Committee on Natural Areas


The Committee on Natural Areas guides the research and educational uses of the university’s natural areas and coordinates and supervises the maintenance and protection of these areas.

Committee Status:



Detailed Description

The Committee on Natural Areas (CNA) is responsible for the maintenance, management, and protection of the University of Illinois-owned properties that have been acquired to enhance and support research and teaching in the biological, ecological, and environmental sciences.

The role of the CNA is to provide and facilitate long-term research and teaching opportunities on University-owned properties. Sites are managed to protect both the integrity of the ecological systems and the biological research that takes place on them.

Chair: Brian Allan

Research Areas: Broadly interested in the ecology of infectious diseases, particularly diseases transmitted to humans from wildlife via the bite of an infected arthropod (e.g., ticks, mosquitoes). Research focuses upon the consequences of human-mediated global change, such as climate change and human land use, on the risk of exposure to parasites and pathogens carried by wildlife.

Natural Areas Coordinator: James L. Ellis

Duties: Manage CNA research sites, coordinate research, and educational use and serve as the site resource person.

Research Areas: Plant ecology, botany, prairie reconstruction; interested in the application of ecological restoration techniques to degraded plant communities especially tallgrass prairie in Illinois.

Natural Areas Research Specialist: Nathan C. Hudson

Duties: Provide assistance to Natural Areas Coordinator in the management and maintenance of UI Natural Areas.

Research Areas: Avian ecology, wildlife management, natural areas restoration; interests and expertise in prairie and forest ecological management techniques that includes prescribed fire and invasive plant species removal.

Natural Areas Usage Guidelines

Access to University of Illinois Natural Areas is limited to authorized teaching and research activities. They are closed to the public and to recreational activities. To obtain permit applications for research or class field trip permits, contact James Ellis at 217-244-5695.

> Permit Procedures

Researchers and instructors should contact the Natural Areas Coordinator to obtain permission to enter sites to determine suitability for research. After procedures, location, and study design have been determined, a permit application must be filled out. Permit forms can be downloaded here. If the project involves multiple components involving different researchers (i.e., graduate students), each researcher should submit an application for their portion of the study. No permanent plots or markings will be established until the permit is approved.

Long-term studies can normally be expected to be renewed each year. Any substantial changes in the study (e.g., additional areas, sampling changes, changes in materials or markings, etc.) must be updated on the permit before the changes are made. If there is any doubt about the effects the changes may have, please contact the Coordinator to discuss. Every effort will be made to accommodate a researcher's reasonable requests.

> Markings and Materials

Be specific on the permit as to what markings and materials will be used and where they will be placed. Use of paint or permanent markings must be cleared through the CNA office prior to use.

> Removal of Research Materials

The applicant is responsible for the prompt removal of all markings and materials at the end of each study. Please do not alter or remove markings or materials that are not your own. Markings and materials which appear abandoned or of unknown origin will be removed by the coordinator.

Each researcher is responsible for returning the site to its original condition upon completion of the project. Advisors are ultimately responsible for ensuring that their students clean up their sites. Future permits may be denied to researchers until past project materials are cleaned up.

> Phillips Tract Research Plots

Phillips Tract provides areas for research involving manipulation of the environment (e.g., soil disturbance, plantings; only minor manipulations are allowed at other sites). Requests for the use of research plots should be made in late summer so that any plowing, disking, planting, etc. can be scheduled and completed by the following spring. UI Natural Areas has a limited ability to provide agricultural plots due to a lack of farm equipment and support staff.

> Course Field Trips

It is important that permits for class field trips be turned in at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled trip to avoid conflicts with ongoing research or other class visits. Students should be cautioned to stay on trails as much as possible and avoid any research markings. Some areas have restrictions on class use. Please contact the Coordinator to help plan field trips.

> Publications Submission

Published research (peer-reviewed articles, theses, reports, book chapters, etc.) from any work done on UI Natural Areas shall be forwarded to the Coordinator. Please send full citation and a copy or reprint (electronic preferred) of published work to James Ellis.

