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Current Status

Although no comprehensive inventory of Midwestern oak ecosystems has been attempted, the best estimates based on available data suggest that some of the oak ecosystems of the Midwest are among the world's most imperiled ecosystems (Grossman et al. 1994, This document Appendix A). Many additional oak savanna communities have been identified and recovery projects have gotten underway since 1985 when Nuzzo (1986, 1994) cataloged the known examples of relatively high-quality oak savanna communities, which totaled 2,607 hectare (6,442 acres) on 113 sites.

The following "model projects" or "case studies" demonstrate considerable achievements towards the recovery goals outlined in this plan and are representative of work going on throughout the midwest. They are by no means an exhaustive survey of all oak ecosystem management and restoration activities in the region. 

In researching these case studies, particular attention was paid to projects that addressed the plan's recovery goals. Excellent restoration and management is occurring in most states and in the province of Ontario. These projects may be under the leadership of the federal government, state agencies, private conservation organizations, or some partnership of several of these.

The model projects, discussed at somewhat greater length, include shining examples of public education, partnership, work with private land owners or some other aspect of the recovery goals. For example, the goal of creating a linked system of reserves is well demonstrated by Missouri's extensive savanna preserve system. Linkage on a smaller scale is being done in Minnesota by partners connecting different sites, and in Michigan, by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) connecting parcels at one site.

There is much work being done throughout the region relative to the goal of establishing networks of model projects with intensive monitoring. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Buffalo National River in Missouri and Arkansas are examples of sites with intensive monitoring of the effects of fire and other management activities. At Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa research is focused on the effectiveness of specific restoration methods. 

The Volunteer Stewardship Network organized by The Nature Conservancy in Illinois is the best example of a powerful stewardship group and its publication, Prairie University, the best example of a regional stewardship education network. These are good models to consider. Toledo Metroparks has developed a strong community outreach program to increase public participation in the recovery process at many levels. The Agassiz Environmental Learning Center reaches out to both urban and rural populations to educate about the value of northwestern Minnesota's barrens communities. 

Wisconsin's Prairie Enthusiasts are most active working with private landowners, although much work is yet to be done on the policy aspects of this goal.

Research on plant community associations, classification, and status of rare species is occurring from Walpole Island, Ontario all the way to Bowler Seeps and Sandhills in southeastern Oklahoma. Many other studies addressing the research goals for the Recovery Plan are being conducted by universities and state, federal and local agencies throughout the region.

The goal of creating partnerships dedicated to the conservation of oak ecosystems is demonstrated by The Oak Openings Working Group, of Ohio. 

Descriptions of these and other projects are included to inform, inspire and encourage savanna restoration activities. It is hoped that this exchange of information will lead to new ideas and approaches that will take us closer to the goals for oak ecosystem recovery. 


In the Ozark region, the Buffalo National River supports a landscape mosaic of high-quality glade, savanna and woodland communities. Turkey Mountain, a hillside that constitutes the whole side of the river valley in the Lower Buffalo Wilderness Area, is a savanna/woodland community unique in Arkansas. This large, high-quality savanna/glade complex, discovered in 1991, is being considered cooperatively by Arkansas and Missouri. 

Government survey notes from c. 1830 indicate the area was dominated by white oak, post oak, black oak, hickory and scattered shortleaf pine stands. Fire suppression over the past 15 years has lead to the encroachment of black jack oak, black hickory and red cedar. Two-hundred and forty plant species have been identified on the site.

Permanent vegetation monitoring plots have been established. Fire history indicates that the intensity of past fires increased as it moved up the slopes. Trees near the top were hollow fire chimneys and the top of the slope was treeless. A study of reptile and amphibian species was done.

The USDA Forest Service is interested in restoring the pine/bluestem ecosystem to about 150 acres in the Washetaw National Forest. The area will continue to be managed as timberland, but priority is being given to restoration of the ecosystem and the dynamic processes that will enable that. This, of course, includes fire.

Miller County Sandhill Natural Area is co-owned and co-managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. It is a rare sandhill site, one of only three left in the state. The sandhill community occurs on the West Gulf Coastal Plain in Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Major tree species at Miller County Sandhill are bluejack oak and margaretta oak. Arkansas oak occurs at other sandhill sites. In its original state, it probably consisted of scattered bluejack, margaretta and blackjack oaks with scatted shortleaf pines. Fifteen of Arkansas' Special Plants are found here, including; climbing milkweed (Matelea cynanchoides), little-leaved prairie clover (Dalaea phleoides var. microphylla), hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta) and tragia (Tragia smallii), which have not been found elsewhere in the state. Management will include the reintroduction of fire.


Nearly a century ago, far-sighted leaders in northeastern Illinois stood virtually alone in North America in recognizing the great value of preserving landscape-scale natural areas near the core of a major urban area. The creation of Forest Preserve Districts and the setting side of tens of thousands of acres of prime land as natural areas, have paid incalculable dividends for the quality of life of the millions of residents of the metropolitan area. The preserved land in northern Illinois is characterized by oak ecosystems and tall grass prairie.

