Development of a Natural Areas Integrity and Restorability Index and Application to Lands of the Chicago Region

Funding provided by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.

Project History and Overview

 

  • This project was conceived during the Rapid Implementation Phase of the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI) project. A series of workshops were held where county Conservation District (CD) and Forest Preserve District (FPD) staff from Northeastern Illinois participated. Staff at these agencies expressed the belief that, due to the rapid pace of development, few new areas will be found in the Chicago Region that can meet the standards of the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory. They expressed a need for identification of lands that have the capacity to be restored to natural area quality using modern restoration techniques, and also that occur in a landscape context that will allow them to be viable over the long-term once restored. They argued that this process should be conducted by an independent, objective, scientific team and be endorsed by the State of Illinois to ensure acceptance by their boards and their communities. The county CD and FPD staff also reiterated the necessity of identifying this “next tier” of lands worthy of public investment before most of these opportunities are lost. 

  • The goal of this project was to identify a series of landscape-scale characteristics related to biotic and landscape integrity that could be used to quickly identify potential areas for protection. “Landscape Integrity Criteria” were used to identify data to perform a Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis of undeveloped lands in the Chicago Region. This GIS analysis identified lands that, if restored, have the potential for long-term ecological integrity. These landscape integrity and restorability criteria were aligned with the qualifying size criteria for registration of lands as Illinois Land and Water Reserves (a state designation resulting in protections almost as strong as Illinois Nature Preserve Dedication), to identify “large grade C’s” that could currently qualify or be restored to qualify for designation as Land and Water Reserves. Smaller areas of undeveloped land of other community types were included if adjacent to larger qualifying parcels for the purposes of building a “connected system of conservation lands. This analysis provides a score that is used in a ranking system, developed in conjunction with INHS Scientists, to establish a hierarchical assessment of the intrinsic capacity of landscapes to sustainably support native flora and fauna with restoration. 

  • A “Restorability Index” was also developed that would allow the analysis of the relative potential for restoration of undeveloped lands on a case by case basis. Armed with the “Inventory of Landscapes of Ecological Importance” and the “Restorability Index,” land managers can identify opportunities and priorities for large-scale restoration in the context of their unique management and restoration capacities.

  • Download final report of Landscapes of Ecological Integrity