> History

As early as the 1880's, professors S. A. Forbes and T. J. Burrell saw a need for University-owned, undisturbed lands, where research and teaching could be conducted. It was not until 1918, with the purchase of Trelease Woods and the formation of the "Committee on University Woods," that such goals began to materialize. In the 1930s, under Professor V. E. Shelford's chairmanship, the 'Committee' proposed ambitious acquisitions of land, both close to campus and regional, which would provide for adequate areas "for present and future needs of research and instruction in biological and soil sciences". The plans envisioned the purchase of over 1,000 acres of property and a cooperative effort with private landowners to create a 13,000 acre State Game Preserve. Despite lobbying the University and Federal Government for funding, they were largely unsuccessful and plans had to be scaled down. However, their long-term goals of establishing and maintaining a network of research and education-oriented sites were defined.

Although the "Committee's" role has evolved over almost 100 years, through the foresight of many individuals, including the Committee's five past and current chairman, S. A. Forbes, V. E. Shelford, S. C. Kendeigh, L. L. Getz, M. R. Berenbaum, and B. F. Allan, the goals of acquiring and managing a series of protected Natural Areas have been maintained. As a result, a unique and valuable resource has been created to advance research and teaching opportunities in Life Sciences at the University of Illinois.

> Restricted Access

All of the CNA areas are restricted access, closed to the public, and to recreational activities. Only authorized research and class field trips are permitted on the sites. Permits may be issued to U of I faculty, staff, students, Illinois Department of Natural Resources personnel, or qualified researchers from other colleges/universities. For further site-specific information, tours of sites, or permits, please contact:

James Ellis
Illinois Natural History Survey
1816 S Oak St
Champaign, IL, 61820

Natural Areas

The areas under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Natural Areas include:

> Brownfield Woods

A 26.1 ha (64.6 acres) "virgin" deciduous upland forest. Primarily a mature oak/ash/maple forest with a high, closed canopy and fairly open understory. Sugar maple has rapidly become the dominant tree species. The woods is a remnant of a much larger prairie grove that was present at settlement times. A small creek, fed by runoff and field tiles, runs diagonally through the woods. A system of marked grid posts, at 50-meter intervals, is in place. Located about 6 miles NE of the U of I campus. Fenced. Vehicle access around the perimeter. Agricultural land abuts the west side and across the road on part of the east side. Houses abut the north boundary and part of the east side. Woods and houses are across the road on the south side and part of the east side. Acquired in 1939.

> CCDC Collins Woods

A 5.7 ha (14 acres) second-growth deciduous forest. The eastern half is a mix of older "wolf" trees and successional growth. The western half is more mature oak wood with damp, old river oxbow bottomlands. A system of marked grid posts, at 50-meter intervals, is in place. The site is located about 12 miles NE of the U of I campus (2 miles north of St. Joseph, IL). The area is not fenced except for a remnant fence line on the west side. Access is walk-in only. A housing development abuts the west side and agricultural land abuts the other sides. Acquired as a gift in 1991.

> Edgar and Sophia Richter Research Area

A 9.1 ha (22.5 acres) farmstead and the woodland area along the Salt Fork River. The uplands and some of the bottomland were originally farmland but are now in oldfield/successional growth. The steep west-facing hillside down to the river is wooded. Due to the long triangular shape of the parcel, there is nearly a half-mile of river frontage. There is an old farmhouse and several outbuildings on the site. A system of marked grid posts, at 50-meter intervals, is in place. Located about 25 miles east of the U of I campus. Only partial fencing remains on the east and north side of the property. Vehicle access to the property. Agricultural land abuts to about half of the eastern boundary and across the river on the west side. Woods abut to the rest of the property. Acquired as a gift in 1989.

> First and Windsor Pond

A 6.1 ha (15 acres) site is located at the southwest corner of First Street and Windsor Road at the south edge of the Illinois campus. This area was highly disturbed in the 1980s when a detention basin or pond was constructed on-site. The primary habitat is non-native grassland, old-field, and successional habitat with scattered trees and shrubs. Vehicle access along the south edge. Parking area near the northeast corner. Available for manipulative studies.

> Funk Forest

A 25.1 ha (62 acres) mesic and upland "virgin" deciduous forest. Primarily a mature oak/hickory/maple forest with a high closed canopy and relatively open understory. Sugar maple is rapidly becoming the dominant tree species. This is a very high-quality prairie grove remnant forest. Timber Creek, a clear, permanent stream (25 ft. ave. bank width) cuts across the south quarter of the woods and creates a steep north-facing embankment. A system of marked grid posts, at 50-meter intervals, is in place. Located about 55 miles from the UIUC campus (10 miles SW of Bloomington, IL). Access is walk-in only with limited vehicle access to the south edge of the woods. The south boundary fence is in good repair but only remnant fencing is around the other boundaries. Pasture abuts the south boundary and pastured and cut-over woods abut the other sides. The Illinois DNR owns the property to the east and the Funk Foundation owns the woods on the north and west sides. Acquired in part by a gift in 1950.

> Nanney Research Area

A 16.6 ha (41 acres) strip of land along the Embarras River in southern Champaign County. The site is about 1100 meters north/south and averages about 200 meters east/west. The Embarras River forms the east and north boundary. This stretch of the river has not been channelized or diked and retains a meandering nature. About 60% of the site is a good quality river and stream floodplain/seasonal wetlands. The higher ground is successional woodland. A system of marked grid posts, at 50-meter intervals, is in place. The site was grazed by cattle and used by a local horse riding club prior to 1970. Located about 18 miles south of the U of I campus. Vehicle access is limited to the southwest corner of the property. Agricultural land abuts the site on the south and west sides while floodplain and sloped woodlands are east and north of the river. Acquired as a gift in 2000.

> Nettie Hart Memorial Woods

A 16.2 ha (40 acres), approximately 150-year-old second-growth upland, and mesic woods. Primarily oak/hickory on the well-drained uplands and slopes and silver maple on the bottomland. A closed canopy with a moderately dense understory. The Sangamon River runs along the western edge of the property and a permanent creek (12 ft. ave. bank width) cuts along the south edge. A system of marked grid posts, at 50-meter intervals, is in place. Located about 15 miles NW of the U of I campus. Fenced on the east and north boundaries. Walk-in access only. Woods abut the property on the north and south sides. Housing development is encroaching toward the woods west of the river and across the road on the east side is agricultural land and an open woods farmstead. Acquired in 1965.

> Phillips Tract

A 52.6 ha (130 acres) former farm. This area can be used for larger manipulative studies. The area contains alfalfa, bluegrass, recreated prairie, oldfield, and agricultural fields, a 30-year-old successional area and rotating 1- to 5-year-old successional strips, and oldfield/successional woods. Two outbuildings with electricity provide limited field lab space and water is available. The Saline Branch of the Salt Fork River runs through the property. Located about 6 miles NE of the U of I campus across the road from Trelease Woods. The property is fenced. Vehicle access to nearly all areas. Agricultural land abuts to three sides with Trelease Woods and Prairie across the road to the east. Acquired in 1968.

> Rutan Research Area

A 10.4 ha (25.6 acres) open upland woodlot. Mature, open oak/hickory/maple woods on the flat ground has been maintained by grazing for most of the century. The steep south-facing slope is denser, young, successional growth. A ravine runs along the eastern edge of the woods and contains a filled-in, 8 ft. high erosion control dam. There is an artesian spring on the wooded slope in the southwestern corner of the property. A system of marked grid posts, at 50-meter intervals, is in place. Located about 21 miles east of the U of I campus. Only fenced on the west side. Vehicle access to the parking lot on the edge of the property. Agricultural land abuts on three sides and narrow woods that run down to the Salt Fork River are on the west side. Acquired as a gift in 1993.

