Recent Restoration & Conservation Projects
Deer Run Forest Preserve: Transformed From Vacant to Vibrant
Deer Run Forest Preserve is considered one of FPWC’s most successful restoration projects. Acquired in four phases from 1994 through 2011, it serves as a prime illustration of the rich plant and animal diversity that can be achieved through the utilization of various restoration techniques and best practices. Deer Run’s 594 acres on the south branch of the Kishwaukee River contain hundreds of acres of restored prairie, floodplain wetlands, ponds, oak savanna and woods.
Before it was acquired as a forest preserve, Deer Run was farm land. Located near the confluence of the north and south branches, it is flood plain land; wet silty soil and prone to flooding. Not ideal for farming, but ideal for valuable floodplain habitat to support wildlife and protect the quality of the river.
The restoration of Deer Run began immediately after acquisition with tilling of the soil to turn in old corn and soybean crop material, and then planting by broadcasting a local mix of prairie seed. For the first seven years, intense seeding, and over seeding, along with prescribed burns every 2- 4 years created a lush and diverse mix of prairie grasses and forbs. Big blue stem, little blue stem, Indian grass, black-eyed Susans, butterfly milkweed, purple prairie clover, false white indigo, compass plant, prairie dock, pale purple coneflower, wild lupine, and pale Indian plantain are just a few of the species that are now thriving and reproducing. Today, over 150 native prairie plant species create a healthy prairie ecosystem at Deer Run.
In addition to prairie restoration wetland and woodlands have been enhanced to produce high quality and more sustainable habitat. In 2000, the creek running through the preserve was diverted from emptying into the Kishwaukee River. When the land was farmed, the creek functioned as a drainage ditch and helped transport water off the fields. Natural Resource Manager, Mike Groves, explains that the creek was realigned so that that its flow emptied into the preserve thus helping to restore the natural hydrology. Retaining water on the property has created more consistent wetland and pond water levels. The enhanced wetland habitat now supports numerous waterfowl and wading birds, amphibians such as frogs and turtles, as well as mammals such as beaver and river otters. Otters have recently been documented denning and breeding in these protected ponds.
Invasive species have been an on-going challenge at Deer Run, as they are in most restored natural areas. To keep aggressive and non-native species from competing with desirable native species, District staff employs burning, cutting and herbicide of buckthorn, reed canary grass, bush honey suckle, Siberian elm, teasel and Canada thistle. Reed canary grass has proven the most difficult to eradicate due to frequent flooding that carries new seeds into the preserve.
In 2012, a major project was extensive clearing of non-native and invasive woody vegetation from the oak savanna in the newest section of Deer Run. By removing the encroaching vegetation, this remnant of threatened savanna ecosystem has its understory restored to health, which will aid greatly in its sustainability and biodiversity.
2013 brought the removal of old fencerow vegetation to eliminate fragmentation of the prairie and enhance the large contiguous grassland habitat that many imperiled grassland birds require.
The diverse plant communities now flourishing at Deer Run have attracted dozens of migrating and resident bird species. Sedge Wren, Dickcissel, Orchard Oriole, Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, Tree Swallow, Red-winged Blackbirds, Wood Duck, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Sedge Wren, Barred Owl, Eastern Bluebird, Fox Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow are just a few that have been documented here.
Mike Groves describes the Deer Run restoration as an example of his “build it and they will come” philosophy. Groves says that after just a couple of years of prairie seeding and burning, numerous native birds began showing up during migration and for nesting. The continuous planting, invasive species control and removal of habitat barriers has produced high quality habitat with escalating plant and animal diversity. Healthy, floodplain natural areas such as Deer Run are critical to preserving the health of the Kishwaukee River corridor and the many creatures that depend upon it for survival.
Wood Duck Nesting Program
Wood Ducks are cavity nesters that require mature older growth trees with hollow cavities. Artificial nest boxes provide additional nesting sites for Wood Ducks while providing much needed security from predators. Nest predation is much higher in tree cavities where predators can easily access the nests. Nest boxes are placed on poles usually over water where most predators are unable to reach them. Suitable habitat includes water, food and cover. Nest boxes work best where there are few natural cavities. Nest boxes are a good way to increase local populations of Wood Ducks. The placement of Wood Duck boxes in areas with suitable habitat can be inexpensive, easy and effective way to increase wood duck numbers and involve the public as volunteers who build and install the houses.
The Forest Preserves of Winnebago County has seen great success in the hatch rates of Wood Ducks utilizing the district’s carefully placed nest boxes in various preserves.
|LOCATIONS||WOOD DUCK HOUSES||NEST BOX USE||EGGS THAT HATCHED||PERCENT USE BY SITE|
|Four Lakes||2||0/2||- - - - - - - - -||0%|
|County Line & Ipsen Rd||4||1/4||9/10||25%|
|Seward Bluff||1||0/1||- - - - - - - - -||0%|