In the decades since then, though, in the absence of effective stewardship, the the Forest Preserves have been undergoing rapid ecological degradation, with rare native communities and their bio-diversity being diminished or lost entirely. In particular, the districts (like all midwestern land-owning agencies) practiced active fire suppression on their lands, which allowed artificial succession to take place: most former prairie and grove sites had by the 1960s turned into dense thickets of alien brush.

The five county Forest Preserve Districts and one county Conservation District in northeastern Illinois currently own almost 130,000 acres of land. Several of the districts are in the process of acquiring additional land. The state legislation authorizing Forest Preserve Districts defines their purpose as "to acquire...and hold lands...for the purpose of protecting and preserving the flora, fauna and scenic beauties...and to restore, restock, protect and preserve...said lands together with their flora and fauna as nearly as may be, in their natural state and condition for the purpose of education, pleasure, and recreation of the public."

In recent years, the districts, The Nature Conservancy, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and other agencies have increasingly recognized the needs and possibilities of natural areas restoration on their lands.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County owns 67,700 acres and has developed an aggressive plan for land acquisition in the near future. They have recognized the need for a more integrated approach to the restoration and ecosystem management of its lands to sustain biodiversity. It is now the stated goal of the District to restore 80% of its holdings.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County and The Nature Conservancy have sought the assistance of the USDA Forest Service, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service each of which has wide-ranging expertise and experience in managing public lands for the purposes of conservation, recreation, public education and ecosystem management. These agencies have come together to demonstrate how managing these uniquely placed lands for native biodiversity can involve large numbers of urban dwellers in ecosystem management; restore the natural function of Cook County's unique natural resources; and to bring government agencies, conservation groups, and the public together to work together towards ecological goals. 

The Ecosystem Management in the Chicago Metropolitan Area project partners have begun to work on a project to demonstrate the potential of their integrated, cooperative approach. The 800 acre Swallow Cliff Woods Demonstration Area will test and develop practical methods of restoring landscape ecological precesses on the landscape. The restored landscape will accommodate the continued evolution of the dynamic interface between grassland and oak communities. This project was launched in June, 1994 and includes a public education component, a volunteer component, and a jobs/training component.

In order to continue the momentum which has taken place so far, the project partners sought funding to carry forward this ground breaking project. Goals include development of a strategic plan, additional landscape-scale demonstration projects, and the creation of an urban jobs program. This project will enable the District to plan for stewardship as a permanent focus of its work.

The work proposed has been carefully designed to bring benefits to the greatest possible number of urban residents. Extensive public outreach and communications capabilities to reach the 8 million people of the Chicago metropolitan area have been built into the budget and scope of work. One key goal of this project is to develop science-based restoration and management methods that will be transferable to other sites in other regions.

The Volunteer Stewardship Network (VSN) provides the all-important people power to restore prairie and savanna communities throughout central and northeastern Illinois. Begun in 1984, it is a cooperative effort between TNC and the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and many land-owning public agencies. It has grown to a tremendous force in restoration; over 6500 volunteers worked 51,000 hours on 277 different sites in 1994.

Volunteers learn plant and animal identification, brush stacking, seed collecting and propagating techniques informally from one another. Stewards assume overall responsibility for a site in cooperation with the owner and submit a formal report to TNC twice a year. This network is empowered to create their own management schedules, conduct controlled burns and other activities without landowner supervision. VSN newsletters, a steward handbook and an annual workshop keep volunteers informed and connected.

In 1993 the Mighty Acorns was launched as an extension of the VSN to involve 3rd through 7th graders in the exploration of natural areas and hands-on stewardship projects in prairies, wetlands and woodlands in and around Chicago. Volunteers are trained to lead students in native seed collecting and planting projects, exotic weed removal and brush cutting. Over 800 children from twenty schools and youth organizations have been involved.

The volunteer stewards and others learn a great deal about restoration ecology, in part, through Prairie University. Prairie University is really a service: a comprehensive listing of educational opportunities related to restoration and ecology. Courses and workshops in comparative vertebrate anatomy, general mycology, seed collecting and controlled burning are offered through 98 participating organizations and institutions. Special events and volunteer opportunities are also listed in this quarterly publication.

The Volunteer Stewardship Network has an active presence in the Forest Preserve District of Lake County with a fulltime volunteer coordinator facilitating the work of these volunteers. Nearly 1,100 volunteers spent 21,409 hours working on 4,956 acres in 1993.

Today, this effort in Cook County includes 66 sites totaling 13,336 acres under cooperative management by 1,885 volunteers.

Four other county conservation agencies have active VSN groups: the Will (12,000 acres), Kane (4,800 acres), and DuPage (21,009 acres) County Forest Preserve Districts, and the McHenry County Conservation District (7,421 acres).

The Lake County Forest Preserve District owns 18,139 acres of land. In 1993 they had a successful campaign to pass a $30 million bond issue for land acquisition ($20 million) and management, including ecological restoration.

The 600-acre Middlefork Savanna project is planned to be a major tallgrass savanna restoration effort. The estimated budget for the three-year project is over a million dollars.

