Forest Preserves of Cook County Launches Major Natural and Cultural Resources Plan

The Forest Preserves of Cook County is teaming up with the Prairie Research Institute of the University of Illinois to create a comprehensive plan for the management of its natural and cultural resources.

The Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan will draw together two traditionally separate disciplines. “Natural resources” include the land, water and wildlife communities inhabiting the Preserves’ nearly 69,000 acres. “Cultural resources” include archaeological sites and artifacts left by early human societies who lived on these lands.

“This plan will provide strategic guidance to ensure the diversity of our natural heritage is sustained into the next century,” Forest Preserves of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said. “It underscores the Forest Preserves’ commitment to conserving the flora, fauna and historical sites in our care. It will provide a powerful guide to management decisions and foster more widespread support for these irreplaceable assets.”

The project will assemble into one central database ecological and archaeological data on the Forest Preserves’ holdings, including previously unknown or inaccessible data such as physical collections by staff and paper records held by partner institutions. Once the data is compiled, scientists will identify gaps in information and work to fill them using rapid field surveys and other methods. The database will be a living document, allowing for continued updating as new information is discovered and future data collected.

Forest Preserve ecologists and planners will be able to use the map-based database to gain greater insights into the land’s history and better identify trends. The plan will standardize protocols for monitoring changing conditions over the long term. The public will also be able to access and use selected non-sensitive data.

“This master plan will take our land management to a new level,” Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall said. “We look at the land from many different perspectives—wildlife ecology, plant communities, archaeology, trail or building construction—but departments often focus on their individual piece of the puzzle. With the new plan, our staff and partners will be able to sit around the same map and take everything into account at once, based on all available data.”

The Prairie Research Institute houses the Illinois Scientific Surveys, including the Illinois Natural History Survey, the Illinois State Geological Survey, the Illinois State Water Survey, the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. “They were the ideal partner for this project,” Randall said. “Since 1858, the INHS has essentially served as our state’s biological memory. They have a breadth of expertise and an ability to organize and protect sensitive information. This partnership gives the Forest Preserves access to more than 600 scientists and technicians with knowledge of Illinois resources unavailable anywhere else.” The Forest Preserves will also bring in experts to facilitate a public input process.

Key staff from the Forest Preserves and the Prairie Research Institute met earlier this month to set the course for data consolidation, staff and public input, resource mapping and other initial steps. The plan will be completed by December 31, 2014. For more information as it becomes available, visit


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