DuPage Forest Preserve District looking at the big picture

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is in the process of creating a new strategic plan, and March 25 the board started with the basics of evaluating the district’s mission statement.

“To acquire and hold lands containing forests, prairies, wetlands, and associated plant communities or lands capable of being restored to such natural conditions for the purpose of protecting and preserving the flora, fauna, and scenic beauty for the education, pleasure and recreation of its citizens,” is the operative section of the mission statement John Davidoff put before the board to evaluate.

Davidoff’s communications firm has been retained by the district to help create a new vision for the group, and his question about the mission statement is only the first of several to be addressed by the board over the next two weeks.

The board will meet again next week on the subject, after which Davidoff will conduct a community survey. He will give a final recommendation to the board by July 1.

Most commissioners were comfortable with the basic thrust of the statement. Joe Cantore said “it’s always been our guiding mantra,” and Mary Lou Wehrli pointed out that the statement was a direct reflection of the Downstate Forest Preserve Act.

“It’s guided by law,” she said.

Forest Preserve District President D. “Dewey” Pierotti said that the district needs to take into account differing views of the community, and the inevitable conflict that arises between groups with different interests.

“There is no right answer,” he said of the ultimate goal of any mission statement.

But he agreed that the basic question of the strategic plan needed to be addressed.

Board members also opened up about the district’s strengths and weaknesses.

On the plus side of the ledger, Tim Whelan said that the district’s maintenance of facilities was “excellent,” Linda Painter said that the district was “perceived as a real positive part of the community,” and Burns said that the district had “done a nice job of thinking ahead . . . and we have a good staff.”

But several commissioners pointed to a perceived lack of communication as a recurring problem.

“Departments don’t communicate very well [with each other],” Painter said.

Burns thought that improving communication with the public over controversial issues was especially important, calling it a district weakness.

She noted that residents were opposed to some tree removal during a renovation of the West Branch of the DuPage River, but came away from a public meeting on the matter with the realization that the trees were invasive species of buckthorn.

“We can listen,” Burns said. “They just want to be heard … we ought to involve them more.”

Pierotti cautioned against a tendency to become involved in initiatives outside the district’s purpose, saying it needed to avoid becoming committed when “it’s not directly related to Forest Preserve matters.”

Other board members said it is a positive that the district has independence from the DuPage County Board.

“Being separate from the county is a strength,” Burns said, bringing to mind last year’s attempt by some Illinois legislators to merge the two bodies.

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