The Kane County Forest Preserve District is in the process of hiring its first full-time restoration staff, while the DuPage County Forest Preserve District has developed an ambitious plan to upgrade stewardship substantially over the next decade. 

The Forest Preserve District of Will County owns and leases nearly 12,000 acres of land and is nearing the completion of a $45 million land acquisition program that was funded by a general revenue bond issue in 1989. Approximately 30% of the District's holdings are actively undergoing ecological restoration and management by staff and volunteers. Three full-time and two part-time resource management staff are dedicated to land management, of which a principal component is the natural areas restoration program. In addition, the District has hired a part-time Volunteer Program Supervisor that is a liaison between staff and volunteers in the development and implementation of site management plans. In 1993, nearly 300 volunteers contributed 2979 hours to projects which included exotic brush and weed removal, monitoring of butterfly census routes and bluebird trails, plant translocations, seed collecting and planting, and interpretation. Volunteers also participated in a four day fire training course, safety classes in chainsaw and herbicide use, and certification in first aid and CPR.

High quality savanna sites persist in numerous sites in the sandy areas along the Illinois and Kankakee Rivers. About 8 sites range in size from 0.25 acres to 50 acres and are managed by the Division of Natural Heritage using fire. The large site, Nine Eagles State Park, is a mosaic of young, disturbed shingle oak-woodlands and brushy prairie openings.

TNC owns a significant preserve comprised on eleven different natural communities including bur oak and sand savanna. Nachusa Grasslands is a 933 acre site, with high quality areas scattered among old corn and soybean fields. Volunteers are actively restoring degraded areas, collecting and sowing seeds. 

Nachusa is the site of one of the world's first rare insect reintroductions: the gorgone checkerspot butterfly. A large population of prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya) thrives, and other rare plants including: kittentails (Bessya bullii), forked aster (Aster furcatus) and Hill's thistle (Cirsium hillii) are found. Upland sandpipers nest at Nachusa, as do dickcissels, and Henslow's sparrows.

In central Illinois, the majority of oak woodlands and savannas are located along the Illinois River and its tributaries, along the border of the Mississippi River in westcentral Illinois and in scattered areas throughout the region. Several smaller (<100 acres) sites are located throughout central Illinois and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC), 11 regions of the Volunteer Stewardship Network (VSN) and other local conservation groups are actively restoring and managing these natural areas. Larger sites and initiatives are discussed below:

Peoria Wilds is a partnership between TNC, the VSN, the Peoria Park District, IDNR, INPC and various private landowners within the 15,000 acres of bluff oak woodlands, savannas and hill prairies north of Peoria along the Illinois River. The Park District is working with the Peoria Wilds VSN to restore approximately 3500 acres, including the 1000 acre Singing Woods. TNC has also launched a Peoria Wilds registry program to educate private landowners living adjacent to the Park areas about natural area conservation and the significance of this oak woodland/savanna community.

Other areas along the Illinois River include the Great Rivers Confluence Area near Alton which includes IDNR's 8000 acre Pere Marquette State Park as the largest woodland/forest complex in conservation ownership and the Illinois River Sand Area in Mason County which has a large sand savanna/prairie area called Sand Prairie Scrub Oak. IDNR, INPC and the Kickapoo Prairies VSN have been restoring the 1400 acres of savanna and prairie with largescale ecological burns over the past several years.

In west-central Illinois along the Mississippi River, Cedar Glen is a 1200 acre preserve of oak woodlands, barrens and prairies in the uplands and bottomland island forests owned by TNC and Western Illinois University (WIU) and IDNR. This natural area is thought to be the best and largest remaining oak woodland complex within the Middle Mississippi Border Natural Division. The management has been focused on landscape scale restoration including largescale ecological burns over the past several years. 

In east-central Illinois, Kankakee Sands, located south of the Kankakee River, is one of the largest complexes of sand savannas, prairies and wetlands in the state. The largest conservation ownership is the 2400 acre Iroquois County Conservation Area which includes the 483 acre Hooper Branch Savanna Nature Preserve. The Kankakee Iroquois VSN works with IDNR staff to restore and monitor this diverse natural area. 

Funk's Grove, south of Bloomington is 1600 acres of oak savannas, woodlands and forests and is the best remaining example of a bur oak "prairie grove" in central Illinois. This is a unique example of a historic Illinois family taking initiative to work with private and public conservation groups to protect a valuable natural area which had been in family ownership for over 160 years. Funks Grove Cemetery Association, formed by Funk and Stubblefield family members, recently repaid a loan from TNC to purchase an additional tract of land for the preserve. IDNR, INPC, the University of Illinois, ParkLands Foundation and the Funk's Grove VSN also own land within the overall preserve and/or provide management and stewardship at the site.

In regards to research and monitoring, one of the largest monitoring studies regarding savanna/woodland restoration is Dr. Jeff Brawn's (Illinois Natural History Survey) work on the effect burning and brush removal on breeding bird populations. Some of his study sites include the abovementioned Peoria Wilds, Sand Prairie Scrub Oak, and Iroquois County Conservation Area, as well as a more northern site at Palos Forest Preserve in Cook County. He has recently completed his second field season and hopes to provide management recommendations after the third year of the study.


