On Nov. 6, the Chicago Wilderness Alliance honored the Lake County Forest Preserve District for attaining the highest possible level of Excellence in Ecological Restoration accreditation for its work at the Spring Bluff Nature Preserve in Winthrop Harbor.
The newly launched Excellence in Ecological Restoration Program, sponsored by ArcelorMittal, was developed to recognize high-quality habitat restoration sites and the organizations that manage them.
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Through the EERP, organizations conduct comprehensive self-assessments of their restoration programs and the quality of the natural areas being accredited. The assessments are based on a set of rigorous, science-based standards that recognize best practices in natural resource management.
The Chicago Wilderness Commission on Excellence in Ecological Restoration reviews the assessments and determines the level of site certification: Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze.
"This Platinum accreditation recognizes the expertise, creativity and drive of our natural resource staff in forming and leading a coalition of federal, state and regional partners to restore Spring Bluff Nature Preserve and surrounding habitat at Illinois Beach State Park and Chiwaukee Prairie," said Ann B. Maine, president of the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
The natural areas of Chicago Wilderness are home to a wide diversity of species and rare habitats that provide the region's residents with opportunities for recreation and exploration, as well as clean air and water, flood protection and many more benefits.
Yet the region's natural areas are threatened by fragmentation; invasive plant and animal species; pollution; and the impacts of climate change.
To address these threats, the district and many similar organizations actively restore and maintain the health of local nature to ensure that the region's natural heritage remains vibrant for generations to come.
"As a regional alliance of more than 300 organizations dedicated to protecting and restoring our natural areas, it is essential that we recognize and promote best management practices in ecological restoration and conservation," said Melinda Pruett-Jones, executive director of Chicago Wilderness.
Spring Bluff Nature Preserve in Winthrop Harbor provides a critical link between Illinois Beach State Park, Chiwaukee Prairie and Kenosha Dunes natural areas. The Lake County Forest Preserve District purchased Spring Bluff in phases, beginning in 1963, and restoration of the site began in 1982.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources designated Spring Bluff as an Illinois Nature Preserve in 1992, a status conferred only on the state's most ecologically sensitive public lands.
Spring Bluff is a complex of beach-ridges and dunes formed 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, and is protected for its natural communities, including marshes; sedge meadow; wet, mesic and dry sand prairie; sand savanna; fen; and seeps.
The 14 community types within this site provide habitat for more than 500 plant and 300 animal species, including 63 state and four federally listed Threatened and Endangered Species and Species of Concern.
For more information about other Lake County Forest Preserve habitat restoration projects, or for free preserve trail maps, a calendar of events or other publications, call (847) 367-6640 or visit www.LCFPD.org.