Spring view through the oak savanna at Burr Oak Valley Nature Preserve. Photo: Jill Kennay

Burr Oak Valley Nature Preserve

The Natural Land Institute is pleased to announce that the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, at their May 11th 2021 meeting, has dedicated 98.93 acres of The Natural Land Institute’s Burr Oak Valley Preserve as an Illinois State Nature Preserve and Nature Preserve Buffer. The qualifying features for dedication as a nature preserve are 4 state-listed plant species and 1 federally listed insect.  A grade C dry dolomite prairie is also a significant feature.  The main purpose for the Commission establishing the Burr Oak Valley Nature Preserve is to protect the high-quality dry dolomite prairie and its inhabitants as there are only as many as 140 acres of such habitat left in the state of Illinois.

The Burr Oak Valley site has also been nominated for inclusion on the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory as Category II, but is still under review.  Plant surveys confirm the site is biologically diverse and regionally significant.  Burr Oak Valley is also documented to provide habitat for 13 faunal species listed in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan as being in Greatest Need of Conservation, as well as 3 state-threatened plants.

A formal bird survey documented 57 species at Burr Oak Valley, 13 of which are listed in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan as species in greatest need for conservation.  Of these 13 species, 9 are documented to actively breed on site.  Natural Land Institute volunteers have documented 94 bird species since the site was acquired in 1986.  Formal surveys for butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies reveal a high diversity of insect fauna with some species being rare and habitat specific.

The relatively rugged topography at Burr Oak Valley was a once vast ecotone of oak barrens that occurred on the eastern edge of the rolling prairies which occupied much of Winnebago County.  Difficult access to the interior of the property prevented plowing and much of the woody invasion was kept at bay until the 1980’s when cattle grazing ceased. As restoration efforts unfold across the site, natural communities will improve in structure and diversity and it is anticipated that one day this preserve will also be recognized as a category I INAI site for presence of high-quality natural communities of statewide significance.

The name Burr Oak Valley is derived from the field notes of the U.S. General Land Office.  The surveyor, D.A. Spalding, established the interior section lines of Roscoe Township in 1837.  He most often recorded “Burr oak” as bearing trees to monument section corners.  Although misspelled according to contemporary nomenclature, Natural Land Institute has embraced this spelling of Burr Oak in the title of their preserve.  The dominance of bur oaks along a valley that traverses the site, makes the name “Burr Oak Valley” ideal for conveying an image of the original character of the preserve and its surrounding landscape.

The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) was established by the Illinois General Assembly in 1963 to create a system of natural areas representative of Illinois’ landscape. The Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act (525 ILCS 30) governs the Commission and charges it to preserve, protect and defend natural areas and endangered species habitat for public benefit.

This commitment to preserve the state’s rare natural treasures made Illinois the first state to create such an innovative land protection program. The INPC is now a national model, and more than a dozen states have followed its lead. In 1992, the INPC received international acclaim when it was recognized at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro as an “efficient and effective model of how to provide long-term protection for high quality natural areas.”

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