Twenty-seven percent (4,000 acres) of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is high-quality and degraded black oak savanna. This National Park Service (NPS) site is located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan between Gary and Michigan City, Indiana. In addition to fire suppression and invasion of exotics; the savanna communities have been impacted by atmospheric deposition of nutrients and pollutants.

The savanna complex harbors 38% of the Indiana Dunes threatened and endangered flora. Abundant lupine supports healthy populations of the Karner Blue butterfly. Management includes burning based on US Fish and Wildlife guidelines for the protection of these populations. 

Within the Lakeshore, savanna communities are found at Inland Marsh and Howes Prairie, a mosaic of black oak savanna, mesic woods, and dry and wet prairies. Miller Woods, in the east end of the park, near Gary, is the highest quality. It has benefitted from a history of fire; some caused by passing trains, some caused by arson.

Park management benefits from long term savanna research being conducted by the National Biological Service's Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station. A ten-year study of hydrologic and prescribed fire effects on vegetation includes a continuum of wetland, mesic prairie and savanna sites. Savanna research includes reconstruction of fire histories, documentation of fire effects on vegetation, rates of successional change, black oak stem demography, assessing possible allelopathic effects of black locust, and ecological and demographic research of the rare savanna species. Current management includes restoring savanna species to razed homesites, and reintroducing prescribed fire to prairie and savanna ecosystems.

Among the longest running of savanna studies is going on at Tefts Savanna Nature Preserve and Hoosier Prairie. These and Stoutsburg, Conrad and William B. Barns are dedicated state Nature Preserves with significant oak communities under management of the Indiana DNR


The US Fish and Wildlife Service is attempting to restore prairie and savanna communities to a site where almost no semblance of the original ecosystem remains. The area is the Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center, located about 20 miles outside of Des Moines, Iowa. The 5000 acre site is mostly degraded farmland that doesn't even rate on most scales that measure ecological significance. 

However, they have learned that the degraded state of Walnut Creek is the greatest tool they have for exposing people to their natural heritage. As volunteers, students and educators participate in the formidable process of ecological restoration, they learn that preserving ecosystems is easier than reconstructing them. 

Environmental education is one of the key elements on which Walnut Creek was founded, in 1991. Walnut Creek is developing programs to foster a sense of ownership and appreciation for the native landscape. 

Research at Walnut Creek is predominately of a practical nature. Because a project of this scope and magnitude has not previously been undertaken, many of the strategies and techniques to convert agricultural land to its original condition need to be invented. Monitoring is also significant. But research also presents opportunities for public education and for building support. In addition to research by the scientific and academic professionals, volunteers or 'vernacular ecologists' also conduct and cooperate with professionals on research projects. Visitors and school children also conduct investigations for educational purposes.

The approach Walnut Creek uses to recover such a large and degraded site is the converse of fragmentation - the "coalescing of fragments". Natural areas that are being reconstructed are carefully placed among scattered remnants that are being restored. These areas will eventually expand to create centers of native biodiversity that will eventually overlap.

Management of these areas will include selective species of plants and animals obtained from a 38 county local ecotype range, where possible. Savanna remnants are mesic to wet-mesic sites on hilly terrain, typical of the Southern Iowa Drift Plain. 

The creation of the huge restoration experiment and public education project the size of Walnut Creek could not have been possible without tremendous political support. It came about because of the foresight and vision of former Congressman Neil Smith. His vision was to preserve Iowa's natural heritage and to create a center to educate the public about plants and wildlife. He worked successfully for a congressional appropriation to US Fish and Wildlife to establish the preserve. 


The 50,000 acre Allegan State Game Area contains the largest significant and manageable tract of oak savanna in southern Michigan, the area that was formerly the most extensive example of this community in the state. Inventories were condicted to identify about 6000-7000 priority acres of the game area for savanna management.

The Michigan DNR developed a management plan for the savanna areas in 1983 with the objective of restoring and recovering dry sand prairie to approximately 1% of its former extent. Efforts are now focused on the 6000-7000 acre unit with the intent of expanding the restoration and linking other pockets of savanna.

DNR is using timber sales followed by mechanical cutting to connect different openings. It is currently trying to connect two sites where Karner Blue butterfly is found using this strategy. The agency is also managing using prescribed burning and herbicides. Fires began in 1978 and were repeated a few times before the plan was completed. One parcel, about 120 acres in size, has been burned three times and has been designated as a state natural area.

The Natural Areas system is extensive in Michigan; 20 sites comprise about 60,000 acres. Shakey Lakes Oak Savanna, a designated Natural Area, represents the northern range for a number of species. It is located within the several thousand acre Escanaba River State Forest, in the Upper Peninsula on the border with Wisconsin. It contains large areas of remnant oak-pine barrens and areas of northern pin oak-red oak savanna. Botanists discovered the unique community and began advocating for a natural area designation of about 5000 acres in size. Five state threatened species including Oval-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia), and Vasey's Rush (Juncus vaseyi) exist on the site.

