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Excellence in Ecological Restoration Program Accreditation


Restoring the land is no paint-by-numbers exercise. What remains of our native prairies, woodlands, and wetlands has endured decades or even centuries of neglect and change, from fire suppression to invasive species, hydrological disruption to pollution. To bring back the health, function, and diversity of these special places requires persistent study and sweat, creativity, good organization, commitment from leadership, and marshaling of resources.

Importantly, it also requires a community of peers — land managers, ecologists, wildlife biologists, stewards, and others — sharing lessons learned, setting standards, and working together to help this relatively young discipline evolve.

To this end, in 2012 the Chicago Wilderness alliance launched the Excellence in Ecological Restoration Program (EERP). Using a rigorous, standards-based approach, this accreditation program recognizes the organizations managing the largest and highest-quality natural areas in the Chicago region and beyond. The program highlights projects that set an example of best practices in natural resource management and ecological restoration. These sites are, in many senses, our best guides for what can be done to restore biodiversity at a landscape scale.

The Excellence in Ecological Restoration Program accreditations are presented biannually. Applications are currently closed. The next award cycle is in 2021. Learn about EERP, the application process, and past winners. Questions? Please email Chicago Wilderness.

2019 SITES


Deer Grove West Wetland and Woodland Nature Preserve

Forest Preserves of Cook County

Rich remnant oak woodlands form the core of Deer Grove West Woodland and Wetland Nature Preserve in northwest Cook County. Numerous small wetlands dot the rolling, rugged terrain, and a tributary to Salt Creek runs through the preserve’s center. Biologists have recorded more than 300 plant species, including 6 state-listed species. The Forest Preserves of Cook County has built upon 20 years of volunteer stewardship here with regular prescribed burns, protection of delicate ravines from mountain biking, and ambitious hydrologic repairs funded by the O’Hare Modernization Mitigation Account.


US Department of Energy

On the grounds of one of the world’s leading particle physics labs is one of the world’s groundbreaking experiments in ecological restoration. Beginning in 1975, Fermilab crews, led by Dr. Robert Betz, used agricultural equipment to plant prairie on a vast scale. Today, staff and volunteers manage 1,000 acres of recreated tallgrass prairie connecting several hundred acres of remnant woodlands and wetlands. Shrublands, old-field grasslands, and sedge meadows add to the matrix. Whether through burning, mowing, or row crops, nearly all of the site’s 6,800 acres is managed in some way, much of it to maximize habitat value.

Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve

Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Once row crops and a sod farm, the 1,829-acre Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve in Naperville is now better known for its regionally significant grassland and wetland bird populations. DuPage County’s highest-rated stream, Springbrook Creek, runs through the preserve. The District has returned the creek to its natural channel and floodplain, restored significant wetlands, and sought to improve habitat through creative partnerships such as the Regal Fritillary Habitat Creation Project. To protect the integrity of its highest quality natural areas, the District closed a road through the site and pushed most trails to the site’s exterior. Photo: Mark Baldwin


Hadley Valley Preserve

Forest Preserve District of Will County

A key link in the greenway along Spring Creek near Joliet, the majority of Hadley Valley Preserve’s 700 acres has received intensive management over the past 12 years. The District remeandered nearly three miles of Spring Creek and disabled eight miles of drain tiles to restore more than 150 acres of wetlands. Through prescribed burns and invasive species removal, it has brought back more than 450 acres of prairie and is working to increase the diversity of native species. Photo: Dorian Jarrett