The Forest Preserve District of Will County includes habitat restoration as part of its mission, and that work is always ongoing. The goal of habitat restoration is to provide habitat for the flora and fauna that existed here prior to settlement, said Ralph Schultz, the Forest Preserve’s chief operating officer.
The District aims to restore about 50 acres per year, but in many years that figure is exceeded, he said. The benefits of the work include expanding the biodiversity of an area as well as providing clean water and clean air and increasing carbon sequestration, which is the process of capturing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.
“These are all of the things we would look for in a healthy environment,” Schultz said.
The work is costly and time-consuming, so the District relies on grants and partnerships with other agencies and groups in its habitat restoration work, Schultz said.
Once land is slated for habitat restoration, the work starts by controlling the water on the site, Schultz said. The hydrology work might include removing drain tiles or redirecting or damming a creek, for example. The next step is planting seeds to restore the native flora, which is followed by a period of several years of intense management of the land.
This management might include invasive species removal and prescribed burns, all as part of the plan to return the land to its native state and allow the flora and fauna to thrive.
“We know what used to live here, so our goal is to do the best we can to restore that,” he said.
Two habitat restoration successes for the District include work done at Kankakee Sands Preserve, which was recognized earlier this year by the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials, and a project completed at Hadley Valley preserve, which last month earned Excellence in Ecological Restoration Program accreditation.
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