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Illinois Department of Natural Resources
August 2021
August 2, 2021
The Nature Institute (Godfrey, IL) coordinated a volunteer work-day supported by multiple partners including the NGRREC Habitat Strike Team, L&C Restoration Ecology Program, and IDNR Heritage Division. Full- and part-time Strike Team Staff and paid student interns assisted during the event. Photo courtesy of Justin J. Shew.

Illinois Habitat Strike Teams: Partnering to Restore Habitat for the Benefit of Wildlife

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By Kathryn Kauzlarich, Justin J. Shew
A map of Illinois and its counties indicating a red circle with about a 90 mile radius centered on the East Alton National Great Rivers Research and Education Center Field Station.
Map of general project area of the NGRREC Habitat Strike Team (excluding Missouri) which focuses on properties within a reasonable driving distance from the NGRREC field station.  Red circle = 90-mile radius centered on the East Alton NGRREC Field Station (yellow star). The team’s work, however, is necessarily limited to this area. Map created by Megan Cosgriff (former NGRREC staff member).

The concept of a habitat strike team is a relatively new phenomena that has taken hold in the restoration ecology and habitat management world within the United States. Such teams are composed of individuals working closely together toward the goal of improving habitat and restoring floral communities for wildlife and ecosystem function. This task is better tackled by many individuals or staff who can quickly mobilize (i.e. more “striking” potential with more personnel), because this work often involves invasive species removal/control through chemical and mechanical means or even more coordinated efforts, such as conducting prescribed fires. Hence, the team sport of restoration. Strike teams offer flexibility to private landowners and the partners they serve and often visit properties frequently to ensure the site is progressing in the right restoration direction and discovered problems can be quickly addressed.

A graphic with text overlaying a photo of a green grassy area with trees in the background. The text explains that edge-feathering is a conservation practice used to create a gradual transition between two habitat types, making the edges for hospitable for wildlife. Techniques include cutting timber and planting shrubs and grasses. The text also explains that a covey headquarters are clumps of dense vegetation that are used by bobwhite quail as cover from predators and harsh summer and winter conditions. There is a photo of a mostly brown female bobwhite quail on the bottom right of the graphic.

In 2016, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) partnered with Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever (PF/QF) and Lewis and Clark Community College’s National Great Rivers Recreational and Education Center (NGRREC) to create two teams of habitat specialists to assist landowners with their habitat management. The PF/QF team is based in west-central Illinois and the NGRREC team is focused on southwestern Illinois. Both teams work across a large geography and, on occasion, have partnered on prescribed burns and other management projects.

NGRREC (Southern Illinois Strike Team)

The NGRREC team developed from a partnership and funding through IDNR Illinois Recreational Access Program (IDNR-IRAP), which is a private lands program that economically incentivizes landowners to provide recreational opportunities to the public on their private land. As a part of the economic incentive, private landowners can receive cost-shared habitat management assistance, which is provided by the strike teams or contractors. The NGRREC team focuses on invasive bush honeysuckle removal and management to improve woodland habitat for wildlife (i.e. through timber stand improvement and prescribed fire).

A sign in front of an agricultural field during the winter indicating the that the funding for habitat management was from the Habitat Stamp Fund Project and the Illinois Recreational Access Program.
Parking signage for an IRAP site representing the major funders of both habitat strike teams. Photo courtesy of Justin J. Shew.

Through the years the team has expanded its partnerships and funding sources in southwestern Illinois and now works on both public and private lands. Most funding is provided through the competitive IDNR’s Illinois Habitat Fund. This includes working closely with Lewis and Clark Community College’s Restoration Ecology Program where the team has started providing paid internship opportunities for students that translate into program credit hours and invaluable on-the-job training. Also, several NGRREC summer research interns have participated in wildlife and vegetation applied research projects associated with IDNR and Strike Team management activities. 

PF (Northern Illinois Strike Team)

The current PF/QF Strike Team consists of Tom Branson, Habitat Strike Team Coordinator, and two Habitat Technicians. The PF/QF Strike Team primarily focuses on promoting upland habitat on IRAP sites. The team has assisted landowners with site preparation and planting of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields, prescribed burning, creating early successional habitat, edge-feathering and covey headquarters establishment.

The Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever Strike Team had a productive spring in 2021, completing 32.5 acres of seeding, conducting prescribed burns on 3,796 acres and implementing 38 acres of Timber Stand Improvement, along with several other habitat improvement projects.

A graphic with a photo of a grassy area and two individuals conducting a prescribed burn to the area. Text overlays the photo on the bottom left and indicates where to find more information on the habitat strike team.
Prescribed burn photo courtesy of Pheasants Forever Media.

Katie Kauzlarich-Stockman is a native of Farmington and graduated from Augustana College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology. She joined Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever in 2015 as the outreach coordinator for Illinois before transitioning to the Illinois State Coordinator role in 2020. In her free time she enjoys waterfowl and upland hunting with her Boykin Spaniels and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers.

Justin J. Shew is the Conservation Program Manager at NGRREC and has specific interests in wildlife and applied ecology research as it relates to state and federal conservation programs. He conducted his most recent graduate work through Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory on grassland bird response to policy-based management and multi-scale factors. His most recent published scientific work can be found here: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1dI5zcA-IgIp6.

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