February 1, 2020
The fall 2019 NGRREC Habitat Strike Team is, from left, Phillip Rathz (L&C Student Intern), Kyline Downey (Student Intern), Cody Berry (Strike Team Coordinator), Lindsay Griggs (Senior Strike Team Assistant), Eli Harris (Junior Strike Team Assistant), Ryan Wiita (Student Intern) and Ross Albert (IDNR’s Illinois Recreational Access Program Coordinator and former NGRREC Land Conservation Specialist).

Strike Team Restores Habitat for Wildlife and Provides Student Training

By Justin J. Shew

Photos courtesy of the author.

The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center’s (NGRREC) Habitat Strike Team recently received competitive funding from both the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) Habitat Fund and the Division of Natural Heritage to continue and expand their management capacity in the confluence region of Illinois.

“This project continues to illustrate the college’s commitment to ecological restoration, conservation, and sustainability by giving our students relevant experience leading to the development of professional career paths,” said Restoration Ecology Program Coordinator Scott Moss.

Moss works closely with Habitat Strike Team Coordinator Cody Berry, who is a graduate of the Restoration Ecology Program at Lewis and Clark and has worked his way up the ranks within the team to reach his lead position.

Two people converse in front of an informational poster and a table with various object relating to habitat restoration and conservation.

“The funding received through the IDNR’s Habitat Fund and Division of Natural Heritage is an excellent new opportunity to expand the scope of the Strike Team’s work while continuing to employ proper management practices and simultaneously engaging the public through outreach and Lewis and Clark students through training opportunities,” Berry said. “Due to our multifaceted approach our team positively affects local ecological health, maintaining quality recreational access on many public natural areas and private sites enrolled in the Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP).”

The inception of NGRREC’s Habitat Strike Team started with an agreement with IDNR’s IRAP in 2016, which funded a three-person strike team to help implement habitat management on private lands enrolled in IRAP. Since then, the Habitat Strike Team has managed or assisted with management of more than 8,000 acres across 23 counties.

A line of fire on the side of a hill in a woodland is one view of prescribed burn.
A prescribed burn conducted by the Habitat Strike Team.

“The newest iteration of NGRREC’s Habitat Strike Team not only continues our important work on IRAP properties but also expands our restoration reach by working with multiple regional partners to put more habitat management on publicly accessible lands within the Lewis and Clark Community College district,” said NGRREC’s Conservation Program Manager Dr. Justin Shew. “Such properties include Pere Marquette State Park and Copperhead Hollow Wildlife Management Area. We are especially excited to be providing paid student internship opportunities through the college’s Restoration Ecology Program.” 

Additional partners included with this next phase of the Habitat Strike Team include IDNR Division of Natural Heritage, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC), The Nature Institute and The Great Rivers Land Trust.

“INPC oversees protection and stewardship of our state’s highest-quality natural areas in southwestern Illinois,” said IDNR Natural Areas Preservation Specialist Debbie Newman. “This Metro region presents many challenges for keeping all wild lands, including INPC sites, ecologically healthy. A dedicated restoration team that focuses solely on stewardship in southwest Illinois provides an opportunity to significantly improve the health of these lands.”

A graphic of the state of Illinois illustrating the regional and L&C district acreage impact of NGRREC's Habitat Strike Team by township from May 2016 to September 2019. The area includes the central west-side of the state.
This infographic illustrates the regional and L&C district acreage impact of NGRREC’s Habitat Strike Team by township from May 2016 to September 2019. Impact is measured by boots-on-the-ground habitat management conducted or assisted with by the Strike Team. Management activities include but are not limited to prescribed fire, timber stand improvement, invasive species removal (e.g. bush honeysuckle) and prairie plantings/seedings.

Among the 70 sites that Newman oversees, from the Calhoun County to Randolph County area, is the Palisades Nature Preserve in Jersey County. This 430-acre preserve sits on a conservation easement owned by the Lewis and Clark Community College Foundation and is perched on scenic bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River near Grafton.

The Habitat Strike Team will spend considerable time at this site to improve habitat for threatened and endangered plants and animals. In the future, NGRREC’s education and conservation team hope to lead guided hikes to showcase this property’s beauty to the public.

Aside from habitat management, the Habitat Strike Team also assists NGRREC with education and outreach initiatives. These include public open house events such as Neighbor Nights and the recent Brewers and Biologists collaboration, as well as NGRREC’s college intern program and the annual Water Festival which both target the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Conservationists focus on discussing the tools and techniques used in restoration such as prescribed fire, timber stand improvement, and invasive species removal methods, as well as programs available to private-land owners, such as IRAP. 

An instructor provides an outreach in the outdoors. A group of children crowd around a rectangular table to participate in the discussion.

“The Habitat Strike Team has been a huge supporter of NGRREC’s education and outreach programs,” said NGRREC Environmental Educator Allison Rhanor. “Our programs give the Team more varied ways in which to reach the public and educate students, and in turn, our programs directly benefit from their participation and added expertise. It’s been a seamless partnership, and I’m excited for what’s to come as both programs continue to grow.”

For more information or questions regarding NGRREC’s Habitat Strike Team, contact Shew at jshew@lc.edu. For questions regarding the Restoration Ecology Program at L&C, contact Moss at jkmoss@lc.edu. Hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and landowners wanting to learn more about IDNR’s Illinois Recreational Access Program can contact Albert at Ross.Albert@illinois.gov.

Dr. Justin Shew is the Conservation Program Manager at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center.