The Forest Preserve District’s Hadley Valley preserve has received a 2019 Excellence in Ecological Restoration Program accreditation from Chicago Wilderness.
The accreditation was announced Thursday, November 14, during a ceremony at Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. Three sites in other counties also were accredited and only 30 sites have received the accreditation to date.
The EERP program recognizes the largest and highest quality natural areas in the Chicago region and beyond, and the organizations that manage the sites.
“Using a rigorous, standards-based approach, the program highlights projects that set an example of best practices in natural resource management and ecological restoration,” according to a press release from Chicago Wilderness.
The Hadley Valley restoration project is the largest such effort in the District’s history. Six-hundred acres of the 767-acre preserve have been restored over a 12-year period.
Nearly three miles of Spring Creek have been relocated allowing the creek to follow its former meandering course. The work also increased the total stream length by about 2,000 feet. Eight miles of drain tiles were disabled to restore hydrology to 150 acres of former wetlands. And approximately 450 acres have been returned to prairie through prescribed burns and invasive species removal.
Habitat restoration and management are critical components of the Forest Preserve's mission, said Ralph Schultz, the Forest Preserve’s chief operating officer.
“The fact that the Forest Preserve has protected 767 acres at Hadley Valley and restored nearly all of that from bare earth to a thriving habitat in the past 12 years is astonishing,” he said. “Working with partners, we were able to accelerate the restoration process and establish best management practices on the site.”
The restoration project is providing benefits throughout the region, Schultz added. “While providing additional high quality habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species, the ongoing restoration and management of Hadley Valley protects drinking water resources and helps clean streams and improve air quality.”
Hadley Valley – which is located in Joliet and Homer Township – received a silver accreditation this year, but the restoration work will continue with the ultimate goal of achieving platinum status, Schultz added.
“Some of the finest natural areas in Will County have already been designated through the EERP as platinum level – all of which are examples of remnant habitats," he said. "Having Hadley Valley designated at the silver level so early in its management program is a great credit to the Forest Preserve."
Three other Forest Preserve District of Will County sites have received EERP accreditation: Braidwood Dunes and Savanna Nature Preserve, platinum; Hickory Creek Barrens Nature Preserve, platinum; and Lockport Prairie East, gold.
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Decades of dedication
The accreditation acknowledges the work that goes into such restoration efforts, said Elizabeth Kessler, executive director of the McHenry County Conservation District and chair for Chicago Wilderness.
“Many people think you can buy a parcel of land, put a fence around it, and it’s preserved,” she said in the Chicago Wilderness press release. “In reality, that land often has had years of use that may not be consistent with the best management practices for land preservation. It takes decades of dedication to bring most preserves back to optimal health, and vigilance to keep them that way.”
The three other properties to receive accreditations this year were: Deer Grove West Woodland and Wetland Nature Preserve in Cook County, the Department of Energy’s Fermilab in Batavia and Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve in Naperville.
Landowners can submit up to two applications every two years for EERP recognition. The seven-to-nine-person Chicago Wilderness Commission on Ecological Restoration selects recipients using a point system and verification by site visits.
Finding what works
The Forest Preserve's Schultz, who is co-chair of the commission, said the program gets different groups talking about what works, what doesn’t and what are the most innovative approaches to land management.
“EERP looks at the whole picture,” he said. “Agencies are evaluated not only on common practices such as invasive species control, but also questions like: How does a preserve work with adjoining lands? How are managers addressing topographical challenges such as channelized streams, drain tiles, and runoff from neighboring properties? What about shifting conditions such as climate change?”
Chicago Wilderness is a regional alliance of more than 250 members including public land-owning agencies, nonprofits, community-based organizations, educational institutions, government agencies, businesses and volunteer-based groups. The group’s goal is to build and implement a regional plan for preserving and restoring nature.
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