Savanna management is relatively new, in the past 5 years about 280 acres have been burned. Vegetation monitoring is done on the areas burned.

The concept of savanna management and a natural area designation was not readily accepted by other land managers and area residents. The economy of the area is timber-based, and Shakey Lakes Oak Savanna is no longer open to timber harvest. DNR has allowed the salvage of timber prior to implementation on savanna management. Though the area represents only 1500 acres, much smaller than the original proposal of 5000 acres, it has been controversial.

Resistance to the management of the natural area was exacerbated by a 'slopover' of a recent prescribed burn. Fire escaped onto private property and created even more local heat. The concern caused a local state representative to propose a restriction against burning by the DNR. One mistake almost shut down the Department's burn program. The lesson to be learned from Shakey Lake is the need for education and the development of an informed and supportive stewardship network.

Michigan DNR also does some savanna work on a few islands in the St. Clair River Delta, the same area as Walpole Island. Of three islands, Dickinson Island has the most potential for savanna recovery.

The USDA Forest Service is doing savanna management in the Huron Manistee National Forest in northern Michigan.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, a 30,000 acre refuge established in 1965. Several thousands of acres of remnant or restorable bur oak-northern pin oak sand savanna are being managed by prescribed burning, selective tree removal and seeding of native material.

Minnesota DNR has several sites with ongoing sand-gravel savanna or barrens restoration projects on them. A total of 12 high-quality sites are ranked A to BC in the state Heritage database; four of these are managed as part of the State Natural Areas program, five are managed as wildlife areas, two are managed by the Forestry Division.

Within the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area in southeast Minnesota a biological survey identified 16 remnant savanna sites. Four or five of these sites now harbor Karner Blue butterfly populations. Management plans include restoration of adjacent black oak savanna sites to try to increase butterfly habitat. Primary management techniques include burning, mechanical removal and chemical control of invasive species.

The first site ever burned by TNC is Helen Allison Savanna. This 80 acre bur oak-northern pin oak sand savanna has been managed since 1962. Adjacent to this site is Cedar Creek Natural History Area. It has been designated as a Long Term Ecological Management site and is managed by the University of Minnesota. A variety of communities exist on its approximately 4000 acres, but bur oak-northern pin oak savannas are predominant. 

Hennepin County Parks manages numerous sites in and around the Twin Cities using prescribed fire. Prairies have been burned and more recently, so have 30-500 acre woodlots. A wildfire in one of these county woodlots in 1990 brought a great response in herbaceous vegetation. Columbine and bellwort bloomed the following season, though they had not been seen prior to the fire. Repeated burnings in 1993 and 1994 brought more columbine, though the response after the last burn seemed more suppressed. Oaks are beginning to regenerate, recreating bur oak-red oak woodlands. 

Hennepin County Parks has conducted educational programs for the public including walks and observation of prescription burns. Four nature centers in the system conduct programs for school groups about prairie and savanna communities. 

A unique environmental education center was established in 1991 in the Fertile San Hills in northwestern Minnesota. The Agassiz Environmental Learning Center is the only one of its kind to be located among dune, sand prairie and oak savanna communities in the state. The 640-acre preserve is affiliated with the City of Fertile. It is adjacent to two other natural areas: TNC's Agassiz Dunes and Minnesota DNR's Prairie Smoke Dunes.

The learning center is currently used by school groups that come from Crookston and Thief River Falls, Minnesota, and Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota. Agassiz plans to build residential learning facilities in the future.

Minnesota's first biodiversity corridor is proposed along a highway route linking the three sites and the city of Fertile. The proposed corridor will be 5 miles long and at least a quarter mile wide. It will be the 8th of the state's wildflower routes established by the Minnesota Department of Transportation


Missouri has several examples of remnant oak savanna, with a number of larger areas of high quality. A history of annual burning in the Ozark region to stimulate growth for grazing and to suppress brush has affected diversity throughout the core Ozark savanna range. Open range grazing occurred for decades until acquisition of some of the land for parks and preserves began in the 1970's. 

The Missouri State Park System includes more than 120,000 acres; good quality restorable remnants abound. The mission of the state park system calls for preservation and interpretation of the state's outstanding natural features. The state's land management philosophy is ecosystem- and process-oriented and backed by administrative, policy and financial support. The Missouri DNR began restoration and pilot burns of savanna and oak woodland ecosystems in 1983. The program has since made a strong commitment to these programs throughout 23 parks with more than 16,000 acres being managed.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a landscape-scale restoration that includes the whole range of community types that occur in the Ozarks. Chert savanna, dolomite savanna and dolomite glade types occur in their natural context. Turkey Pen Hollow Savanna is a remnant savanna of about 1000 acres which lies within the 25,000 acre Ha Ha Tonka Park. This site which served as a pilot savanna unit for the introduction of prescribed burning in 1983 has been intensively managed since, and is of high quality.

The DNR is also engaged in research, monitoring and experimentation, with research focused on the significance and techniques of savanna restoration.

Interpretation is an important component of the approach. There are public demonstration sites at the 23 state parks under savanna management. Three self-guided trails exist, and frequent naturalist-led walks complement the program. Savanna restoration is the main theme in at least one of the park visitor centers.

