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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Historic Commitment (if we follow through)

Forest Preserves President Tony Preckwinkle Proposes Major Initiatives

January 24th, 2014 may go down in history - beside the launching of the Burnham Plan and the founding of the Forest Preserve District - as a day that changed the future. 

Under the plan announced by Preckwinkle, Cook County Forest Preserves would spend $40 million dollars a year to restore 30,000 acres of woodlands, prairies, and wetlands to Natural Areas Inventory quality. The plan envisions 400 expert volunteer stewards playing a key role alongside staff and partner organizations. 
The "Next Century Conservation Plan" is filled with photos of people
using and appreciating the woods and prairies. This plan is for the generations.
The photo below from Somme Prairie Grove is the main cover graphic. This photo of successful restoration seems to say, "Biodiversity is a treasure to cherish. We can do this." Underneath the nature photo are five photos of diverse people enjoying compatible recreation. Yes, public involvement, appreciation, and support are key. Check out the full plan at  
Restoring this quality at Somme took three decades. The plan proposes
restoring 30,000 acres to "Natural Areas Inventory quality" in 25 years. 
The Technical Report of the plan cites the 2007 study 
designed by scientists from the Illinois Natural History Survey, the FPD, and Audubon -
which was carried out largely by expert Habitat Project volunteers: 

"According to this most recent land audit, only 25% of high-opriority conservation areas (approximately 3,500 of 14,000 high-priority acres, or about 5% of the Forest Preserve' total holdings) were found to be in good or excellent condition. Given the ongoing deterioration of the Preserves' biodiversity, the restoration and maintenance of the natural areas is a matter of the utmost urgency."   
A bur oak woodland - its understory and reproduction gradually being choked out by buckthorn
The plan (which in February will go to the FPD board for approval, with President Preckwinkle's support) calls for the training and empowerment of 400 expert volunteer stewards. Recognizing that such a goal will take many years, the plan also credits the existing stewards with much of the best restoration work done to date.

The plan also proposes jobs. In addition to beefing up the Forest Preserve professional staff, the plan proposes a "permanent" force of "at least 500 conservation corps members - built on partnerships that provide supportive workforce training for at-risk youth and young adults." 

This oak woodland was as choked with brush as the one shown previously. After thirty years of restoration
it has attained good quality - but still has a way to go to achieve high quality. Staff and stewards are rapidly learning the more effective and efficient approaches that make the plan's 10- and 25-year goals achievable.

Students from Evanston Township High School exult in victory over brush, as a bonfire burns behind them.
From the plan:
"Decades of neglect have allowed our diverse woodlands and grasslands 
to lose their wildflowers and become impenetrable thorn thickets. 
Eroding soil silts our streams, ponds and wetlands. 
With the loss of natural systems comes the loss of public benefits. 
Without a healthy restored landscape, our metropolitan region
 will be dirtier, hotter, less safe and less attractive."

Processing rare seeds for woodland restoration. It will take tens of thousands of people many decades to accomplish the plan's goals. Those diverse people, if you believe this photo, include one with an orange jacket and no head. 
The vision statement of the Next Century Conservation Plan:


The people of Cook County will celebrate and nurture 
our thriving woodlands, prairies, and waters as world-class treasures 
that sustain our great metropolis. 

There's a lot to consider in the actual plan. Check out 
Stewards may find the "Technical report" (under the first tab, "The Plan") 
to be especially worth some thought.

Comments on this blog can also help the discussion.
Much education, listening, and support will be needed if this plan is to achieve its wise goals.


  1. This is a vision to support. It is a world apart from what one District staffer said in my presence three or four years ago: "We can't take on more sites, we can barely handle the ones we have." That is not vision, that is a self-fulfilling path to failure. I urge all readers of this blog to share the plan and talk to everyone who will listen. Even the career pols whose primary concerns are always economic can be made to listen if the economic case for preserve health is made clear to them.

    1. I agree that there are many doubters and road blockers ahead. Mark, your spirit is what we need to spread. There is lots of work ahead to rise to this occasion. We all should spend some time planning and being strategic.

  2. Congratulations to President Preckwinkle for including this acknowledgement in the Plan: "I want to thank the civic leaders, organizations and staff who challenged us to be as visionary in this plan as the Forest Preserves’ founders. ." Key words..."challenged us". Even heartier congratulations to you and others who persevered throughout the recent decades to fight the good fight, upholding the challenge throughout. I agree that this is a grand vision to support, and I agree that we need to be vigilant on the follow through.

    1. Pat, those are profound ideas. Yes, Preckwinkle encourages us to "challenge" the status quo and the temptation to let things slide. No Forest Preserve president has been so bold as to have given the charge she did to the conservation community. Now we need many hands to work together towards a popular consensus on next steps.

  3. I'm still trying to catch my breath following this announcement! Wouldn't this be something? Words like "Wow" do not do it justice. So gratifying to see how President Preckwinkle has bought into the role that volunteers could play in this....excellent!

  4. Toni Preckwinkle and Arnold Randall will discuss the plan as part of this upcoming event: