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Chicago Illinois Field Office Partners with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to Restore Habitat of the Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid
Midwest Region, October 31, 2012
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Dead reed canaray grass can be seen on a portion of Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve where reed canary grass control with herbicide was initiated.  The control in this particular area was nearly 100 percent.  The remaining green vegetation clumps within the treated area are native grasses and sedges.
Dead reed canaray grass can be seen on a portion of Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve where reed canary grass control with herbicide was initiated. The control in this particular area was nearly 100 percent. The remaining green vegetation clumps within the treated area are native grasses and sedges. - Photo Credit: Nick Fuller / Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
A year after invasive reed canary grass was removed, the dominant plant is blue vervain (Verbena hastata).
A year after invasive reed canary grass was removed, the dominant plant is blue vervain (Verbena hastata). - Photo Credit: Nick Fuller / Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
Scott Kobal of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County counts the number of flowers on a blooming eastern prairie fringed orchd.
Scott Kobal of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County counts the number of flowers on a blooming eastern prairie fringed orchd. - Photo Credit: Cathy Pollack / USFWS

Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve  is one of the few remaining native prairies in DuPage County, Illinois. It is also the second largest remnant prairie in the county (30 acres) and in 1993 was dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve. Sedge meadow habitat along with wet and mesic prairie plant communities were once found at this site. Many native plant species have been recorded here, including the federally threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea). In recent years, anthropogenic influences have resulted in disruptions to the surface and groundwater hydrology and the subsequent degradation of the plant communities. Populations of reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) formed dense monocultures which ultimately spread to the higher-quality plant communities of Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve. The eastern prairie fringed orchid had not been seen at the site since 1984.

 

In 2009 and 2010, the Northeastern Illinois Wetland Conservation Account  provided $33,000 in an effort to restore the native habitat at Churchill Prairie. Management included controlling the dense stands of reed canary grass from the wet prairie and sedge meadow habitats, along with invasive and exotic species and encroaching woody species control through selective herbiciding, prescribed burning, plug propagation and planting, and supplemental over seeding. The native seed used for propagation and over seeding was collected on site and from the Truitt-Hoff Nature Preserve, also in DuPage County. At the same time, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County staff provided in-kind work consisting of, but not limited to, prescribed burns and winter brush mowing.

In 2010, the first blooming eastern prairie fringed orchid was documented from this site since 1984. This restoration success was the driving force behind the District receiving a second grant of $40,000 from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chicago Illinois Field Office to continue the reed canary grass control, invasive species and woody encroachment control, and the seed and plug planting program.

With seed collected in 2011, District crews planted 10,792 native plant plugs in 2012. However, due to the drought of 2012, and in the areas where the reed canary grass once dominated, district staff also watered the plugs to ensure successful establishment. In total, the District staff provided 1,921 hours of in-kind labor for this restoration. Recently, in order to maintain the progress from this restoration effort, an additional $50,000 of District funding was allocated to continue the invasive species management at Churchill Prairie through 2014.

Over the years, the dedication of the District staff, along with these three funding sources has magnified efforts to restoring Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve. The success and results of this project can be measured by the positive response of the eastern prairie fringed orchid. No orchids were documented from this site since 1984, and then after restoration started, one blooming orchid was observed in 2010; with continued restoration efforts, five blooming orchids appeared in 2011. In 2012 only one blooming orchid was documented; however it is believed this low number is a result of the 2012 drought and with continued restoration efforts and adequate moisture, the numbers of blooming orchids will increase. Future District and FWS efforts include maintaining the momentum of land restoration at Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve through invasive species control and increasing the viability of those orchids that bloom through cross pollination.
 


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



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