Bennett Springs Natural Area is owned by The Nature Conservancy and leased to DNR. It is small, only 160 acres in size, but it is the best example of remnant savanna is Missouri. The flora here is highly diverse: 360 plant species occur here, about one-third of all of the flora native to the state. It is the focus of intensive research in woodland density and composition. 

The Missouri Department of Conservation (DOC) owns and manages several thousand acres and coordinates management by private landowners. It is developing a comprehensive regional planning effort for each section of the state. The plans are the result of a five-step process that includes identifying critical natural communities and proposing amounts of public and private lands needed to provide for them.

DOC has reintroduced fire into many of its woodland and savanna communities throughout the state. Baseline data was collected and permanent monitoring plots are in place at 4 main sites. For example, Caney Mountain Wildlife Area has 7 glade/savanna units, 6 of which are burned every other year and one of which is the control unit. Other sites which are similarly managed and monitored include: White River Balds Natural Area, representing dolomite clay/ chert savanna communities, Stegall Mountain Natural Area, an ignaceous glade savanna, and Dave Rock Natural Area, a sandstone glade/savanna.

The North Central Forest Experiment Station, of the USDA Forest Service, at Columbia, Missouri has supported activities related to savanna. It has funded a small study related to Bachman's sparrow, a glade species, and has proposed other new research.


The Nature Conservancy owns the Boehler Seeps and Sandhill Preserve in the extreme northwest Gulf Coastal Plain in southeastern Oklahoma. This unique natural area supports a complex assemblage of habitats, including bluejack oak sandhills, acid hillside seeps, freshwater marshes and oak-hickory uplands. 

The bluejack sandhill community is an open woodland of bluejack with a sparse understory of farkleberry (Vaccineum arboreum), southern jointweed (Polygonella americana), sand spikemoss (Selaginella arenicola var. riddelli), Drummond's nailwort (Paronychia drummondii) and cupleaf beardtongue (Penstemon murrayanus). Boehler is a high-quality, old-growth example of this community type. It differs from other sandhill communities of the long leaf pine belt by the absence of this species. 

The oak-hickory uplands show considerable canopy closing when current aerial photos are compared with photos from 1939. This is probably due to fire suppression. 

Management plans include reintroduction of fire to and removal of encroaching red cedar from the bluejack oak sandhill community. Road construction has caused erosion, hydrologic disruptions, and the influx of weeds. Vegetation monitoring is just beginning on the site.


A number of agencies have worked to create a strong network supportive of preservation and restoration in the Oak Openings Region of northwest Ohio, an area about 5 miles wide and 40 miles long extending down from Lake Erie and covering approximately 160 square miles. Currently a number of public and private parks and preserves within the region are managed as oak openings.

It was described in 1928 by Bowling Green University botanist, Edwin Moseley as a "land so unpromising...that experienced farmers would not accept it as a gift." In order to improve the wispy, windblown look of the barrens for visitors to the region's park, non-native pines were planted to "...tame the ground". Due to rapid growth, property in the region has since become some of the most valuable in the Toledo area. 

The area is characterized by sand savanna dominated by black oak and northern pin oak, dry sand dunes and low wet prairies. One third of all endangered plant species in Ohio are found there. Rare plants include: prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa), Canada frostweed (Helianthemum canadense), Hairy pinweed (Lechea villosa) and tall nut rush (Scieria trigtomerata). Rare insect species include; Ohio emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana) and Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). Among the animal species are the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and Western meadowlark.

The Oak Openings Preserve, operated by Toledo Metroparks, is the largest preserve in the region, comprising about 3600 acres. Toledo Metroparks also manages portions of two other parks, Secor and Wildwood, as oak openings. Metroparks collected baseline data and has a long-term monitoring project to evaluate the ecological health of the Oak Openings every 5 years. 

The Oak Openings Working Group is a unique partnership of some 16 agencies whose mission is "to encourage cooperation, communication and education among the local community, public agencies and private organizations in order to create a better understanding and appreciation for the importance of conservation of the Oak Openings". In addition to the expected natural resource, education and conservation groups and agencies, groups such as the Toledo Lucas County Planning Commission, the Port Authority, the Toledo Zoo, the Area Council of Governments and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur's Office are active participants. Among the achievements of this coalition is influencing the Ohio Department of Transportation's to stop mowing sensitive right-of-ways.

Oak Openings has also developed an extensive awareness and education campaign about the unique character of the community. Volunteer stewards do restoration work at many of the region's preserves. There is a project promoting native oak opening landscaping for home gardens. A self-guided walk through the Oak Openings Preserve, stewardship events, and a newsletter about oak opening activities are among the components of this campaign to help to foster public appreciation for the threatened ecosystem. A tour of the preserves for local legislators, being organized by the Congresswoman, demonstrates outreach at another important level.

