In 2018 the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) awarded a $27,000 challenge grant to the Forest Foundation of Kendall County (FFKC) for “Project Hoover,” a focused community outreach program working to restore the oak woodland and prairie habitats at Hoover Forest Preserve near Yorkville, Illinois. FFKC is a 501(c)3 charitable organization established in 2006 actively supporting the Kendall County Forest Preserve District (KCFPD). ICECF funds renewable energy and natural areas projects throughout the state and one of the Foundation’s first large, $1M plus grants for land acquisition helped the Forest Preserve District acquire 140 acres to create Hoover Forest Preserve in 2004.
The District’s education department, in partnership with Oswego Community Unit School District 308 - Oswego East High School’s (OEHS) Biology and Ecology Club students are working together to enhance and recover Hoover’s habitat areas. Project Hoover field trips and volunteer work days, work to remove and burn invasive honeysuckle within the preserve’s oak woodland corridor, and plant a diverse variety of native species within the preserve’s core prairie area.
Scott Johnson, OEHS science teacher, and FFKC President has a long history of supporting conservation in Kendall County, which stretches over multiple generations. Scott Johnson’s grandfather is the late Dick Young, a renowned local naturalist, author on local plant communities, former Kendall County Board member and Forest Preserve District President. Johnson’s enthusiasm for nature-based studies transcends into the classroom and his students, where “the importance of providing these field work opportunities to students cannot be overstated. When students have the ability to engage in local environmental projects, it results in stronger curriculum connections as well as a sense of belonging in the community."
In summer 2018, with these restoration efforts underway, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) surveyed natural areas statewide for the recently listed federally endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis). B. affinis, and other bumble bees are considered keystone species, meaning that other species directly depend on their presence for survival. Native woodland and prairie plants, for example, depend on local pollinators for seed production. The decline of B. affinis, and other local pollinator species is impacting local habitats and food chains. Bumble bees are also pollinators of food crops such as tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, and clover according to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS). The decline of B. affinis can be attributed to a mixture of stressors including habitat loss and degradation, pesticides, pathogens, and the effects of climate change. USF&WS reports the B. affinis population has declined 87% since 2000.
The 2018 IDNR statewide survey documented the only known population of B. affinis in Kendall County at Hoover Forest Preserve. B. affinis is a generalist, relying on nectar and pollen from a wide variety of flowering plants each year in order to grow their colonies. While B. affinis coloniesrely heavily on prairie wildflowers in summer, they also rely on woodlands for spring wildflowers, cooler temperatures and shelter for overwintering queens. Hoover Forest Preserve contains large habitat areas where the local population occurs.
ICECF recently awarded KCFPD and OEHS two additional K-12 Pollinator Schools Program grants that will expand partnership efforts. Grant funding will work to promote conservation of local Kendall County pollinators through education, habitat creation, and further enhancement of Hoover Forest Preserve’s natural areas. Dennis O’Brien, Executive Director of ICECF, stated that “the work in Kendall County is a model of good partnership and strategic conservation. The KCFPD and FFKC have worked hard to involve the local communities including students within the restoration efforts to build awareness, and support for natural areas and wildlife habitat.”
On March 11, 2020 the Chicago Wilderness Education team will hold a meeting at Hoover’s Meadowhawk Lodge to promote these local partnership efforts. Students from OEHS will attend the meeting to showcase their involvement within Project Hoover, curricular connections, and restoration impacts. Students will also continue habitat restoration efforts to support local pollinator recovery. Shaiva Dhyani, OEHS senior and OEHS Ecology Club President reflected that “working with Hoover Forest Preserve has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my high school career. We have worked to remove invasive species and plant native species to support local wildlife, allowing us to learn and make a difference in our community. These activities help show how together we can help protect the environment on a larger scale, and working with the KCFPD teaches and inspires my classmates to also protect the environment in any way they can.”
KCFPD is expanding efforts to create new habitat for the local B. affinis populationwith the conversion of 100-acres of farmland to woodland and prairie habitat at Fox River Bluffs Forest Preserve located just west of Hoover Forest Preserve. The District acquired Fox River Bluffs in 2015 with support from an IDNR Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Grant ($750,000) and an ICECF Land Acquisition program grant ($602,000). The Board of Commissioners recently approved modifying the farmland conversion plan to increase seeding of prairie habitat to 59 total acres.
Judy Gilmour, President of the KCFPD, is a retired SD308 school teacher and graduate of Oswego High School. Gilmour states that “Project Hoover has been an overwhelming success bringing our local citizens together to help care for local nature. Involvement of both SD308 and Y115 students helps connect our youth to real-world science applications and their local forest preserves to insure that these special places are conserved for future generations.”
Matt Kellogg, Commissioner of the KCFPD, and former Chairman of Kendall County Soil and Water Conservation District is a local farmer and graduate of Oswego High School. Kellogg states that “our local farms depend upon our local pollinators for certain crops. At the Kellogg farm, we maintain honey bee hives and harvest a small honey crop each year. We all need to do our part to support recovery of local pollinators within our gardens, landscapes, and farms.”
The Kendall County Forest Preserve District will be conducting volunteer work days in 2020 to continue efforts to enhance habitat areas at Hoover Forest Preserve and other forest preserve areas. For more information, or to enroll as a Natural Areas Volunteer, contact Antoinette Meciej, Communications, Marketing and Public Program Specialist for the District at 630-553-2232, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Forest Foundation of Kendall County is accepting donations to support Rusty Patched Bumble Bee education and habitat recovery efforts in Kendall County. Donations to the Forest Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals interested in making a donation should contact the District’s Executive Director, David Guritz at 630-553-4131, or by email at email@example.com.