Illinois is called the prairie state because of the 22 million acres it had in 1820. But by 1978, less than 2,300 acres of high quality prairie remained, threatening species of plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Barrington-based Citizens for Conservation is an all volunteer-based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring the native habitats that once covered northeast Illinois.

Patty Barten, a CFC board member, talked about the group's work, and what's needed to make it happen.

Q: What is your organization's mission?

A: CFC's mission statement is: Saving Living Space for Living Things through protection, restoration and stewardship of land, conservation of natural resources and education.

Q: How do you work toward accomplishing that goal?

A: We actively restore land with the help of volunteers, donors and strategic partners who want to maintain the beauty and biodiversity of our land for generations to come.

We also work within the community and the region to foster good environmental ethics and practices. Our efforts benefit native plants and animals and enhance ecosystems services such as groundwater protection, flood and erosion control, and carbon sequestration.

Volunteers are the core of CFC's success. Restoration volunteers work year-round on CFC land to cut brush, restore native plants, and sow and collect native seed. They also work in many other areas, including education, fundraising, wildlife and plant monitoring, office activities and larger collaborative conservation efforts.

CFC's programs and activities include:

• Preservation and restoration of open lands

• Educational programs for adults and classes for youth and young adults

• Native wildlife and plant monitoring and reintroduction

• Programs to encourage native landscaping and seed conservation

• The Barrington Greenway Initiative, which will create a continuous habitat corridor that links 14,000 acres of protected natural land in the greater Barrington area.

This includes reintroduction of priority species of wildlife and plants to strengthen the area's biodiversity. Strategic partners are: Lake County Forest Preserves, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Audubon Great Lakes, Friends of the Forest Preserves and the Bobolink Foundation.

Q: Who do you serve?

A: CFC concentrates its efforts in the greater Barrington area, and our community outreach provides programs, classes, camps, internships, and year-round volunteer opportunities. We also collaborate with Barrington Area Unit District 220, garden clubs, conservation groups, Scouts and church groups.

Q: When and why did the organization start? How has it grown?

A: In 1970, a group of area residents met to discuss the damage that suburban growth was causing to Barrington's environment. Creeping development represented a threat to lakes, streams, savannas, wetlands and prairies. Sprawl was destroying native habitats, as well as many rare species of plants and animals dependent on those habitats.

Citizens for Conservation was incorporated in 1971 as Barrington's own nonprofit conservation organization. CFC has 825 members and an average of more than 500 volunteers who produce more than 15,000 hours of work each year.

Q: What kind of successes have you had?

A: Examples include:

• CFC and partners have protected more than 3,500 acres by direct acquisition, donation and conservation easements, including 12 preserves totaling 439 acres that CFC owns and manages.

• Along with partner organizations, CFC harvests, processes and sows seeds of important native plants, this year breaking records for poundage collected.

• CFC's Flint Creek Savanna Preserve has been chosen by the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Chicago Wilderness for the reintroduction of and research on the smooth green snake. This animal is a key indicator of the health of an ecosystem.

• More than 1,500 students each year become citizen scientists through CFC's hands-on nature programs in Barrington School District 220; hundreds more participate in Community Education and Youth and Young Adult Education programs.

Q: What challenges does the organization currently face?

A: Volunteers of all ages are needed; we provide education, hands-on experiences, support, fun and a way for people to make a real difference.   

Q: What do you wish the community at large knew about the organization?

A: The iconic open spaces that define Barrington and are enjoyed by residents are, in part, due to almost 50 years of work by CFC and its caring volunteers. They invest in tomorrow and the future by taking important actions today. Flood and erosion control, air and water purity, and space for connection with nature are some of the measurable benefits. 

Q: How can readers get involved?

A: Many volunteer at our restoration workdays, held twice a week throughout the year. Volunteers also help with education programs, special events, fundraising, office work and wildlife monitoring. Volunteering is an effective way to give back, learn about the local ecology, and make a difference where you live, while meeting some incredible people along the way. 

Readers also are welcome to make financial or real estate gifts.

And readers can support CFC by purchasing plants and trees at our annual Native Plant, Tree and Shrub Sale May 5-6 on the grounds of Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, 450 W. Hwy. 22, Barrington.

Native plants do not require fertilizers or pesticides; have deep, fibrous root systems that firmly anchor in the soil to help conserve water and prevent erosion; require little watering; and provide food and shelter for wildlife. Online pre-sale ordering is March 1-April 10 on CFC's website.

Details on all these ways of getting involved are at