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Restoring Wolf Road Prairie and Hickory Lane Bufferlands,Craig Billington, April 25, 2015

Craig Billington, Forest Preserve District of Cook County
April 25, 2015

Photo by Valerie Spale


Pre-settlement conditions at Wolf Road Prairie were identified in the Public Lands Survey - 1821-l845, as newly acquired land in the Louisiana Purchase.

Plat maps indicate only 2,500 acres of remnant high quality prairie remain in Illinois representing only l/l00th of l% of the pre-settlement prairie of 22 million acres. Wolf Road Prairie is recognized as one of the finest and largest remnants of black soil (mesic) prairie remaining in Cook County and Illinois today.

The southern portion of Wolf Road Prairie was classified as timber - today's savanna - in early surveyor maps.

The Chicago Region was settled following the 1833 Treaty of Chicago when Potawatomi Native peoples deeded the land to the United State government. The prairie remained relatively undisturbed by human activities during that period to the present day although some grazing by a dairy herd probably occurred in the mid to late l880's and early l900.

The prairie land was subdivided into about 600 city size lots in the early l920's by Samuel Insull. Sidewalks were installed in the southern 40 acres which serve as walking trails and fire breaks today. The prairie was saved from development by the Great Depression of 1929. After World War II, the prairie was again spared from development due to Westchester's restrictive zoning requirements.

The prairie was discovered in the l970's as a high quality natural area containing prairie, savanna and marsh ecosystems by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) acknowledged the value of the prairie for preservation as public land and in about l980 acquisition of prairie lots began. The prairie lots were dedicated as Illinois Nature Preserve beginning in 1988. The 60 acre Hickory Lane area was identified as buffer to Wolf Road Prairie by the IDNR and FPDCC in the l990's and acquisition of five acre parcels began. The most recent acquisition is a three acre parcel by the FPDCC known as 7E HL. The property is adjacent to the Wolf Road Prairie wetland, portions of the Middle Fork Stream Corridor and a narrow savanna strip.

Early Management History - l980 - 2012

Photo by Dave Waycie

Adaptive restoration was introduced to the prairie consistent with best known management practices. Monitoring was conducted regularly to determine the success of the strategy and improvement in preserve biodiversity and population numbers of species of high quality native plants. Some are listed as threatened and endangered.

Recent Management Activity - 2013 - 2014

1. Effectively managed savanna by removing invasive brush and herbaceous weeds
2. Introduced consistent burn regime at the site
3. Divided site in half (south 40 and north 40 acres) and burned selected areas in alternate years.
4. Executed Intergovernmental Agreement between the FPDCC and IDNR to implement coordinated management activities
5. Acquired adjacent property on Hickory Lane as buffer to prairie to increase effective habitat preserve size, and safeguard hydrology
6. Used the Jack White 1986 study as a template for preserve recovery
7. Cut and herbicided invasive brush and herbicided resprouts. Stacked and burned brush piles selecting either sidewalks or degraded areas for burn sites to protect the ground for native plants and roots. Applied Garlon 4 typically used in winter
8. Held volunteer workdays and National Public Lands Day annually in September


1. Habitat fragmentation and edge effects
2. Watershed degradation. Implement more control of hydrology
3. Invasive species expanding range in preserve area. Monitor and remove herbaceous species such as teasel, reed canary grass, Phragmites, garlic mustard and purple loosestrife
4. Inconsistent fire regime
5. Isolation of site adversely impacting biodiversity and rare plant populations and access by pollinators, resident and migratory birds and mammals
6. Bureacratic interference
7. Pollutants - runoff from adjacent roads and upstream properties

Current Restoration Activities - 2015

1. Hired contractors to conduct seasonal mowing and follow up herbicide applications to areas of brush cleared in 2013-14
2. Mowed northwest corner of prairie in 2014-15 - District staff. Contractor hired to follow up with repeat mowing of area
3. Summer 2014 - Thistle Control. Contractor hired to treat thistle with foliar herbicide application
4. Cleared South Fork drainage area which flows from west to east - District staff
5. 2015 - Contractor hired to remove invasive species around 1 Aloha Lane buffer pond and uplands
6. March 2015 - U.S. Coast Guard volunteers cleared brush on 7 HL adjacent to Wolf Road Prairie wetland supervised by Craig Billington and assisted by volunteer Greg Jerzyk
7. Contractor hired to remove and treat brush along length of Wolf Road from 31st Street to Constitution Drive
8. Salt Creek Greenway Association hired Witness Tree Native Landscapes to remove brush and invasive species in Wolf Road Prairie wetland and on 9 Hickory Lane stream corridor\and uplands in partnership with FPDCC and IDNR.
9. Maintained savanna and shrub oaks by thinning and removal of non native species - District staff
10. Continued introduction of seeds of the endangered Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid originally known to the preserve in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, IDNR and the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission

Burn History - Selected Areas

Photo by Dave Waycie

l. l998 - Southern 40 acres
2. 2004-05 - Southern 40 acres
3. Fall 2009 - Southern 40 acres
4. Spring 2012 - Southern 40 acres
5. Fall 2013 - Southern 40 acres
6. Fall 2014 - Southern 40 acres
7. Fall - 2001, 2003 and Spring 2015 - Northern 40 acres
8. Wetland - 2015 - Cattails burned. Dramatic burn with black smoke

Future Plans

Acquire and manage more property on Hickory Lane as buffer to Wolf Road Prairie

Continue aggressive management of prairie and monitoring of recovery of rare plant species and improvement in the health of the preserve ecosystems in accordance with the Jack White plan.

Monitor, improve and control the hydrology at the preserve watershed and wetland

Collaborate with Salt Creek Greenway Assn, IDNR, INPC and USFWS to continue restoration partnerships on selected preserve and buffer projects and areas.

Photo by Cassi Saari

For more information about the management of Wolf Road Prairie and Hickory Lane buffer by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, contact Craig Billington, Ecologist I, at

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