In the 1960’s and 1970’s, pioneering ecologists such as Floyd Swink, Bob Betz, and Ray Schulenberg inspired a growing interest in the ecology of the native prairies of Northeastern Illinois.

In 1977, a group of enthusiastic citizens volunteered to help rescue several small remnants of native prairie that still survived in the Forest Preserves of Cook County along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

The results have been spectacular. Areas under management are increasingly rich with a great diversity of animals and plants.

Working closely with the Forest Preserve District, these citizens started cutting back the brush that was shading out the native prairie plants and animals. They collected native seeds and planted them in the areas where brush had been removed. Most importantly, they helped bring back the fire that had shaped the Illinois landscape for one hundred centuries prior to European settlement.

During this time, Illinois ecologists expanded their studies to wooded landscapes and learned about the natural processes that shaped the Illinois oak woodlands and savannas. They found that the dense brush and thick understory were diminishing the diversity of many of our woodlands and that it needed to be removed. It became clear that fire was an important natural process for maintaining a healthy woodland ecosystem also.

The results have been spectacular. Areas under management are increasingly rich with a great diversity of rare animals and plants of the prairies and woodlands. In prairies, plants such as cream false indigo, purple prairie clover, rattlesnake master, and bottle gentian have reappeared and are thriving. Many grassland animals, from the smooth green snake to the great spangled fritillary butterfly, survive here only because of these efforts.

In the woods, with the return of sunlight and fire, grasses, sedges and wildflowers once again carpet the forest floor. Great crested flycatchers, American woodcocks and eastern wood pewees raise their babies each year in these sun-dappled woods.

More than twenty endangered or threatened plant species have increased in numbers. Animals such as the Cooper’s hawk and the Edward’s hairstreak butterfly are back from the edge of local extinction. And the eastern bluebird has returned to nest once again in the North Branch savannas.


Here are some people that you should know!

Bobby Sutton
An excellent artist, Bobby often brings his drawing materials to workdays, capturing the spirit of the work. Some of us are lucky enough to have one of his works gracing our homes! Bobby first became involved in restoration as a Forest Preserve District summer intern working with North Branch stewards.

Kent & Jerry Fuller
This husband and wife team are stewards of Miami Woods in Morton Grove and the Air Station Prairie in Glenview. They work with Chicago City Day School and others, introducing 7th and 8th graders to nature in the North Branch forest preserves.

North Branch Survey

Summary of results

More detailed results


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