Five DuPage County forest preserve areas will become Illinois Nature Preserves next week after commissioners unanimously approved a measure Tuesday to give the lands extra ecological protection.
Collectively, the preserves are home to endangered, threatened and rare species, such as the blue-spotted salamander, Blanding's turtle or the federally threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid.
While commissioners agreed it's important to protect such things, some initially worried the DuPage Forest Preserve District would lose some control of its lands to state guidelines.
"I'm not against other layers of protection," Commissioner Joseph Cantore said. "What I'm concerned about is that the people who paid for the land can actually enjoy it."
All six commissioners peppered staff and a state representative with questions during Tuesday's meeting. They said they wanted to ensure activities such as trail riding and dog walking could continue in areas people currently enjoy, such as the West Grove of Meacham Grove Forest Preserve near Bloomingdale.
They also acknowledged some other areas slated to become Illinois Nature Preserves are not widely used.
In addition to the West Grove, areas set to be dedicated are: a buffer on the southeast side of West Chicago Prairie; Prairie Forest Preserve near Addison and a buffer area; Des Plaines Riverway Forest Preserve near Burr Ridge; and Brewster Creek Marsh at Pratt's Wayne Woods near Wayne.
Steve Byers, field representative for the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, assured commissioners they will remain in charge after the May 8 dedication.
"You said the magic words as far as I'm concerned: that the district has control and the district manages the facility," Commissioner Michael Formento said.
Four area residents spoke in favor of dedicating the preserves, too.
JoAnn Monge, a volunteer with the forest preserve district since 1987, encouraged commissioners to support the measure.
"The idea for having an extra level of protection for the forest preserve is not recent," she said, noting the district already manages two Illinois Nature Preserves without any clash with the state: Truitt-Hoff Nature Preserve at West Chicago Prairie and Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve at Churchill Woods.