A unique cluster of southern Will County forest preserves will benefit from a $92,000 grant awarded recently by the Illinois Habitat Fund Special Wildlife Funds Grant Program.
The funding announced January 25 by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will be spent to restore habitat at the Forest Preserve District’s Braidwood Dunes and Savanna Nature Preserve, Kankakee Sands Preserve and Sand Ridge Savanna Nature Preserve.
“This grant helps the Forest Preserve District continue one of the greatest ecological restorations we have ever attempted,” said Floyd Catchpole, the District’s land management program coordinator.
Specifically, the grant will be used to control nonnative species, thin and remove trees and shrubs to restore the savannas, convert 34 acres of farmland to prairie and reconnect fragmented prairies by removing hedgerows, Catchpole explained.
This work will improve habitat for 20 species considered endangered or threatened in Illinois that call this region home. The land also provides habitat for 43 species of greatest conservation need, a state designation for animals that are in serious trouble but not yet endangered.
The District’s three preserves, combined with the nearby state-owned Hitts Siding Prairie and Wilmington Shrub Prairie, are referred to as the Braidwood Sands region by Catchpole. The almost 3,000-acre region is unique because it was once lake bed for Lake Wauponsee, which was created by glaciers 19,000 years ago.
“Portions of the lake bed became covered with sand, and icebergs wandered the surface of the lake scattering boulders on the lake bed as they melted,” Catchpole said.
When the moraine that held the water back broke, it created the largest known flood event in Illinois, the Kankakee Torrent.
“Wandering sand dunes have replaced the wandering icebergs,” Catchpole said. “It is astonishing to stand at Kankakee Sands Preserve and realize that you are looking at the ancient lake bed, scarcely changed since the floodwaters receded.”
The sandy soils along with remnant prairies, wetlands and savannas that were left behind make this area of Will County unlike any other.
“As a result, the Braidwood Sands area has far more rare species than any other area in Will County,” Catchpole said.
Work in progress
Since the early 2000s, the Forest Preserve has been working to connect the preserves and restore as much of the region as possible.
“To date, we have converted over 400 acres of agricultural fields into prairie, greatly reduced invasive species and restored natural prairies and savannas,” Catchpole said. “Braidwood Sands area is a work in progress, but with the help of Illinois Habitat Fund grants, we continue to make good progress restoring the rare prairie and savanna habitat that support so many rare and endangered species.”
The state funding will be matched with $110,000 of District funds to provide $202,000 for the work. The Forest Preserve was one of seven entities that received a portion of $958,096 in 2021 habitat grants. Funding for the Illinois Habitat Fund Special Wildlife Funds Grant Program comes from the sale of Habitat Stamps that are required to hunt upland game.
The Forest Preserve District previously received a $122,200 habitat grant in 2019 also for work in the Braidwood Sands region. Forest Preserve partner organizations include The Nature Conservancy and Commonwealth Edison.
“Commonwealth Edison allows us to manage their adjacent property, which helps us by eliminating invasive species right next door,” Catchpole explained. “And The Nature Conservancy provides us with rare and hard to find native sand adapted species from their Kankakee Sands in Indiana in exchange for some labor.”
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