The Byron Forest Preserve has a strong belief in preservation, conservation, and restoration of our natural lands. The District is devoted to purchasing and managing natural areas to increase biodiversity along with conserving rare animals and plants of our region.
Preservation and Habitat Restoration
Habitat Restoration is a main focus of the Byron Forest Preserves’ Restoration Staff. The main principle of habitat restoration is to try and return the land to the way it was pre-European settlement. The staff uses old surveyors’ notes that were created pre-settlement along with old aerial photos to determine what ecosystem originally flourished in our area. Local remnant ecosystems are also important models that depict what vegetation should be present in Ogle County.
Staff spends most of their time battling exotic and invasive species from taking over the land. The means in which they perform these “battles” depend on the ecosystem with which is being restored, the type of exotics present, and the time of year.
Along with battling non-natives and exotics our staff also spends time collecting seed from various native plants. The harvested seed is used in a couple of different ways. The most common use of the seed is to plant the seed in new restoration projects or to spread it into some of our degraded areas too help increase the diversity of that area. Another use for the seed is that we propagate some of the more rare species to eventually plant living plants into our restorations.
Fire has been apart of our landscape for hundreds of years. Over time, the native flora and fauna of our area adapted to natural fire regimes. Today, prescribed fire is used by properly trained Forest Preserve staff to help control non-native plant species. Fires kill or stunt non-native plants that are not adapted to fires. Fires remove the dead plant material and recycle the nutrients back into the soil increasing native plant growth and seed productivity. The increase in plant growth and seed productivity helps to provide more food and cover for our native animals.
Why We do it
Our natural landscapes have been degraded and changed since settlement started around the 1800’s. The prairies have been tilled under for row crops, the wetlands drained and the savannas and woods harvested for timber. Today, exotic species and habitat fragmentation have almost completely altered the existence, diversity and abundance of the native fauna and flora. The effects of these changes need to be rectified to insure healthy and diverse ecosystems for the future residents of the Byron area.
How we do it
An understanding of the history of an area should be the first step in any restoration project. For example, the landscape of Northern Illinois historically was dominated by prairies, oak savannas, woodlands, and wetlands. Once we determine the ecosystem that was present, we have our starting point. The current health of the ecosystem for the restoration project is the next object to be determined.
Agricultural land is one of the easiest to restore. The farmers have done the dirty work by keeping the land free of weeds – year after year with the use of herbicide. The main way to restore this type of acreage is to plant a high diversity prairie seed mix. Then you manage the land for weeds until the prairie becomes established.
The tricky part of restoration is when we try and return fallow or neglected land back to its original glory. This is the most challenging due to the wide variety of exotic and invasive weeds that have infested the land. So the first step is to try and eradicate those weeds. We use a combination of tools to accomplish this: fire, herbicide, manual removal, and mowing are the most common methods. Once we have a handle on the weeds, we introduce our high diversity seed mix.
Restoration can be thought of as gardening on a much grander scale. We have to kill the weeds and bring back the natives.
What Citizens like you can do
Our staff loves to have volunteers come and help out in any way they feel comfortable. Some of the activities that a volunteer in the Restoration Department can choose from include: collecting seed, pulling weeds, spraying weeds, assisting with prescribed fires (after training completed), and cutting and hauling wood in the winter months. If you are interested in volunteering, please call our Volunteer Coordinator at 815-234-8535 x217.