PRESERVING BUFFERLAND TO PROTECT WOLF ROAD PRAIRIE


Photo by Jerry Kumery

Background

The 80 acre Wolf Road Prairie is recognized as one of the largest and best quality black soil prairies east of the Mississippi River. The black soil savanna at Wolf Road Prairie is considered globally critically imperiled according to the Chicago Wilderness Biodiversity Recovery Plan. A wetland centrally located within the heart of the preserve adds diversity and additional wildlife viewing opportunities. Over 370 species of native plants are known to the site and more than 140 species of birds have been documented using the preserve for migratory stopovers, habitat needs and nesting. Mammals, large and small, amphibians and untold numbers of insects, dragonflies and damselflies also inhabit the preserve. The seasonal migration of Monarch butterflies is a mid-September spectacle.

Wolf Road Prairie was acquired in phases by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC). This acquisition spanned a period from 1980 to the early 1990's with IDNR and FPDCC acting as co-partners through the years to preserve the site. This involved the acquisition of nearly 600 city-size lots platted in the prairie land in the 1920's prior to the Great Depression by Samuel Insull. Wolf Road Prairie has been dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC).

During the years of acquisition, development threats encroached upon the preserve, and it was determined by natural areas experts that if the prairie was to survive as a rich example of our natural heritage, acquisition of buffer was critical and necessary.

The 60 acre Hickory Lane Estates, located immediately upstream and to the west of Wolf Road Prairie, was identified as an area of land acquisition opportunity as buffer to Wolf Road Prairie by the FPDCC in their 1992 Land Acquisition Plan. IDNR also identified Hickory Lane Estates as a priority area for bufferland acquisition. The Hickory Lane Estates area is believed to be the last remaining landscape with pre-settlement features and characteristics qualifying for conservation acquisition and preservation in the highly populated western suburbs of Cook County within the Salt Creek Greenway.

Beginning in 1987 and extending through 2008, IDNR and FPDCC have partnered to acquire more than 38 acres of the 60 acre Hickory Lane Estates. These properties buffer Wolf Road Prairie, safeguard the watershed, preserve biodiversity and native gene pools and can be readily restored to native ecosystems.

Bufferland Acquisition Timeline

In late 1987, FPDCC acquired a 3+ acre buffer property on Hickory Lane containing developing prairie. This property also contains a small segment of the Middle Fork Creek.

In January 2001, IDNR acquired three 5+ acre buffer properties on Hickory Lane. An ephemeral pond, a stand of pre-settlement oaks and a stretch of the Middle Fork Creek connecting to the Wolf Road Prairie wetland are now protected on these parcels as buffer additions to the preserve. Prior to acquisition by IDNR, these properties were threatened with high density development.

In October 2007, FPDCC acquired two 10.15 acre buffer properties on Hickory Lane. These properties were threatened with high density development posing adverse impacts to Wolf Road Prairie. A stretch of the Middle Fork Creek is located on this property. Also known to the site are a large pond, a fen-like wetland and a grove of pre-settlement oaks containing an understory of herbaceous savanna species. Restoration of a section of this site which directly adjoins the Wolf Road Prairie wetland is underway. (Insert Exelon volunteer photos - credit - Courtesy of Exelon Corp.)

On June 4, 2008, FPDCC acquired a 5+ acre buffer property on Hickory Lane. This parcel contains a large pond and provides an opportunity for wet prairie and aquatic restoration. Examples of remnant glacial erratics left behind when the last glacier receded about 12,000 years ago are scattered on the property.

On June 13, 2008, IDNR acquired a 5+ acre buffer property on Hickory Lane which contains a stand of pre-settlement oaks and a tributary connection to the Middle Fork Creek. This property can be restored as black soil savanna and prairie, providing habitat for declining populations of native species known to Wolf Road Prairie.

Wolf Road Prairie is a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve and a nominated National Natural Landmark (NNL). The NNL nomination is being overseen by the National Park Service.

For more information about Wolf Road Prairie:
Click on "Places to Visit" on the Greenway cover page, scroll down and click on to Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve
Forest Preserve District of Cook County at www.fpdcc.com
Illinois Department of Natural Resources at www.dnr.state.il.us/INPC/NPdir.htm

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