Citizens for Conservation: Volunteers in Action

“Saving Living Space for Living Things” is the motto of Citizens for Conservation (CFC), and the organization achieves this through protection, restoration and stewardship of land, conservation of natural resources, and education. As the name suggests, the lifeblood of the organization is citizen volunteers who participate in a range of activities – administrative, restoration, monitoring, and fundraising – to keep the CFC moving forward. As such, we invited Citizens for Conservation to share some of the recent volunteer efforts, and we hope it will encourage everyone to Get Outside and Volunteer!

Photo by Donna Bolzman.

By Sam Oliver, Staff Director

Yes, it’s time to get outside and volunteer! These are the days that ignite our restoration souls, and there is something for everyone to do in April.

Restoration volunteers do it all, of course. In April, some restoration groups are still cutting buckthorn to free native trees from the clutches or clearing gravelly terrain to help support prairie plants that love dry conditions. At the end of the day, volunteers burn the piles of buckthorn, gathering around the fire for rest, refreshment and camaraderie.

Citizens for Conservation recently completed brush cutting season free from weather conditions that have in the past created occasional delays for the volunteer workday schedule. The lack of snow early on in the season allowed for easy parking at spots that were problematic in other years. The never-ending goal of keeping brush at a deer-unfriendly level drives the workload in our area preserves.

This season, Citizens for Conservation completed seven controlled burns in a ten day span. This ambitious controlled burn schedule was achieved due to the commitment of thirty-five individuals who came out for the burns. As this is the most difficult and tiring restoration work, we are particularly thankful to the team members who take on the important responsibilities of drip torch managers and back-pack water carriers.

As we work to enhance biodiversity in our region, we are constantly thinking about ways to increase our capacity and improve our methods and techniques. This season, we added extra equipment at the burn sites to enable more volunteers on the fire lines, and provided water and oranges to keep everyone hydrated. We also added signage along the roads to alert motorists of the burns.

In the last couple of days, one of the many benefits and joys of spring volunteering just occurred: two rare grassland birds were spotted at the restoration properties. Volunteers conducting a burn at Grigsby Prairie spotted a short-eared owl flush up and a marsh hawk was seen floating over the burned areas at Flint Creek Savanna, looking for its next meal. As a volunteer and leader of the restoration activities, it’s very rewarding to know that these rare birds are using our preserves as food and rest stops along their migratory routes.

With burn season over, Citizens for Conservation is launching the spring restoration workdays. Every Thursday and Saturday from 9:00 to 11:00 am, experienced and new volunteers can participate in restoration activities such as sowing legume seed, rescuing native plants, and planting sedges. These, and the controlled burns are all vital to the continued success and expansion of CFC’s award-winning restorations.

Photo by Donna Bolzman.

The volunteers working in the field may very well be some of the same volunteers who are throwing themselves into preparations for Citizens for Conservation’s annual Native Plant, Shrub and Tree Sale. Now in it’s 17th year, the sale is anticipated by gardeners near and far who are seeking to enhance the biodiversity of their backyards and local communities. CFC receives advance orders from return crowds and new gardeners eager to increase the biodiversity of their own properties.

Native plants increase the biodiversity because they don’t require fertilizers or pesticides, thereby providing healthier habitats for insects and animals and costing less money to maintain. Native plants also provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies and other wildlife and the deep fibrous root systems firmly anchor soil to help conserve water and prevent erosion.

Join us on Saturday, May 4 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm at the CFC headquarters located at 459 W. Highway 22 in Lake Barrington, Illinois (across from the Good Shepherd Hospital) to learn about native plants and bring some home to your garden! And of course, CFC could not host the native plant sale without the dedicated group of volunteers who share their knowledge about the types of native plants to plant in specific landscapes.

April has some of the best jobs for volunteers because these jobs are filled with promise, the promise of good things to come.

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