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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Chicago, Illinois Field Office Partners with Northeastern Illinois University, The Nature Conservancy, the National Land Institute, and the Efforts of Volunteers in Managing Habitat for the Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid

Region 3, November 29, 2012
An aerial view of the Indian Boundary Prairies (Gensburg Markham Prairie Nature Preserve, Paintbrush Prairie, and Sundrop Prairie Nature Preserve) showing their proximity to the Chicago urban sprawl and the criss cross patterns of the area expressways.  The work areas of this project are depicted as red and orange squares.
An aerial view of the Indian Boundary Prairies (Gensburg Markham Prairie Nature Preserve, Paintbrush Prairie, and Sundrop Prairie Nature Preserve) showing their proximity to the Chicago urban sprawl and the criss cross patterns of the area expressways. The work areas of this project are depicted as red and orange squares. - Photo Credit: n/a
One of the more rare moth species, Schinia lucens (leadplant flower moth, false indigo flower moth) captured at the Gensburg-Markham Prairie Nature Preserve.
One of the more rare moth species, Schinia lucens (leadplant flower moth, false indigo flower moth) captured at the Gensburg-Markham Prairie Nature Preserve. - Photo Credit: n/a
An overview of the Gensburg-Markham Prairie Nature Preserve during bloom.
An overview of the Gensburg-Markham Prairie Nature Preserve during bloom. - Photo Credit: n/a

Near Chicago, and at the apex of a triangle created by I-57, I-80, and I-294, sits an unlikely spot for a high-quality prairie. Despite the buzz of traffic on these fast-moving expressways, this is the location of the Gensburg-Markham Prairie. At 100 + acres, it is one of the best examples of prairie remaining in Illinois.

Discovered in the 1960s by Dr. Robert Betz as a degraded remnant, the prairie was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1988 thanks to Betz' tireless work over the years. Owned and managed by Northeastern Illinois University, the Natural Land Institute, and The Nature Conservancy, the site is well deserving of its status. The Gensburg-Markham Prairie is part of the Indian Boundary Prairies of southern Cook County which also includes the smaller Sundrop Prairie and Paintbrush Prairie. These areas are all dedicated Illinois Nature Preserves within the Indian Boundary Prairies. The Gensburg-Markham Prairie is remarkable for its diversity of prairie types (wet-dry prairies, moist sand prairie, and sedge meadow communities), its showy displays of prairie flowers, and for its rare plant species such as grape fern, sundrop, narrow-leaved sundew, colic root, six species of gentian, and grass pink and eastern prairie white fringed orchids. Through the work of ecologist and entomologist Dr. Ron Panzer, and a host of dedicated volunteers, many rare insects, birds, and mammals also call this prairie home. These include regal and aphrodite fritillary butterflies, several species of Papaipema moths, the rare Schinia lucens (leadplant) moth, Franklin’s ground squirrel, and gray fox. bobolink, swamp sparrow, and Henslow’s sparrow also nest here.

All these sites have high quality remnant habitat; however even the highest quality areas are under siege by invasive plant species moving into formerly pristine areas. To this end, the three Indian Boundary Prairies were recipients of a $15,000 grant from the Chicago, Illinois Field Office to eliminate invasive species in designated areas through the use of foliar spraying of invasive plants by selected herbicides in the growing season, and to treat woody invasive plants in the dormant season through stem cutting and basal herbicide treatment. An additional goal was to complete controlled burning of selected areas. The map shows the location of the worksites (red and orange squares).

In all, 33 acres of mesic/wet mesic silt loam and sandy loam tallgrass prairie were restored or enhanced. The majority of the on-the-ground tasks were accomplished through tireless work from volunteers. Three workers spent a total of 610 hours spraying invasive species at the work sites. Among the species targeted were nodding thistle, bull thistle, Canada thistle, gray dogwood, white sweet clover, reed canary grass, common reed, common European buckthorn, glossy European buckthorn, common blackberry, dewberry, sandbar willow, tall goldenrod, common grass leaved goldenrod, and common cattail. All work site areas were burned at least once in the course of this project; lower than the goal of twice, but a significant achievement nonetheless, given the logistic problems with using prescribed fire near highways in an urban area. The reduction in invasive species at the work site areas was very close to the goals of the project. As with most successful projects, partnering with volunteers, government and non-government agencies can provide enhanced results not possible if each entity worked alone.
 

Contact Info: Cathy Pollack, 847/381-2253 ext. 28, cathy_pollack@fws.gov