District adopts new conservation plan


Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle accepted the "Next Century Conservation Plan," which is designed to make Cook County a national leader in urban conservation.

The plan sets goals and priorities to be implemented over the next 25 years and calls for the Cook County Forest Preserve District to develop annual operational plans, set targets and refresh the plan every 5 years. County board commissioners double as forest district commissioners.

The conservation plan has four priorities, restoring native landscapes, making the preserves more inviting, accessible and engaging, demonstrating and expanding the economic benefits of the preserves, and ensuring future leaders sustain the focus on conservation and accountability.

"The forest preserves are one of the most important assets of Cook County, and ensuring that they thrive as a source of beauty, inspiration, economic vitality and health is critical to the success of our region," Preckwinkle said in a statement.

The forest preserve district was created in 1913 with the mission of protecting and preserving nature and providing education, pleasure and recreation to the public. Experts estimate that about 3,000 of the approximately 69,000 acres of preserves are in good ecological health, which means they have a good mix of native plants and appropriate conditions to furnish habitat for native species. The conservation plan calls on the district to commit to restoring 30,000 acres over the next 10 years.

Preckwinkle also announced several that the district will implement a network of 6,000 volunteers who will work to restore habitat in the Chicago and Calumet region, create a Conservation Corps to provide work-force training to youths and unemployed individuals while increasing the capacity of the preserves for ecological restoration and protection of up to 21,000 acres of additional open space over the next 25 years, and provide critical habitat, buffers or connections for trails identified as unprotected by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and Chicago Wilderness.

Preckwinkle also asked the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways to examine access to the preserves as it begins its long-range transportation plan to ensure that the preserves are more accessible via public transportation, biking and walking. About 7 percent of Cook County residents have good public transit access to the preserves.