Restoring Nature

Healthy nature gives us opportunities for recreation, discovery, and spiritual renewal. And like all other living things, we are completely dependent on healthy nature for our most fundamental needs—clean air, clean water, food, medicines.

Yet nature faces many challenges: breaks in natural land and water connections; pollution; invasive species; and imbalances in plant and wildlife populations.

Chicago Wilderness members are dedicated to protecting nature and enriching life. We know that our natural communities need to be actively managed and conserved based on scientific principles and best management practices. Through our four key initiatives, we are working to keep the region’s natural systems healthy and sustainable for the benefit of people and nature.

Recognizing Conservation Leadership

Chicago Wilderness recognizes natural resource managers and organizations that apply best practices in ecological restoration through the Excellence in Ecological Restoration and Conservation and Native Landscaping Award programs. Click on the links below to learn more about the programs, past recipients, and Celebrating Nature Benefit. 

How Does Restoration Work?

The first step in restoring a natural area is to assess what native plants and animals remain there. The next step is to determine what’s missing or imperiled and why. Next, a long-term ecological management plan is developed, which outlines the best management practices for the care and maintenance of the site.

Restoration addresses these challenges:

  • Invasion by aggressive, exotic plants. More than 500 species of plants have been introduced into the Chicago region in the past 200 years. Species that become invasive create a lot of trouble. Exotic, or non-native plants drive out both native plants and native wildlife. Restoration may involve the use of controlled fire and the removal of exotics by mechanical means and/or the use of herbicides. In 2010, Chicago Wilderness members launched the Northeastern Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP) to coordinate efforts to manage invasive plant species across the region.

  • Absence of natural fires. Naturally occurring fires historically helped maintain the native habitats in the Chicago Wilderness region. Today, controlled burns help control invasive vegetation and stimulate the germination and growth of many native plant species. The biannual Chicago Wilderness Midwest Ecological Prescription Burn Crew Member Training course provides participants with the background necessary to safely join the crew of a prescribed burn.

  • Excessive populations of white tailed deer. Mainly due to the absence of large predators, populations of white tailed deer have grown to unsustainable levels. Unchecked, they can decimate entire natural areas. Deer management programs support an ecosystem balance that sustains a full range of native plants and provides diverse habitat and food for birds and other animals. Human intervention is necessary to maintain deer population numbers at levels compatible with healthy ecosystems and human safety.

  • Lack of size and connectedness. Many of our natural area remnants are small—some only half an acre in size—and isolated from other areas. The sustainability of such sites can be enhanced by enlarging them or connecting them with nearby natural areas through corridors of restored land so they can fully function.

  • The ultimate goal of restoration and management is to protect and restore biodiversity in our region. Chicago Wilderness members have successfully expanded the ranges of rare species and ecosystems. As a result, our efforts have been championed as a model by conservationists around the globe. Continued efforts represent our best hope for preserving the rich natural heritage of the entire Chicago Wilderness region.


The vibrant natural areas of our region are places for recreation, peaceful respites, and windows to our natural history. They inspire the passion of hundreds of volunteers, who enthusiastically devote thousands of hours annually to restoring and protecting our region’s unique nature.

Volunteers share a few hours on an occasional afternoon, or commit time every week or every day. Every bit helps, and there are plenty of opportunities for people of all skill and experience levels to lend a hand. Learn more.