The majority of Illinois hill prairies remaining today are less than five acres in size — and about half of these sites are smaller than one acre. The primary threat is encroachment by woody, invasive plants that crowd out native species and diminish nesting areas for pollinators.

Prairie habitat restoration (before and after)







Private landowners are partnering with local nonprofits and public agencies to recover hill prairie ecology, a critical strategy to increasing species abundance and diversity. Current partners include the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Conservation Fund, Pheasants Forever, and the Illinois office of The Nature Conservancy.

“We have a great opportunity here to restore a large hill prairie complex by working together.”

— Ray Geroff, natural heritage biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.


The Conservation Fund is working with corporate partners to secure resources to support this work, which will expand the habitat corridor around the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area. One such partner, Apex Clean Energy, made a significant investment in the project in 2022 to support prairie habitat and water quality. This investment will be combined with additional funding to jumpstart private land restoration while engaging local communities in the work. The Illinois Electric Cooperative has been a strong partner by providing additional tree removal to support restoration under and near power lines. A past donation from TC Energy has helped expand prairie areas as foraging habitat for migratory tree roosting bats. Additional inquiries from corporate partners are welcome.


Hill prairies were formed atop river bluffs coated with thick layers of wind-blown soils along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Over time, unique grasses and flowers made homes on these slopes. These plants provide critical habitat for key species, including chuck-will’s-widow, Acadian flycatcher, eastern whip-poor-will, northern bobwhite, bald eagle, barn owl, and redheaded woodpecker. These dynamic regions also are home to ornate box turtles and migratory tree roosting bats. But perhaps most notably, this project area supports the monarch butterfly, a candidate for listing as a federally threatened or endangered species.

Clouded Sulphur butterfly. Photo: Michael Budd, USFWS

In addition to supporting wildlife, this project will also help reduce erosion into nearby waterways and rivers. Hill prairies are composed of erodible soils that are not well anchored by the shallow, coarse roots of woody vegetation. Removing invasive trees and restoring prairie grasses will reduce water runoff by improving soil structure and facilitating better infiltration of rainwater. In this way, fewer pollutants and fertilizers will be transported into the riverine system, increasing water quality and benefiting aquatic species from mussels to fish.

“The Conservation Fund is grateful to corporate partners like Apex Clean Energy, which recognizes the importance of giving back to local communities, and wants to ensure that Illinois solar projects generate environmental benefits for Illinois species like essential pollinators, in addition to clean solar energy. A seed gift from TC Energy to support migratory tree roosting bat habitat kick-started a multi-species, multi-partner initiative that will pay dividends for all the species that rely on critical hill prairie habitat for decades to come.”

—Emy Brawley, Project Manager