Cook County Forest Preserve District’s New Conservation Plan Faces Challenges

March 26, 2014

In 2013 President Preckwinkle formed a blue-ribbon commission of local leaders to develop the Next Century Conservation Plan to help provide vision and guidance to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) for the next 25 years. 

In January 2014, the commission presented the plan to President Preckwinkle and shortly after it was accepted by the Cook County Forest Preserve District Board of Commissioners. 

The plan develops a series of strategies and action plans to achieve its goals and objectives.  There are three objectives that are integral parts of the overall plan and are now facing challenges during the implementation stage.  The three objectives are: establishing a conservation council to provide leadership and expertise to the President and Commissioners; acquiring additional Forest Preserve land; and better managing stormwater.

The first objective that is being challenged is the proposed governance structure of the conservation council.  Specific details on how the council is going to function, including its duties and powers, are uncertain.  However, at the February FPDCC board meeting, President Preckwinkle denounced a Chicago Sun-Times editorial stating that she supports the appointment of an independent Forest Preserve District Council that would function similar to the Cook County Health and Hospitals System Board.  The Civic Federation has made a similar recommendation numerous times since its 2008 report with the Friends of the Forest Preserves, which recommended that a separately elected Board of Commissioners be created for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. 

The second objective that is being challenged is the District’s authority to expand Forest Preserve land holdings by 24% to 90,000 acres.  This requires legislative approval from the General Assembly.  HB4388 amends the Cook County Forest Preserve District Act to allow for the FPDCC to acquire land beyond its current statutory limits.  However, on March 4, 2014 the Illinois General Assembly rejected the bill on the third reading by a vote of 71-41. 

The third and final objective that is being challenged is the District’s ability to demonstrate that Forest Preserve land, when properly restored to its natural habitat, is a better way to manage stormwater than keeping degraded landscapes. The United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago have agreed to move forward with an agreement to fund a feasibility study that focuses on the use of Fullerton Woods and Harry Semrow Golf Driving Range as potential sites for stormwater reservoirs.  However, at the February 2014 FPDCC Board Meeting, Resolution #14-0170 was approved, which opposed the use of the sites, located on Forest Preserve land, as alternative sites for stormwater reservoirs.

The Civic Federation will continue to monitor the status of these elements of the Next Century Conservation Plan in the coming months.