Laona Heights Sugar River Colored Sands Sugar River Two Rivers Ferguson Hartley Memorial Trask Bridge Four Lakes Pecatonica River Pecatonica Wetlands Crooked River Grove Creek Seward Bluffs Klehm Forest Preserve Severson Dells Fuller Memorial Cedar Cliff Indian Hill Hinchliff Memorial Kilbuck Bluffs Trailside Kishwaukee Gorge South Kishwaukee Gorge North Rockford Rotary Kishwaukee River Oak Ridge Blackhawk Springs Deer Run Espenscheid Memorial McKiski County Line Kieselburg Roland Olson Stone Bridge Clayton Andrews Ledges Hononegah J. Norman Jensen Millrace Isle Macktown Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve Headquarters


Conservation is a Major Focus of Forest Preserves District Mission.
A large percentage of the District’s financial and human resources are invested in protecting natural resources and improving habitat for native plants and animals. One of the primary functions of a forest preserve district is to acquire undeveloped land in locations, quantities and configurations that will help protect our natural systems. The Illinois Downstate Forest Preserve Act of 1931 states that forest preserve agencies:

“Acquire lands…for the purpose of protecting and preserving the flora, fauna and scenic beauties…and to restore, restock, protect and preserve…such lands together with their flora and fauna, as nearly as may be, in their natural state and condition…”

The Winnebago County Forest Preserve District achieves this mandate with two strategies:

  • acquiring and managing land that includes critical and sensitive natural resources and ecosystems
  • restoring degraded land and resources and managing them so they can once again function as ecosystems that sustain diverse natural communities.


The Winnebago County Forest Preserve District Habitat Restoration program works to create ecological conditions that sustain and preserve native plant and animal communities in the county’s prairies, wetland 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.


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.

Other methods include:

  • Planting thousands of native trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers to restore the plant diversity that once existed
  • Stabilizing stream banks and restoring native shoreline vegetation to help prevent streambank 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


In the 1800’s Winnebago County was a land of open prairies, wetlands and savanna. These areas teemed with wildlife, trees and flowers. The rivers ran clean and unrestricted and their natural flowing and flooding patterns created conditions for supporting numerous aquatic and wetland species. As the land became more populated and the land was farmed, fires, so important to prairie, woodland and wetland ecology, were halted.

The landscape has undergone a magnitude of frequent change over the past 150 years. Throughout the introduction of exotic species, alterations in drainage, habitat destruction and fragmentation, native plants and animals have been disappearing from Winnebago County. The effects of these changes need to be reversed if we are to preserve the remaining biodiversity and landscapes for future residents.

The staff at WCFPD will use this page to provide periodic updates on forest preserve natural resource conservation and habitat restoration goals, practices and initiatives. If you have questions about specific projects or sites, please call WCFPD headquarters at 815/877-6100.