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Forest And Woodlands 

Challenges to managing and conserving forest and woodland habitats in Illinois stem from a current aberrant removal of natural disturbance processes, including natural flooding regimes and fire. Forest and woodland management planned without professional assistance along with inappropriate timber harvest practices are contributing to changing forest composition and further degradation of the remaining forest habitat. The campaign seeks to maintain and enhance the composition of Illinois’ existing forested habitats and to increase distribution of those habitats in identified priority areas and statewide with many conservation partners.  Measuring progress

Goals and Actions


1.  Maintain and enhance the composition of Illinois’ forested habitats.
        a.  Reintroduce natural disturbances or suitable substitutes on a large scale.
            1.  Prescribed fire should be applied, where appropriate, to maintain or restore open woodland
                 habitats (e.g., savanna, barren), promote oak regeneration, stimulate the germination and
                 production of native ground-layer plants and control invasive species.
            2.  Sustainable forestry practices will be necessary to restore and manage open forest and
                 woodland habitat types in locations that have matured to closed canopy forest or have been
                 invaded by undesirable woody species, to mimic natural processes in areas where fire is not an
                 appropriate management tool and to supplement fire where undesirable trees have grown too
                 large to be removed or controlled safely with fire, and create diverse age classes of forest
                 necessary to sustain wildlife species requiring various successional forest stages. The economic
                 benefits of some sustainable forestry practices may provide an incentive for some landowners to
                 improve the quality of their forests.
        b.  Edges of forested habitats should be widened to create broader transition areas from grassland to
             shrub/successional to savanna/open woodland to closed forest, thus providing more and better
             habitat for most wildlife species in greatest need of conservation.  Additional benefit from more
             open woodlands and herbaceous layers on the forest floor is slowing drainage waters from
             agricultural or developed lands prior to entering streams.
        c.  In regions of Illinois where upland forests are highly fragmented, management for 
            shrub/successional,  savanna/barren and open woodlands should be emphasized. While“interior”
             forest conditions are fully achieved for many species only in compact forests exceeding 10,000
             acres (e.g., low rates of nest predation and cowbird parasitism for Neotropical migratory
             songbirds), management of area-sensitive species is a high priority in forests and woodlands
             >1,000 acres. In all cases, care should be taken to conserve and enhance high-quality Illinois
             Natural Areas Inventory communities.
        d.  Continued removal and control (fire, chemical, mechanical, and biological) of invasive exotic plants,
             especially within high quality natural areas.
        e.  Reintroduce native species into forest habitat where decimating factors have eliminated them and
             the natural recovery of these species is unlikely.
        f.  Foster collaboration among the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board, Illinois
            Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other
            agencies, universities, non-governmental organizations and institutions on recovery plans and actions
            for rare and declining species.
        g.  Reduce, then maintain, a white-tailed deer herd compatible with forest health, by        
            increasing hunter opportunity (permits, season framework, incentives-based access to
            private lands). It is expected that some forest habitat conditions will improve in areas where deer
            density currently a problem.
                1.  Address deer populations in locations where browse is degrading habitat quality and/or
                     preventing recovery of vegetation.
                2.  Where possible, the expected increase in statewide forest acreage (the continuation of an 80-
                      year trend) should emphasize:
        a.  Restoring floodplains and riparian corridors and management for forest health.
        b.  Ecological connectivity among forests and other habitat patches.
        c.  Reducing fragmentation of forests >5,000 acres (Shawnee Hills, Ozarks, lower
            Kaskaskia River corridor, Cache River watershed, Pere Marquette State Park, Lowden Miller
            State Forest/Castle Rock State Park, and Mississippi Palisades State Park/Hanover
            Bluff/Witowski/Winston Tunnel areas).
        d.  Reducing fragmentation of forests 500 acres and larger.
3.  Develop and expand programs to assist private forest and woodland owners in managing forest resources.
        a.  Incentives or tax benefits and technical assistance should be provided (and expanded, as under the
             Illinois Forestry Development Act) to encourage the conservation and wise management of forest
             habitat for both forest product and wildlife use. Riparian forests are especially critical for delivering
             environmental benefits (wildlife habitat, flood control, stream protection, and water quality
        b.  Programs to promote access to private wooded habitats, including liability reform and some
         financial  incentives, need to be developed to provide hunter access for managing populations of deer
         and other wildlife, and for meeting increasing demands for outdoor recreation.
4.  Promoting the increased use of prescribed fire and sustainable forestry practices will require
     a campaign of marketing and education, demonstration areas on public and private forests, technical
     assistance, professional training, access to fire equipment, cooperation with fire protection districts,
     further development of prescribed burning associations, and reform or clarification of liability issues.
5.  Local and state authorities and citizen stakeholders and businesses need to work cooperatively to
     develop zoning criteria and local greenway plans that protect important habitats and ensure “smart
6.  Information gaps should be filled and conservation actions to address ecological stresses should be
        a.  A comprehensive program for preventing, eliminating and controlling invasive species is essential.
        b.  Determine the extent and condition of open woodland, savanna, and barrens habitats.
                1.   Degraded open woodlands, savannas and barrens need to be identified for restoration with
                 cutting of undesirable plants, long-term prescribed fire management, and invasive species control.
        c.  Determine the extent and condition of shrub/successional habitats.
7.  Restore and properly manage high-quality examples of all forest, savanna and barrens communities, including all Grade A and B Illinois Natural Areas Inventory sites, in all natural divisions within which they occur.


Priority Places for Work

Initial implementation is focusing on the following areas and sites in Illinois, with other work and assistance continuing on private lands throughout other watersheds in the state:

  • Lake Shelbyville USACOE Forest Management Units
  • Oakwood Bottoms (Shawnee National Forest) and surrounding bottomland forests
  • Little Black Slough/Heron Pond area and surrounding forests in the Cache River
  • Trail of Tears State Forest
  • Siloam Springs State Park including the Buckhorn Unit


National Wild Turkey Federation
Illinois Natural History Survey
Southern Illinois University

Related Information

Oak Woodland and Forests Fire Consortium
Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium
Timberhill Oak Savanna
Central Hardwoods Joint Venture
Final Report W-162-R-1
Final Report W-162-R-2


Mike Wefer
Acting Forest Wildlife Program, Wild Turkey Project Manager
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
One Natural Resources Way
Springfield, IL  62702-1271
Phone: (217) 782-4377