Inspired by a lifelong fascination with nature and conservation, this McHenry County leader is lending a voice to plants and animals, as she leads an effort to preserve the region’s natural heritage – including oak trees as old as three or four centuries.
Birds and trees can’t tell their own story. But people can share it for them.
Lisa Haderlein, executive director of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, believes it’s up to each individual to speak up for nature.
“Even if it’s a small voice, it’s more of a voice than the creatures and the plants have on their own,” she says.
Since 2002, Haderlein has overseen The Land Conservancy’s efforts to protect McHenry County’s prairies, wetlands and woodlands by acquiring property and conservation easements. The nonprofit organization, financially supported by fundraising and membership programs, maintains 2,200 acres of land.
Most recently Haderlein and The Land Conservancy have been focused on preserving oak trees around the county. Since early settlers arrived in the 1830s, the county has lost nearly 90 percent of its natural oak groves, she says. What remains includes trees as old as three or four centuries.
Haderlein can’t remember a time she wasn’t passionate about the outdoors and the environment.
“I just love the land, and I love nature,” she says.
What inspired you to get involved with conservation and the environment?
What really hooked me was being in Girl Scouts as a kid. We learned about camping, canoeing, basic ecology and building fires. Anything related to the outdoors just fascinated me. I can very clearly trace my interest from being a kid, going on camping trips, and deciding to pursue this as a career.
What brought you to McHenry County?
I always had an interest in recycling and the outdoors. I worked as a land use planner in Peoria, Ill., and a job came open at The Nature Conservancy, a national organization, doing conservation planning. In 2001, I relocated to McHenry County to open a Nature Conservancy office, but it closed in 2002. That’s when I saw The Land Conservancy of McHenry County was looking for an executive director. I applied, I talked with the board and they hired me. Over the past 15 years, we’ve preserved a lot of land, restored a lot of land and learned to raise funds to buy land.
Why is it important to invest in conservation?
The land gives us what we need to live as humans. Being outdoors helps kids to focus. It also helps people to heal in the hospital, if they can see green space. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat all come from a healthy land. Trees produce oxygen; natural lands provide clean water and healthy soil to grow food. It’s part of how we live and who we are.
What aspects of conservation are important in McHenry County?
There’s a lot of natural heritage left in McHenry County, such as wetlands, oak woodlands and some prairie areas. If you go further south, you’ll see corn, soybeans and productive farm grounds. If we don’t figure out how to keep our natural heritage as part of the community, it’ll be gone from the state. I see that as a responsibility we have, and opportunity we have in McHenry County, to preserve those things not just locally, but statewide and globally.
What kinds of projects are you and The Land Conservancy working on?
About 10 years ago, one of our members came to us and said the oak trees in McHenry County are dying. They’re old, they’re not re-growing, and they’re being overrun by non-native plants. About 40 percent of McHenry County had oak woods and oak savannas when a public land survey was conducted in 1837. Today, it’s about four percent. Eighty-five percent of the remaining oak woods remaining in the county are on private lands. We started a program where we go out and talk to those private landowners and talk about oak trees. We’ve worked with folks to put a conservation easement on their land, which allows us to preserve a couple of hundred acres of land with oaks on them.
We went to Harvard Gateway Nature Park, on the south side of Harvard, and that 17.5-acre property is where a 400-year-old white oak is. If it’s taken care of, there is no reason that tree won’t be around for another 100 years. We went to the community and raised $175,000 to restore that property.
A family also approached us about the Wolf Oak property on Illinois Route 120, near Bull Valley. The family told us about this area with a 350-year-old burr oak tree that grew out in the open. We came up with a $350,000 budget to purchase and restore the land, manage it, and set up a fund to take care of it. We hope to be able to open it to the public some time next year. We were able to raise the funds to purchase it in December. That was huge and for us. It was the biggest fundraising campaign that we ran.
What’s next for The Land Conservancy?
We want to get this Bull Valley project open to the pubic. We will need to do more outreach and set up opportunities for schools and residents to get them out there and make this accessible. We want people to go to this place and use their visit as a springboard to introduce more people to the oak trees in the county.
Over the next few years, we want to utilize these properties that we have been fortunate enough to preserve, and we want to connect more people to the land.