A local group, Natural Areas Stewardship, Inc., received EPA funding to coordinate the development of an oak openings curriculum guide. This novel educational program teaches the ecology, geology, history and geography of the area through classroom exercises and laboratory exercises. Among the material available to classroom teachers is a wild lupine growing kit and a lab kit that demonstrates the difference in drainage between sandy and clay soils. Children learn about the plants and animals of oak openings and their relationship to one another. Even cultural aspects are taught, such as the relationship between the blues movement, centered around the Hine's Farm Blues Club, and oak openings.

Ohio DNR owns Maumee State Forest, of which 3000 acres is remnant oak savanna and wet prairie. Other DNR sites are Irwin Prairie and Lou Campbell State Nature Preserve. The agency is just beginning ecosystem management. The Nature Conservancy owns Kitty Todd Preserve, a 1400 acre dedicated state nature preserve. TNC is working with DNR on developing a management plan for the state nature preserves.

Ohio DNR and TNC have focused acquisition efforts on at least two sites that were former tall grass prairie of the Till Plains of central and west Ohio. These are W. Pearl King Prairie Grove on the Darby Plains of Madison County and Daughmer Bur Oak Savanna on the Sandusky Plains of Crawford County. Rare, isolated islands of classic oak savanna, dominated by bur oak, white oak and hickory occur in this area. 


The extreme southwestern section of the province of Ontario is the northern tip of the range of prairie and savanna. Several high quality remnants exist in large preserves.

The highest quality remnant savanna in Ontario is Walpole Island First Nation. It is not a preserve, nor is it 'managed' for savanna or prairie; it is an living, breathing community that has been around for thousands of years. It exists in a nearly pristine state because it has always belonged to aboriginal people. It is presently occupied by members of the Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. Potawatomi, loosely translated means, "keepers of fire".

Burning is an integral part of the holistic life of Native Americans on the island. It has been done to clear land of brush, fertilize garden plots, and maintain habitat for wildlife. But burning is also an important part of the cultural traditions of the Ojibway, Potawatomi, and Ottawa-the Council of Three Fires. There is a spiritual dimension to their relationship, one of coexistence with the land and living things.

Walpole Island is part of a land island delta complex in the mouth of the St. Clair River. Six large islands lie on the Canadian side, and more than a dozen lie on the Michigan side of the St. Clair International Seaway. Wetlands and marshes comprise about 2/3 of the island, and are more important than the drylands for hunting, fishing and trapping. 

In 1985 the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) began a study to assess the flora and fauna of Walpole Island. Over 800 species of plants were found, 96 of the are rare in Ontario, and 8 are not known elsewhere in Canada. Ninety-two species of birds were confirmed as breeding, 46 more were probably breeding. Twenty-six species of herptiles were found, 5 of them are rare; and 24 species of mammals, one of which is rare, were also recorded. Fifty-nine species of butterflies, 3 rare and 2 threatened, were recorded.

The area has attracted a significant amount of attention from botanists and conservationists. A few large conservation groups (TNC and World Wildlife Fund (WWF)) have approached the Walpole Band Council with conservation and management recommendations. As of yet, there has been no successful partnership formed with outside conservation groups.

The First Nation has established the Walpole Island Heritage Center to "preserve, interpret and promote the natural and cultural heritage" of the island. In addition, they have established and Environmental Research Office, not common among first nations. A research program named "NIN.DA.WAAD.JIG." (meaning those who seek to find), operates from the Heritage Center to explore environmental, socio-economic and resource management issues. 

Another significant case study is the Ojibway Prairie Complex, a collection of five natural areas, totaling 315 acres (127 hectares), located within a few miles of downtown Windsor. The OMNR owns the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve. The Windsor Department of Parks And Recreation manages three Parks in the complex. The Spring Garden Area of Natural and Scientific Interest in also included. 

Ojibway contains pin oak savanna, with black oak and remaining American Chestnut groves. It is of very high quality, with more rare plants than any other park in Ontario. Prescribed burns are conducted annually.

Educational programs, events and restoration activities are supported by the volunteer group, Friends of the Ojibway Prairie.

The Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON) and The Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) are joint managers of a unique community, the Stone Road Alvar. Alvar is an Estonian word used to describe an area of extremely thin soils over limestone bedrock. Alvars are rare and localized to southern Ontario. Stone Road Alvar is located on Pelee Island, the largest of 21 islands that constitute the Lake Erie archipelago, and is the southernmost point of Canada.

The alvar region has blue ash-chinquapin oak savanna with swamp white oak and white ash-chinquapin oak woodlands. Pelee Island has over 800 plant species, 44 provincially rare plants are found at the alvar, including Miami Mist (Phacelia purshii), Yellow Cordalis (Cordydalis flavula) and Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides). 

It is a significant site for over 250 species of migrating birds and eight rare breeding birds including the Acadian flycatcher, white-eyed vireo, and yellow-breasted chat. Two provincially endangered snakes, the blue racer (Coluber constrictor foxi) and Lake Erie Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) are found.

A prescribed burn plan was developed and implemented jointly by ERCA, FON and OMNR Fire Branch in 1983. The burns are ignited aerially. A helicopter drops chemical balls that ignite shortly after impact. Vegetation surveys are conducted to compare conditions before and after the burn. 


