Prescribed fire at TNC Caveny tract.  Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.  Eliza Perry igniting. Photo credit: © Chris Helzer/TNC
Prescribed fire Prescribed fire at TNC Caveny tract. Platte River Prairies, Nebraska. Eliza Perry igniting. Photo credit: © Chris Helzer/TNC © Chris Helzer/TNC

Volunteer in Illinois

Stewardship Training

Learn about the training and tools for prescribed fire, herbicide use, stewardship tools and various certification programs.

Learn to Burn

Nature needs fire. Fire is natural, normal, and necessary to keep our forests and grasslands healthy so that they can provide habitat for wildlife and filter and store water. Fire helps thin out invasive brush, restore soils, and create open spaces in the forest so light can nourish a wider diversity of plants for wildlife.

The Nature Conservancy has been performing planned, controlled burns on our own preserves to mimic the natural fire cycle for more than 50 years. In Illinois, we rely heavily on volunteers to help us burn our natural areas and encourage our partners to offer training and volunteer opportunities for controlled burning. Formal training programs are important, but should be coupled with hours of experience in the field.

Fire Training 

Below are links and information on fire training opportunities for land managers and volunteers. Please check with your organization or agency on the qualifications needed to participate in a controlled burn. 

National Wildfire Coordinating Group

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) is comprised of several public national agencies that work together to coordinate programming and maintain standards of training, equipment, qualifications, and other operational functions. Online trainings for S-130 and S-190 and several advanced fire courses are available.

S-130 (Basic Fire) and S-190 (Fire Behavior) are the entry to certifications in wildland fire, and contain valuable information for professionals and volunteers. The courses are bundled in a pair and require a field day for certification. Click here to find days scheduled in Illinois.

Chicago Wilderness Prescribed Burn Training

Based on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s (NWCG) S-130 and S-190 courses, this training covers the basics of prescription burn techniques, fire behavior and smoke management. The objective of this training is to provide participants with the background necessary to safely participate on the crew of a prescribed burn. Please note that while many Chicago Wilderness land-owning organizations accept this course as their standard minimum crew member training, it does not currently carry the official NWCG S-130/S-190 certification. Several sessions of this training are offered each year. The classes are open to volunteers, professional natural resources management staff, and others interested in the restoration and management of natural areas.

Below are links to organizations and resources that support the use of fire as a management tool.

Illinois Prescribed Fire Council

The Illinois Prescribed Fire Council is a group of individuals, organizations, land managers and agencies who have an interest in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of prescribed fires in Illinois. Membership is open to anyone. Those interested in natural resources, fire protection, public policy, habitat restoration, and wildlife, in addition to private landowners and volunteers, may find membership particularly beneficial.

Southern Illinois Prescribed Burn Association

The Southern Prescribed Fire Burn Association is a partnership between landowners, government agencies, conservation groups and other interested individuals and organizations that share the common goal of expanding the use of prescribed burning across the southern Illinois region.

Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium

The Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium is a network for sharing research, ideas, and practices among fire practitioners, scientists, outreach and extension specialists, volunteers, educators and enthusiasts from across the midwestern United States. 

Oak Woodlands and Forests Fire Consortium

The Oak Woodlands and Forests Fire Consortium aims to help share fire information and resources across the interior U.S., as well as to focus on the information needs of natural resource managers working in oak-dominated communities such as woodlands, forests savannas, and barrens.


Restoring Exotic-invaded Ecosystems Using Prescribed Fire by Dr. Raelene Crandall, University of Missouri St. Louis

Keeping our Native Lands and Waters Healthy and Diverse with Herbicide Use

Not everything green is good, especially when it comes to invasive species. Invasive species are considered the second most serious threat to biological diversity after from habitat destruction. Invasive plants not only crowd out native species that are essential parts of Illinois natural areas, they do not provide adequate food or habitat for native birds and other wildlife.

Herbicide use to control invasive species is an important land management strategy. Used in concert with other techniques such as controlled burns, hand pulling of invasive species and bio-control methods, we can help control the spread of invasive plants in our natural areas. In Illinois, volunteers are properly trained and licensed to use herbicide and assist staff with control of these invaders. The videos below cover a variety of tools and techniques relevant to herbicide application. Resources on invasive species management and training are also provided below.

Volunteer Training 

Volunteers using herbicide in natural areas in Illinois are legally required to get an Illinois pesticide license. Typically natural resource volunteers obtain either an operator license (General Standards) or applicator license (General Standards + one of the following relevant categories: Right of Way “terrestrial” or Aquatic). For some volunteers, there are new rules within the herbicide law that allow agencies to conduct their own training and bypass these classifications. Please check with your volunteer coordinator or leader on which license makes sense and if the new rules apply to you.  

VSN Annual Herbicide License Workshop

Each year, the Volunteer Stewardship Network collaborates with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Forest Preserves of Cook County to offer volunteers an opportunity to obtain their public herbicide license. Note: This training is solely to obtain a license to apply herbicide in Illinois and does not cover the specifics of herbicide use in natural areas. 