> Trelease Woods (and Buffers)

A 28.8 ha (60.5-acre woods + 10.7-acre buffer) "virgin" deciduous upland forest. Primarily a mature oak/ash/maple forest with a high, closed canopy and moderately dense understory. Sugar maple has rapidly become the dominant tree species. The woods is a remnant of a much larger prairie grove that was present at settlement times and was originally connected with Brownfield Woods. The woods is not well-drained and more prone to canopy tree windfall openings than Brownfield Woods. There are two, small, man-made seasonal ponds located in the woods and on the south edge of the woods. Buffer land on the north and northeast sides of the woods is 50 m in depth and was seeded to alfalfa and mixed prairie species in 2002 (4.3 ha/10.7 acres). Trelease Prairie runs up to the south edge of the woods. A system of marked grid posts, at 50-meter intervals, is in place. Located about 6 miles NE of the U of I campus. Fenced. Vehicle access around the perimeter of the woods. Agricultural land abuts on three sides of the woods with Phillips Tract across the road on the west side. Acquired in 1918.

> Trelease Prairie

An 8.1 ha (19.9 acres) recreated tallgrass prairie. Restoration began in the 1940s and is currently maintained by periodic burning. The prairie was divided into quadrants in 1996 with two quadrants being burned under a fall burning regime and two quadrants under a spring burning regime. Vehicle access around the perimeter. Fenced. Agricultural land abuts the south and east sides with Trelease Woods on the north and Phillips Tract across the road to the west. Acquired in 1942.

> Vermillion River Observatory

A 191.8 ha (474 acres) mostly wooded farm. The area is owned by the U of I Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. There are about 110 acres in agricultural and mowed ground, 90 acres in various successional stages, and about 275 acres in a more mature, second-growth forest. Much of the area had a grazing background and the wooded areas were timber harvested 60 - 80 years ago. The forest is an eastern deciduous mix and much more species-rich than that of our other "prairie grove" type woodlands. Two deep ravine systems dissect the land with a maximum topographical change of about 150 ft. There are at least a half dozen seeps in the ravines and there are several steep north-facing and south-facing slopes. This area is in the Vermillion River drainage system and has a number of plants, insects, and vertebrate species not found at our other sites. There are two earthen flood control dams in one ravine. A complete plant species census was conducted for the site in 1996-'97. An office building has been refurbished and is available for use as a wet lab, seasonal researcher housing, and classroom use. A shop building could also be cleaned up for storage and shop use. Located about 40 miles east of the U of I campus (4 miles SE of Danville). Partial fencing and remnant fencing. Vehicle access. The agricultural ground across a road on the east with woods and scattered housing around the other sides. The ECE dept. began acquiring the property in 1959. This area was newly opened to Committee on Natural Areas supervision as of 1996. Contact the CNA technologist for further information on usage guidelines and maps.


The Vermilion River Observatory site, owned by the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, is an affiliate site under CNA management and became actively managed for biological research in 1996. Together, the sites comprise about 965 acres. All areas are available for nondestructive and limited manipulation studies and for class use by University of Illinois faculty, staff, and students. Only Phillips Tract is available for extensive on-site manipulation. The areas are also open to researchers at other Universities and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The areas are closed to the general public and to non-research-related activities. For safety and preservation purposes, a permit from the Committee on Natural Areas office is required before research is initiated. For further site-specific information, maps, or tours of the areas, contact James Ellis. Allerton Park invites research but is not managed by the CNA.

Additional Research Areas Not Managed by the CNA

Allerton Park: The main park consists of approximately 1,500 acres, including about 600 acres of floodplain forest, about 400 acres in upland forest, and 30 acres in the reconstructed prairie. The Sangamon River flows through the Park. Allerton Park is located about 25 miles southwest of the U of I campus near the town of Monticello. For information on research opportunities, contact Nate Beccue at 217-333-3287.