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Saturday, September 3, 2022

Revis Hill Prairie - Not to Mourn - But to Celebrate - and Act!

It once was greater. At 412.7 acres, Revis Hill Prairie Nature Preserve is one of the largest and finest in the Prairie State, with many rare and endangered plant and animal species. Unfortunately, as of 25 years ago when Ken Robertson and colleagues studied it, 56% of the prairie had already been lost to brush. 

More has been lost since then. For example, two High Quality prairies mapped as part of Revis by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory in the 70s (see aerial photo, below) have gradually become just brush. 

An event to honor Revis is planned for September 17th. Should we celebrate? Or mourn? 

By God! and Evolution! the answer is to celebrate the precious core that survives - and then act! Steward volunteers are needed.

Precious prairie fragments are filling in with brush. 
Volunteers could have a big impact here.
Photo by Lou Nelms.

Staff is spread too thin. With dedication, they have stopped the losses in some areas, but there are so many acres sliding away, year by year, day by day as the brush grows. Volunteers could help. We conservationists need to support all three of the initiatives below:

- Fill vacant staff positions in DNR and INPC. (See Endnote 1).

- Increase and improve contract funding. (See Endnote 2.)

- Welcome and empower more steward volunteers. (See Endnote 3.) 

Our attention and voices can make the difference. Revis deserves health and quality restored to the prairie - and for that matter to the adjacent oak savanna and woods, which have filled with brush and suffered too. This extraordinary preserve could be a model that lends visibility and sets an example for needy preserves nearby and statewide. 

If you live in Springfield or Peoria or Bloomington or Champaign, or anywhere nearby, might you want to support this effort? (More than half a million people live within about a half-hour's drive.)

We hope a "Revis volunteer stewards community" could emerge. If you have questions and/or might be able to help in any way, let us know. You can reach Friends here and Steve Packard through "Comments or Questions" here.  

To organize and educate, the informational tour on the 17th will start with speakers at Dickson Mounds at 10:00 a.m. Then we'll caravan and arrive at Revis for tour about 11:00. 

  • At Dickson, Todd Strole will summarize the importance and needs of Illinois Nature Preserves and Revis specifically. (Todd is the new Nature Preserves director. When this blog first reported on the Nature Preserves and announced the Friends, that position had been vacant for five years. Todd has an exciting and crucial job.) 
  • Amy Doll will do much the same from her (similarly new) position as first Director of the Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves. 
  • Philip Juras will offer his compelling perspective as naturalist turned painter. He recently mounted a much-honored show at the Chicago Botanic Garden and currently has an exhibit at Dickson Mounds Museum. One of his paintings of Revis is below: 

Loess Slopes, Revis Hill Prairie, by Philip Juras. 
It's a rare view, a part of Revis with no threatening brush. 
"Brush had been there within the last ten years. I could see the stumps," Juras wrote. 

  • Then we'll caravan to Revis (arriving around 11:00 a.m.) and hike with experts - including Michael Wiant of the Illinois State Museum - through the preserve to the drop-dead-beautiful views from high-quality prairie at the top.
  • On the way back down we visit a brushed-over prairie area with long-time volunteer Lou Nelms. 

Can the losses at Revis be reversed? Some say it would take miracles. But such miracles are under way at other preserves, for example Langham Island and Somme Prairie Grove and potentially Bell Bowl Prairie, for three examples where the "M" word has recently been invoked. 

Would you like to be part of it? If so, you are so welcome!

This aerial outlines Revis as mapped by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory.
A prioritized update is needed. Are there people who could and would want to help with that? 

Zed Moorehouse in the pristine center of Revis. Much of this fine rare prairie 
has been lost under the killing shade of invasive brush.
To recover and survive for the next generation, Revis needs our help.
Photo by Susan Hargrove 
White-banded crab spider on pale purple coneflower at Revis. When acres are lost to brush, animal and plant populations drop out. Restoring quality acreage increases sustainability. 
Photo by Angella Moorehouse. 

Dear busy, experienced stewardship volunteers and professionals, please let us know if you could help train people in preserve needs and techniques at Revis. A few dedicated people can make a huge difference.

Dear everyone else, please let us know if you might like to work at Revis.

Zed and Angella Moorehouse at Revis Hill Prairie.
Angella is Illinois Nature Preserves Commission staff for Region 4. But Revis in in Region 5, where she monitors butterflies as a volunteer, like you and I could be. It's fun and rewarding to build community to help nature. Otherwise, what will be left for Zed's generation and beyond? Let's do it!
Photo by Dan Moorehouse. 

The more than 600 Illinois Nature Preserves are the responsibility of nine regional staff. That averages more than 60 preserves each. Existing resources are not remotely sufficient to provide what's needed in most cases. Some preserves are owned by conservation organizations that may have staff, typically also spread very thin. If you are a potential stewardship volunteer, Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves and partner agencies will try to find time and resources to work with you. But we are spread thin ... doing our best ... which increases with your help.

Following the informational event on the 17th, a kick-off stewards event (cut brush and gather seeds) will be planned in coordination with interested people. Let us know your interests: You can reach Friends here and Steve Packard through "Comments or Questions" here.  

Endnote 1
We can blame or credit the founders of the Illinois Nature Preserve System. Nature was being lost so fast ... so little was left ... that they gambled. They rushed to create a system that would unite the efforts of state and local agencies, organizations, and individuals who care ... and to enroll sites in that system. Resources to manage the system would come, with public support. 

We citizens of Illinois can now be proud of more than 600 prairie, woodland, and wetland preserves, spread around this diverse state. But there are not remotely enough staff and resources to provide the care they badly need. 

Endnote 2
Ecosystem management is an emerging discipline. It needs more planning and supervision that it gets. More funding is very much needed, and yet there are also frequent reports of poorly executed contracts and lack of needed follow-up. More accountability is needed than is possible from over-burdened staff, who each need to supervise sixty or more preserves.  

Endnote 3
Expanded volunteer steward communities could contribute much more. Part of the problem is, again, lack of staff with the time and motivation to facilitate. A change in conservation culture is needed. Where successful, volunteer communities are key to much-needed conservation constituency. This new culture is emerging through sites and organizations like Shaw PrairieLangham Island, Plank Road PrairiesSomme Prairie GroveCitizens for Conservation,  and many others.

Thanks to Todd Strole, Eric Smith, Michael Wiant, Jim Herkert, Christa Christensen, Philip Juras, Amy Doll, and Lou Nelms for planning the event and holding the world together.  

Thanks to many for comments helping to improve the language and ideas in this post. 

Thanks for photos to Lou Nelms, Susan Hargrove and Angella and Dan Moorehouse.

Thanks to Cathy Garness, Eriko Kojima, and Amy Doll for proofing and edits. 

1 comment:

  1. Stewardship work, especially fire, gets a tremendous positive response on remnants. Revis Hill was beautiful when I visited it twenty+ years ago.