Historically, Boone County was rich with a variety of ecosystems. These include prairie and oak savanna, as well as pockets of wetland and dense forest along the Kishwaukee River and its tributaries. When neglected, these habitat types are overrun by invasive and exotic plants that stifle the diversity of local wildlife. Extensive efforts are in effect to return Boone County Conservation District (BCCD) lands to their natural integrity. These restored habitats provide a foothold for native wildlife and create a wide range of educational and recreational benefits for county residents.
The first step in habitat restoration is to determine the former habitat type of a site. This is done by referencing a variety of sources including:
• Soil maps
• Pre-settlement maps
• Survey notes
• Plat maps
• Documents containing information on historic land use
Using the acquired information as a guide, the site is then cleared of invasive plant species. Methods for this type of work include:
• hand-pulling of weeds
• chainsaw operation
• use of equipment that allows large-scale cuttings with minimal ground disturbance.
Brush clearing allows ample sunlight into restoration areas and the establishment of native wildflowers and grasses once prevalent in our county. After a site is cleared, follow-up herbicide applications are necessary to ensure that invasive woody vegetation does not regain its foothold. The BCCD has staff members that are certified by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, enabling them to purchase, mix, and apply herbicide. All applications are performed with the utmost regard for the surrounding environment.
When herbicide applications cease, the site is seeded by broadcasting and using a no-till seed drill. These non-invasive methods allow us to plant multiple acres of native seed without disturbing the soil. Follow-up mowing will cut back invasive plants and provide native seedlings the sunlight needed to establish their elaborate root systems. After two years of mowing, the site is ready for regular prescribed burning, which will take place every three to five years. Ongoing management will ensure optimal biological diversity in our restorations.
A diverse stock of native wildflowers and grasses will draw a multitude of insects, birds and animals to a site, resulting in scores of leisure and learning opportunities for all. Hikers, photographers, plant enthusiasts, bird watchers and other nature-goers will find vibrant and serene settings in the actively managed sites the BCCD has to offer. In addition, educational opportunities abound in these restored areas. Students of all ages witness the natural history of our county and recognize the role that human beings can have in the stewardship of the land.
Prescribed burning is one tool used in the management of our habitat restorations. To maintain extensive wildlife habitat, the BCCD uses controlled burns to stifle the growth of invasive plants and stimulate the growth of desirable natives. Native plants are positively affected by a burn. Fire will remove dead plant material that has accumulated over the years, reducing the risk of wildfires and returning vital nutrients to the soil. A burn will also jump-start the growing season, resulting in more blooms and healthier plants throughout the year.
Seasons during which we burn are in the spring, from mid-March until April 20th, and in the fall from mid-October until the first snow falls. The BCCD has a certified prescription burn crew on staff that executes burns safely and efficiently. Days on which we burn depend heavily on weather conditions, and every effort is made to ensure that smoke is carried away from homes and roads. The site is also prepared beforehand to make certain that the fire is contained.