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Habitat Restoration

What Is a "Habitat"?

The Forest Preserve District generally uses the words "habitat" and "ecosystem" to talk about similar things.

An ecosystem (or habitat) is basically made up of

  • A plant community — a certain group of plants that grow under similar conditions
  • The group of wildlife that lives within and relies on that plant community
  • Certain soil and moisture conditions, which may be specific to that ecosystem

Although an ecosystem is made up of all of these parts, ecologists categorize them by the plants that live there: prairie, woodland, or wetland.

Prairies are grasslands that contain broadleaved flowering plants, called "forbs," some shrubs, and a few kinds of trees. Depending on the soil, a prairie may be further classified as a dry (usually higher land with sandy or gravely soils that drain quickly), mesic (soils that are fairly moist throughout the growing season), or wet (soils that hold a lot of water).

Woodlands primarily contain trees and are put into general subcategories depending on the spacing between the trees. These categories can range from "forest" — a dense woodland with only shade-tolerant plants below — to "savanna" — an area with sparse trees growing among grasses and forbs typically associated with prairies.

Wetlands are areas covered for at least part of the year with shallow water. Some are easy to identify because they have water year-round, but others may only appear in spring or early summer as "ephemeral," or short-lived, ponds. Wetlands, even ephemeral ones, provide irreplaceable breeding grounds and homes for wildlife from dragonflies, frogs, and salamanders to marsh birds and muskrats. 

spiderwort growing in a prairie
woodland habitat


What Does "Habitat Restoration" Mean?

When the Forest Preserve District talks about a “habitat restoration” project, it’s usually referring to efforts to improve the plant community within a particular ecosystem.

Those efforts, which can take years, include removing invasive plants and then planting or seeding the area with native ones. In these cases, the goal is to create plant communities that can support the plants and wildlife that are normally associated with that particular ecosystem.

savanna before restoration

overgrown savanna before restoration

savanna after restoration

healthy, open savanna after restoration

Habitat Restoration Toolbox

What Are "Illinois Nature Preserves" and "Illinois Land and Water Reserves"?

DuPage County's forest preserves contain nine areas designated as either an Illinois Nature Preserve or Illinois Land and Water Reserve by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, a group that helps landowners protect high-quality natural areas and habitats of endangered and threatened species for perpetuity.

These designations provide the areas with extra protection and limit certain recreational activities, including biking and horseback riding. 

These high-quality natural areas make up around 2,668 acres, or 11 percent of the Forest Preserve District's land holdings.

Belleau Woods Land and Water Reserve at Belleau Woods
Brewster Creek Marsh Nature Preserve at Pratt's Wayne Woods
Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve at Churchill Woods
Des Plaines Riverway Nature Preserve at Des Plaines Riverway
Meacham Grove Nature Preserve at Meacham Grove
Springbrook Prairie Nature Preserve at Springbrook Prairie
Springbrook Marsh Land Water Reserve  at Springbrook Prairie
Swift Prairie Nature Preserve at Swift Prairie
Truitt-Hoff Nature Preserve at West Chicago Prairie

spiderwort growing in a prairie