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Restoring The Chicago Area’s Millennia-Old Ecosystems

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Stephen Packard Cropped

Stephen Packard plants seeds and burns brush to help restore endangered prairie ecosystems at Somme Prairie Grove.

WBEZ/Jake Smith

Cook County created the first ever Forest Preserve district in the country, and one of the first in the world. With 69,000 acres, 11 percent of the county’s area are made up of nature preserves. Each of them feature rich, natural ecosystems.

But that wasn’t always the case. Stephen Packard led the movement to transform the forest preserves from spaces for recreation to genuine, ancient prairie ecosystems. Packard says that it wasn’t too late to save the local ecosystem, unlike on the east coast, and restore it to the same state as it was a millennium ago. 

Ecologists and preservationists from around as far as South Africa and China have looked to Chicago to re-establish their local ecosystems. Packard, who’s the co-author of The Tallgrass Prairie Restoration Handbook, manages restoration at Somme Prairie Grove, and is the founding director of the Chicago-region Audubon Society, joins Worldview to discuss local and international ecosystem restoration movements.

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