Oak Grove, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL

Oak Grove, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL

What a beauty! This White Oak stands along the roadside near Johnson's Mound Forest Preserve, Kane County

What a beauty! This White Oak stands along the roadside near Johnson's Mound Forest Preserve, Kane County

Oak Woodland, Dick Young Forest Preserve, Kane County Forest Preserve District

Oak Woodland, Dick Young Forest Preserve, Kane County Forest Preserve District

Lower shrub layer still green is invading Common buckthorn

Lower shrub layer still green is invading Common buckthorn

This heavy growth of Common Buckthorn is uninviting and blocks all light, stopping any oak regeneration

This heavy growth of Common Buckthorn is uninviting and blocks all light, stopping any oak regeneration

While this wall of buckthorn may offer privacy, there are other ways to accomplish this with native plants of better food and habitat value so this invasive source can be removed!

While this wall of buckthorn may offer privacy, there are other ways to accomplish this with native plants of better food and habitat value so this invasive source can be removed!

Although this landscape is protected by the Lake County Forest Preserve, the majority of oak-related ecosystems are not. Middlefork Savanna.

Although this landscape is protected by the Lake County Forest Preserve, the majority of oak-related ecosystems are not. Middlefork Savanna.

A controlled burn of an oak woodland is not the conflagration you might think. Land conservancies can help connect you to trained burn managers.

A controlled burn of an oak woodland is not the conflagration you might think. Land conservancies can help connect you to trained burn managers.

These two stately oaks are growing old together.
Dick Young Forest Preserve, Kane County

These two stately oaks are growing old together. Dick Young Forest Preserve, Kane County

A majestic Bur oak, Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan

A majestic Bur oak, Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan

In Celebration of Oaktober!

“No heaven need wear a lovelier aspect than earth did this afternoon, after the clearing up of the shower. We traversed the blooming plain, unmarked by any road… Our stations were not from town to town, but from grove to grove… (that)… first floated like blue islands in the distance. As we drew nearer, they seemed fair parks, and the little log houses on the edge, with their curling smokes, harmonized beautifully with them. One of these groves . . . was of the noblest trees I saw during this journey... Here they were large enough to form with their clear stems pillars for grand cathedral aisles. There was space enough for crimson light to stream through upon the floor of water which the shower had left. As we slowly splashed through, I thought I was never in a better place for vespers.” Fuller (1844) (from Otankik - On the Edge of the World that Bore Chicagou, by Dr. Gerould Wilhelm. For the full article click here.  

In 2015, the Lake County Forest Preserve District and the Morton Arboretum, funded by the USDA Forest Service and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, collaborated with Chicago Wilderness and the Oak Ecosystems Recovery Working Group to prepare the Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan. Why?

Reason 1. Oaks play the leading role in virtually all of the tree-related ecosystems in the Chicago region. 

  • Oaks create ecosystem structure that is critical to supporting a wide range of associated plants and animals.
  • Oaks take first place in the number of invertebrate species they support – more than 530. This is 85% more than the number supported by maples.
  • Oaks and their associated savanna and woodland ecosystems provide important habitat and shelter for many of the more than 100 bird species that nest in our region and a number of “critical species” identified in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan
  • Acorns and the nuts of other tree and shrub species associated with oak ecosystems are a major food source for a wide variety of birds, mammals, and insects of the region.

Reason 2. The Chicago region has lost more than 80% of the original mosaic of oak-associated ecosystems of savanna, woodland and forest as land development has intensified across the landscape. Imagine if we had the benefits of living among those ecosystems today! 

Reason 3. Since the early 1800’s, the progression of settlement and development has resulted in habitat reduction, habitat fragmentation and declining habitat quality. The positive influence of historical fire management has been significantly reduced, and the presence of fire-sensitive native and invasive non-native species in has increased in the remaining woodlands and forests. 

Reason 4. Careful evaluation has shown us that while oaks still dominate the types of older trees, none or few oaks are being found as younger trees in these wooded systems. Oak seedlings are not able to grow successfully in the deeper shade created by maples and invasive species such as buckthorn and honeysuckle. When the older oaks finally die, there will be no young oak replacements. Our oak woodlands will be gone. 

Reason 5. According to the Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan, only about 30% of the remnant oak ecosystems identified in the 2010 analysis are in some type of protected status through a county forest preserve or conservation district. This means +/- 70% of these valuable remnant ecosystems are privately owned and afforded no protection unless the private landowner is interested in taking action. 

Back to the Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan. I hope this blog post helps you understand why it is critically important to help private landowners understand this issue and develop the skills and means to properly steward these valuable ecosystems. Are you fortunate enough to own property that has older oaks? If so, lucky you! You have a piece of land that is important to our cultural and ecological heritage. But to be healthy, it needs active, informed, loving management. 

Those of you who own only an acre or ½ acre and have some woods in your backyard with maybe one or two older oaks, may think this whole issue doesn’t apply to you, but please reconsider. It would be so much better if you managed your small woodlot to favor oak regeneration!

Oaks are one of our most productive and life-supporting species. No other tree can come close to replacing its economic and ecological value, and it warms my heart to know that there are scientists, ecologists, foresters and people like you and me who care about them and are taking action. THANK YOU! 

The Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan is filled with information to help you learn and uncover the beauty of what you have. Local land trusts that offer Conservation at Home (C@H) and similar programs also stand ready to help and share resources.

The forest preserve districts, park districts and land conservancies can’t do it all. Your oaks need your attention and thank you for your care!

Oak Tree 

I took an acorn and put it in a pot.
I then covered it with earth, not a lot.
Great pleasure was mine watching it grow.
The first budding green came ever so slow.
I watered my plant twice a week
I knew I would transplant it down by the creek.
One day it will be a giant oak, 
To shield me from the sun a sheltering cloak.
Lovers will carve their initials in the bark, 
An arrow through a heart they will leave their mark.
It will shelter those caught in a fine summers rain, 
Under its leafy bows joy will be again. 
Creatures of the wilds will claim it for their own, 
Squirrels will reside here in their own home.
Birds will build nests and raise their young, 
They will sing melodies a chorus well sung.
Under its branches grass will grow, 
Here and there a wild flower its head will show.
My oak tree for hundreds of years will live.
Perhaps the most important thing I had to give. 

Bernard Shaw

 

References

Conservation at Home or similar programs