americans used fire to control flies and mosquitoes and to reduce ground cover for easier travel and hunting. Over time, native wildlife adapted and avoided the slow-burning fires, which left behind soils barely warm to the touch, and native flora developed thick bark or deep roots.

Since 1975, the District has used prescription burns to restore some of the functional qualities of the county’s natural ecosystem. Prescription burns eliminate or stunt nonnative woody and brushy vegetation, plants not adapted to fire. They burn off dead plant materials, which recycles nutrients back into the soil and prevents the accumulation of plant “litter,” which can lower soil temperatures and inhibit seed germination and plant growth.

Only specially trained District staff members who meet National Wildfire Coordinating Group standards participate in prescription burns. The morning of a burn, they carefully evaluate wind conditions, humidity, temperature and the amount of moisture in the vegetation. All fires are conducted with permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and local fire departments. Local and adjacent fire and police departments and the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office are all in close communication during the process. In addition, the District sends letters in advance to residents who live next to designated sites and contacts those who respond with health concerns the morning of the burn.

Click here to watch a video on prescription burns.

What are some of the Forest Preserve District’s current projects?

Regardless of the season, the Forest Preserve District engages in a variety of restoration projects. For a list of current conservation-related projects, visit Plans and Projects.

Why improve our natural habitats?

In the early 1800s, DuPage County was a land of open prairies, wetlands and woodlands. These areas teemed with wildlife and attracted explorers and settlers alike. As the land became more populated, settlers began to farm the rich black soil — a result of centuries of prairie development and timber logging. Farmers overturned the land and extinguished the natural fires that were so important to native prairie, wetland and woodland ecology. The landscape began to change.

Today, exotic species, drainage modifications and habitat fragmentation have taken their toll on native plants and animals. The effects of these changes need to be reversed in order to ensure a biologically diverse area for future DuPage County residents.

Winter Brush Removal

As the ground freezes and plants go dormant in the winter, District restoration workday volunteers, site stewards and crews start to conduct selective removal of invasive and exotic brush. Invasive shrubs, such as European buckthorn and honeysuckle, produce dense clumps of leaves that sprout earlier in the spring and drop later in the fall than those of native plants. Their impenetrable canopy keeps sun and water from reaching the wildflowers and oak seedlings that grow below.

Brush also steals water and nutrients from native plants. As a result, the variety and health of plant and animal communities that live there declines.

Selective removal work is typically done in woodlands and involves crews cutting down selected invasive trees and shrubs and burning the resulting brush piles on site. Herbicide is carefully applied to the cut stumps so the plants cannot grow back. Work is done during the cold months to protect any dormant plants from damage.

Removal of invasive brush and reintroduction of native plants has noticeably improved populations of butterflies and birds.

Click here to see a gallery of before and after photos documenting the value of a cleared landscape.

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