Forest Preserve District’s commitment to land conservation attracts majestic wildlife and earns leadership role in regional alliance

Laura Oakleaf


Bald Eagles come to Cook County:  The five million residents of Cook County have new, celebrity neighbors – a family of American Bald Eagles nesting in a cottonwood tree on Cook County Forest Preserve District property in southwest suburban Palos Township. Officials from the district and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have confirmed that a female bald eagle has been incubating eggs in the nest, and at least one juvenile was seen this week flapping its wings.  From their nest, which juts above the woodland canopy with a commanding view of the slough below, the eagles hunt on surrounding waterways, carrying food back to their family.

If you grew up in the Chicago area, chances are you can’t remember ever seeing a bald eagle. That’s because forty years ago, eagles were exceedingly rare in the Midwest, put on the ecological ropes by the pesticide DDT, habitat destruction, and poaching. But after the chemical’s ban in the 1970s, along with increased habitat protections, bald eagle populations began to increase.

“The presence of the eagles is a testament to the success that the Forest Preserve District of Cook County has had in fulfilling its mission of protecting and preserving our county’s natural lands,” said district president Toni Preckwinkle. “The fact that these eagles have returned to the area to nest demonstrates a healthy, diverse ecosystem in this area, and will have a positive impact on all of our wildlife.”

If the nest is successful, the eagles will likely remain for the summer, migrating south in late autumn. Eagles generally return to the same nesting site year after year, making this especially auspicious for eagle prospects long-term.  

Land Conservation Leadership:  Also in testament to the district’s leadership in conservation, Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the district, has been elected chair of Chicago Wilderness. Chicago Wilderness is an alliance of more than 260 organizations working together to restore the natural areas of the greater metropolitan region and improve the quality of life for all of the region’s residents. Members include large conservation organizations, cultural and education institutions, faith-based and volunteer groups, municipalities, and local, state and federal agencies.

The Forest Preserve Enabling Act of 1913, charged the district to restore, restock, protect and preserve lands together with their flora and fauna for the education, pleasure, and recreation of the public. After almost 200 years of intensive human settlement, most of Cook County’s original prairies, wetlands, woodlands and forests are now limited to protected preserves. But even in preserves, the native animals, plants, and even whole ecosystems face threats to their survival. Pollution, habitat loss, changes in hydrology, lack of periodic fire, and intense competition take a toll. Survival of many of our native species depends on action we take now, before it is too late.

Vegetation and habitat management and restoration goals are to preserve and enhance district lands in as near a natural condition as possible. Rare plant communities and endangered species are given high priority. Prairies, savannas, wetlands and forests are managed and restored to protect habitat for the hundreds of species calling the FPDCC home. Vegetation management plans are approved by the Board of Commissioners, and are in place for approximately 10,500 of the district’s 68,000 acres.

Follow the Eagles While Giving them Space to Raise their Family:  The Forest Preserve District of Cook County will provide updates on the eagles through its website, I encourage you to become fans of the District on Facebook and Twitter (@fpdcc). With scopes and binoculars, the public can view the birds and their nest from a safe distance (more than 500 yards) by looking north across Tampier Slough from 131st Street, between Wolf Road and Will-Cook Road. Please keep in mind that interfering with the nesting of bald eagles can carry a fine of $100,000, imprisonment for one year, or both.  Penalties increase substantially for additional offenses, and a second violation is a felony. Forest Preserve District police will also be monitoring the site. Plans for public information and viewing are being considered for future years.