Illinois Department of Agriculture and University of Illinois Extension Training

Beyond the annual VSN training, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDA) and University of Illinois Extension offer additional training and certification clinics. Study materials for the Illinois pesticide tests are available from the University of Illinois Extension or by phone 1-800-644-2123. Allow 1-2 weeks for delivery. Testing is available at the IDA office in Springfield 217-785-2427 and De Kalb 815-787-5476 during the week. 

IL Pesticide License Training Presentation

This training presentation will help volunteers prepare for the herbicide license test(s) on their own. This presentation simply provides an overview of the materials and is not a substitute for self-study of the Right of Way, General Standards, and Aquatic manuals and workbooks. 

Right of Way - Applicator License Review Questions

This study guide will help volunteers prepare for the Right of Way test. This guide simply provides an overview of the materials and is not a substitute for self-study of the Right of Way manual and workbook. 

General Standards - Operator License Review Questions

This study guide will help volunteers prepare for the General Standards test. This guide simply provides an overview of the materials and is not a substitute for self-study of the General Standards manual and workbook. 


Resources for Herbicide Use in Natural Areas

Herbicide Mixing Chart (Courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of Kane County) 

Quick Reference Guide to Mixing Herbicides (Courtesy of the River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area)

Sprayer Calibration Calculator App (Developed by Scott Bretthauer, University of Illinois Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety Education): This app assists applicators in calibrating a pesticide sprayer. The app can be used for aerial, ground, turf and boomless applications. It includes functions for determining the required nozzle flow rate, splitting that flow rate among different orifice sizes on an aerial boom, and calculating a required pressure to achieve a specific flow rate. It also has a function to convert values and rates for some commonly encountered variables and to determine maximum and minimum operating speeds based on nozzle capacity. It is available for free.

Herbicide Use in Natural Areas – A Guide for Volunteer Land Stewards

Northeast Illinois Regional Phenology and Treatment Calendar (Courtesy of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership)

Illinois Nature Preserves Commission – Vegetation Control Guidelines

Invasive Plants of East Central Illinois

Center of Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health  

Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month

USDA Plants Database


National Invasive Species Information Center

National Invasive Species Council 

Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States

Global Invasive Species Database 


    Illinois Invasive Species Council

    Midwest Invasive Plant Network (MIPN)

    Invasive Plants Association of Wisconsin (IPAW) 

    Headwaters Invasive Plant Partnership

    River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) 

    Indiana Coastal Weed Cooperative Weed Management Area (ICCWMA)

Resources for Volunteer Managers and Leaders

Illinois Nature Preserve Commission – Herbicide Licensing Forms 

The forms below are provided to volunteer coordinators and leaders to help guide their volunteers through the herbicide licensing process and to register them with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) for indemnification. Indemnification forms must be completed and submitted each year. For questions, please contact Kelly Neal ( at the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.


Expanded Illinois Herbicide Rules and Process

Starting January 1, 2011, new rules for herbicide application on public land by volunteers was announced for the state of Illinois. These new rules allow public agencies to more easily train and license volunteers to apply herbicide to restore natural areas, because they allow the training to be held locally by the public agency at no cost to volunteers. Below are several materials that explain these rules and how to implement them in your organization. For questions, please contact Karen Tharp ( at The Nature Conservancy.


Certification Programs

The best stewardship training comes simply from volunteering and working shoulder-to-shoulder with others in the field. Experienced volunteer stewards hold dozens of workdays, wildflower walks and other nature related activities throughout the year to help you get started. Most new volunteers simply show up and pitch in - no experience is required.

Typical workday activities include cutting and pulling of invasive brush and weeds or collecting and sowing native seeds. If you are interested in a deeper educational experience, you can be trained under an experienced volunteer steward to become a site steward or co-steward (check with your local volunteer coordinator or leader if this option is available). You can also take advantage of several programs to broaden your knowledge. Below is a sample of some of those formal certification programs.

Illinois Master Naturalists Program
These science-based educational opportunities connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards.

Woodland Stewardship Program
(The Morton Arboretum)
This program provides volunteer leaders the knowledge and experience necessary to serve as a woodland steward or as a steward supervisor. Major concepts include: principles of ecology, conservation, and restoration; plant identification; techniques to manage pests and invasive species; strategies and techniques for management of local ecosystems; and practical approaches for organizing natural areas management.

Openlands TreeKeepers®
Take action to care for and protect trees in your community by becoming an Openlands TreeKeeper® volunteer. You will join a corps of volunteers dedicated to trees in our urban forest of cities and suburbs. Training includes tree biology, soils, tree identification, pruning, tree selection and more.

First Aid and CPR
(American Red Cross)
Get trained in First Aid and CPR.

The Center for Conservation Leadership Certificate Program
This year-long program is targeted to students completing 8th and 9th grades in the current school year who love being outside, exploring the natural world and becoming stewards of the environment.

Stewardship Tools

Proper handling and care of stewardship tools is important and will enable restoration work to get done safely and with less expense over time. The videos below cover a variety of tools relevant to stewardship and provide some helpful tips on sharpening techniques and overall care and maintenance to extend the life of your tools.