CHICAGO – The Nature Conservancy in Illinois was awarded permanent protection by state law for a 1,000-acre tract of land at its Nachusa Grasslands, a 3,000-acre preserve in Franklin Grove, located in northwestern Illinois. It is one of the largest prairie landscapes in the state, composed of a mix of remnant prairie and oak savanna habitat. The staff at Nachusa, led by Director Bill Kleiman, requested that the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission (INPC) give this area, described as “the core” of the preserve, permanent state protection due to its rich diversity of plant and animal species, some of which are rare and state-endangered.
The INPC, formed in 1963 under the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, was created to maintain and protect high quality natural areas such as tall grass prairies, oak groves, sandstone bluffs, wetlands and bogs. Dedication of lands into the Illinois Nature Preserves System is a legal process that permanently restricts future uses of an area to ensure that it remains in its natural state and is the highest form of protection afforded to any land in the state.
“The designation is a long-term strategy that we hope will be a starting point for legally protecting adjacent qualifying lands,” Kleiman said. “As a Nature Preserve site we can successfully maintain and manage the life of plants and animals here. It will also set the stage for our plans to reintroduce bison to this site as well.” Bison grazing is an important component to maintaining the ecological health of the grassland habitats.
As one of only 30 IDNR Conservation Opportunity Areas, Nachusa is already home to ornate box turtles, red-headed woodpeckers, bobolinks, regal fritillary butterflies, and Franklin’s ground squirrels, all state-threatened or endangered species. It is also home to federally threatened plant species including the prairie bush clover and eastern prairie white-fringed orchids. The Conservancy and its many volunteers conduct controlled burns, monitor wildlife, stop the spread of harmful, non-native species and harvest thousands of pounds of seed every year. These seeds are used to continue management of the prairie.
“Not only are we proud to have permanently secured this area, we are excited about the continued education that takes place at Nachusa,” Kleiman said. “The Conservancy is uniquely qualified to study the effects of plant and animal reintroductions, prescribed fire and diversity restoration. Visitors are highly encouraged to visit and take guided or unguided hikes and join us for events like our annual Autumn on the Prairie event or upcoming research open house.”
Nachusa will open its doors at its headquarters, 8772 Lowden Road in Franklin Grove on Oct. 19 so researchers can take a scientific tour of the property as well as participate in an information exchange during lunch and a social hour.
“This is an exciting time at Nachusa,” said Jeff Walk, the Conservancy’s director of science in Illinois. “With bison on the horizon and restoration continuing at a rapid clip, we are anticipating unlimited opportunities for growth and learning.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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