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Perspective: Volunteer for nature

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Susan Stephens
/
WNIJ
Nygren Wetlands, Rockton, Illinois

The challenges facing our planet can feel overwhelming and paralyzing. Climate is changing, biodiversity is declining, diseases are emerging, and people are suffering. However, there is hope. The United Nations declared 2021-2030 as the Decade on Restoration, upholding restoration of natural areas as a transformative approach to addressing environmental challenges. Restoration, the act of transforming degraded lands and waters into biologically diverse and highly functioning systems, has tremendous potential to address multiple intractable global challenges. And it can start right here in our community.

For millennia, Indigenous people actively managed the mosaic of tallgrass prairie and open savanna woodlands in what is now northern Illinois. By the 1970s, less than 0.1% of the original Illinois prairie remained. Strategic restoration efforts like planting prairies, removing invasive species, opening woodland understories, and using prescribed fire can rebuild habitat for dwindling wildlife, filter water, and pull greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Groups like The Nature Conservancy, Natural Land Institute, Byron Forest Preserve, Forest Preserve Districts of Winnebago and DeKalb counties, and Middle Rock River Conservation Partners are actively restoring thousands of acres of habitat across northern Illinois with the active help and participation of volunteers.

I encourage you to visit a restored natural area or get involved with restoration work directly during a volunteer workday! These organizations host regular volunteer days that are open to all. Check their websites for more information. Natural areas restoration and your involvement are the hope and change we need to improve our environment for both people and nature.

I’m Elizabeth Bach, and that’s my perspective.

Visit and/or volunteer:

https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/volunteer-opportunities.html

https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/illinois/volunteer-for-illinois/

https://www.naturalland.org/volunteer-opportunities/

https://winnebagoforest.org/volunteer/

https://www.middlerockconservationpartners.org/about-mrcp.html

https://www.byronforestpreserve.com/about-us/volunteers/