Ecological Restoration

Ecological Restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed. Restoration focuses on establishing the composition, structure, and ecological processes necessary to make land and water ecosystems sustainable, resilient, and healthy under current and future conditions.

The Forest Preserves of Winnebago County’s Ecological Restoration program works to create conditions that sustain and preserve native plant and animal communities in the county’s prairies, wetlands and woodlands. District staff remove invasive vegetation, propagate native plants, monitor wildlife and restore water quality to maintain the highest possible quality of habitat, thus protecting biological diversity.

Ecological Restoration Methods

Habitat restoration replicates natural conditions that have been eliminated or reduced in the last century. The natural resource management tools that are used greatly depend upon the specific goals at each site. Prescribed fire is often used at a prairie to give native grasses the advantage over non-native, fire-intolerant species. Brush clearing may be used at woodland sites where highly invasive species such as buckthorn and honeysuckle dominate the understory.

Prescribed Burning

Before this land was settled, naturally occurring wildfires were a crucial element in maintaining the land’s health and beauty. These fires allowed for prairies, woods, and wetlands to prosper. Teams of specially trained staff administer controlled burns on hundreds of acres of forest preserve land each year. Signs are posted at the burn sites to notify visitors and neighbors of the burning project. Burned areas appear scorched and barren immediately following the burn, but lush green plants rapidly appear, and the area is teeming with diverse plant and animal life within weeks.

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Week 1

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Week 4

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Week 8

How Fire Aids in Restoration

  • Reduces accumulated plant litter that blocks sunlight

  • Recycles nutrients to enrich the soil

  • Increases water storage capacity of the soil

  • Enhances germination, flowering, and seed production of many native plants

  • Controls the growth of woody vegetation

  • Enhances the health, beauty of woods and prairies