Our Restoration Approach
Lake Forest Open Lands maintains nearly 900 acres of open space. 350 acres of this includes remnant and restored prairies, wetlands, and woodlands. 200 acres is on a masterlease agreement with the City of Lake Forest (including two nature preserves). 250 acres are under conservation easements as a low cost community serive to Lake Forest residents.
Community volunteers are an integral part of our land management efforts as they assist Lake Forest Open Lands’ staff in conducting prescribed burns, planting native vegetation and removing invasive species. In addition, Lake Forest Open Lands actively partners with other conservation organizations to promote research and healthy biodiversity in our region.
For community volunteer opportunities click here. For monitoring opportunities click here.
If it's spring or fall and you're wondering about the pungent smell of burning leaves in the air, it’s burn season for land managers across Northern Illinois.
Controlled burns by experienced professionals are crucial to the restoration of natural habitats. Native plant species have to compete with non-native and invasive plants for sunlight, space, and nutrients. Burning helps reduce this non-native vegetation that can out compete native flora. The burns also help retrun vital nutrients back into the soil which assists native species in growing bigger and stronger.
Our healthy local habitats are fire-adapted, meaning that historically they have thrived on occasional natural fires to help release seeds from their hard seed covers and to open the understory of woodlands to more sunlight. Without this fire, some species would not be able to thrive.
Due to expanded human populations, such natural fires have been suppressed. But the prairie plants have not changed their need for fire.
Enter our restoration specialists. Training and experience are essential to managing a burn. Conditions have to be just right: not too wet, not too dry, and definitely not too windy. Wind direction is an important consideration, too. For these reasons it’s difficult to announce a firm date for a burn. We send out postcards to all our neighbors advising them of the impedening burn season as communication is vital.
Our land managers take great care in preparing for a burn. They investigate each plot of land before burning it to determine their preparations for a safe prairie burn. They clear all vegetation around live and dead trees to prevent unnecessary damage and put in a "break line". This break line helps to keep the fire contained so that it does not "jump" to an unintended area of land. Unlike a natural conflagration, a controlled burn looks like a thin line of flame as it works its way across a field of dead vegetation. Monitors stand guard and pay close attention to changing conditions. The fire department is always notified beforehand.
Generally no areas are burned two years in a row. The spring burn season starts in March, as soon as conditions are favorable.
Controlling Invasive and Non-Native Species
Our land managers go through extensive training and perform continual research as to the best methods to control invasive and non-native flora species. They attend workshops, take required classes, and confer with other local land managers.
Common non-native species include the infamous common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) was brought over from Europe as a popular hedgin material. The buckthorn berries are spread by birds and other animals. Buckthorn is a hearty plant, it blooms early, and has even been shown to alter the surrounding soil to make it less desirable for other plant species.
Different plants require different methods of control which takes place throughout the year. In the winter, the land managers are more than likely to target buckthorn with cutting and a carefuly, pointed application of herbicide, but in the summer you will often see them in wet areas using hand trowels to dig up purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
Join us for a Community Volunteer Work Day
Want to see firsthand how we restore and maintain our preserves? We'd love to see you out for a Community Volunteer Work Day! Opportunities are offerred throughout the year (no public work days in summer). Dress for the weather, (layered clothing) closed-toe shoes, and be ready to get to work. We provide any gloves and/or tools you may need. Please click here for more information and upcoming dates.