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.
View the plans and maps for restoration projects scheduled at various preserves in 2016. The 2017 Land Restoration Manual is available as a pdf for viewing and printing.
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.
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.
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
Other Restoration Methods Include:
- Planting Native Species Planting thousands of native trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers to restore the plant diversity that once existed. Using old land maps and surveys as a reference, biologists have created a plan to restore prairie land by seeding native plants to the landscape. With this new abundance of plant life, many animals and other plant life appear because of the new food and shelter available to them. Restoring prairie land by planting native trees and grasses enhances the natural areas, stabilizes the soil, and helps resist erosion.
- Restoring wetlands is often entails destroying man-made drainage facilities and letting water and vegetation return to the site naturally. The seeds of some wetland species can lie dormant, but viable, for as long as thirty years. These species will be among the first to appear after restoration, often even after years of agricultural herbicide use.
- Stabilizing stream banks and restoring native shoreline vegetation to help prevent stream bank erosion
- Monitoring and controlling nuisance wildlife that is negatively impacting the quality of the preserves
- Restoring and managing wetlands to provide consistent quality habitat for wetland species including waterfowl
- Removing and controlling invasive species
Why Are Natural Areas Conservation And Habitat Restoration Important?
Remnant and restored natural areas support complex webs of diverse native species which create the ecosystem services essential to our survival. Examples of ecosystem services include improved air and water quality, flood control, soil conservation and increased carbon storage; valuable natural assets which benefit human well-being. Ecological restoration is widely used to reverse the environmental degradation caused by human activities such as deforestation, pollution and land use techniques that cause soil erosion. The restoration of native plant and animal communities, is essential to increasing biodiversity and ecosystem services of land reclaimed from agriculture of urban development.