At the time of Euro-American settlement, Wisconsin had an estimated 5.5 million acres of oak savanna and approximately 4.1 million acres of oak and pine barrens. An additional 1.4 million acres of oak forest existed, much of it may have been open oak woodland. 

But now, less than 500 acres, or less than 0.01% of the original landscape, are listed in the Natural Heritage Inventory as resembling oak savanna. Wisconsin DNR has prepared a biodiversity document that states possible goals for recovery of oak ecosystems. These possible actions include: development of a public education program and development of a policy on prescribed burning. Further considerations include; prioritizing the preservation of high quality remnants, even small ones, the establishment of buffer zones for these areas, and the restoration of tracts 1000-5000 acres in size. An overall restoration goal is proposed at 2-3%, or between 110,000-165,00 acres. 

The largest work-in-progress for the DNR is the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening site in southeastern Wisconsin. Along the moraines in the southern unit are oak openings and oak woodland, and in the kettles and lowlands lie vast wetlands of prairie, fen, and sedge meadow. Dry prairies cover the southern and western-facing hillsides. In these communities are found 11 bird species, 18 plant species, seven insect species and two mammal species listed as endangered, threatened of special concern. Restoration work has begun with cutting and herbicide treatment of exotic species and small patches of prairie have been burned. Plans are to burn larger areas of oak opening, 100-700 acres at a time.

The US Department of Defense began an extensive program, the Legacy Program, in 1991 to promote, manage, research, conserve and restore the natural and cultural resources on the department' 25 million acres of land. The program aims to establish programs for ecosystem management and to conserve biological diversity. In Wisconsin, the Department of the Army manages a high quality natural Oak Savanna/Barrens Area at Fort McCoy as well as two other natural areas. 

The 300 acre Oak Savanna/Barrens Area is a designated Natural Area used exclusively for education and research. It is the least disturbed portion of the most extensive complex yet identified in the state. Current research areas include vegetation monitoring, study of exotics and breeding birds. 

Bur oak, black oak and Hill's oak dominate, and four rare plants are present: fameflower, tall nut-grass, large-flowered penstemon and larkspur. Bird species include; Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow. The area is managed by fire and chemical control of exotics.

The Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE), a private organization of volunteers committed to the survival of prairie and savanna ecosystems, is very active in working with private landowners. TPE focuses on remnants often too small to be considered for preservation by larger environmental organizations and public agencies. TPE fulfills an important need for preservation and education among private landowners.

In informal agreements, TPE provides ecological services to private landowners at no cost if they agree not to log or graze the land under management. Their stewardship activities are primarily brush cutting, removal of exotics, and prescribed burns. Since 1992 the Wisconsin TPE chapter held about 19 work parties on 10 privately owned oak savanna remnants. Activities are centered around units such as the Foxglove unit, a grouping of 6 landowners. Currently 45-50 acres are being managed in 6 burn units. In the Cassel unit 180 acres shared among two landowner are currently under management, though as many as 600 acres could potentially be managed.

Another small but unique project in Wisconsin demonstrates the potential of working with private landowners. A Norwegian cultural center near LaCrosse, called Norskedalen, has begun to restore some of its land to savanna. The center serves to educate about the lives of early Norwegian settlers and is now aware of the importance of recreating the landscape as it was at the time of settlement. They are developing a savanna exhibit for their 'Awareness Center'. A portion of remnant savanna has been burned once, and a management plan is being developed.


Approximately 58% of the nation's forestland is privately owned. There is great potential for restoring oak ecosystems on these lands, provided landowners can be reached with appropriate resources and education.

A number federal incentive programs for landowners already exist. These include: the Stewardship Incentive Program (SIP), Federal Agricultural Conservation Program (ACP), The Forestry Incentives Program (FIP), and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

The Stewardship Incentive Program probably provides the best opportunities for savanna management. Its goal is to develop management objectives that match the landowners objective and the capability of their land. SIP will provide cost sharing for nine major forest management practices. These practices include management for wildlife habitat, tree planting, and protection and enhancement of riparian, wetland and aquatic habitats. One eligible practice relevant to oak ecosystem restoration is Forest Improvement, including thinning, control of exotic species and prescribed burning. Another eligible practice is Forest Wildlife Habitat Enhancement that includes permanent plantings, control of undesirable plants, creating forest openings and burning.

SIP eligibility requirements for cost-sharing include a minimum size of 5 acres and a maximum size of up to 5000 acres. Owners must agree to adopt and carry out a comprehensive forest management or tree planting plan to be completed within a 10 year period. Information about federal cost share programs and technical assistance is available through Department of Natural Resources (usually Division of Forestry) district foresters in each state. Federal Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) offices can also help.

In addition, many states have their own program, such as the Illinois Forest Development Program (ILFDA). A new program called Conservation 2000 was recently approved and funded by the Illinois legislature. The program aims to set up macro sites created around a core of publicly owned or quasi-publicly owned land. Private landowners adjacent to these core areas will be eligible for cost-share of management activities consistent with the program goals. One of the pilot sites being considered is the Joliet Arsenal, which contains vast prairie and savanna communities. 

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