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Editorial: Forest Preserve District ignores questions about clear-cutting

January 18, 2012

• Rationalizing a tree massacre

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

In light of the controversy over the clear-cutting in various Winnebago County forest preserves, The Rock River Times asked the concerned citizens living around the Roland Olson Forest Preserve to help present a list of questions they wanted answered. The following, editorially, is obviously contemptuous of the public’s right to know. Hartley called and said he’d issue a statement and not specifically answer each question. The reply was, a statement was not acceptable; each question should be anwered individually. That was ignored.

It’s outrageous and a sad attempt at spin and false public relations.

The e-mail

Frank:

Attached is the explanation of the District’s land management at Roland Olson, Fuller Memorial and Pecatonica River Forest Preserves. Most of your questions are answered in the attached explanation.

Tom Hartley

Director of Land & Development

Winnebago County Forest Preserve District

5500 Northrock Drive, Rockford, IL 61103, 815/877-6100, 815/877-6124 FAX

The attached explanation

2012 PINE REMOVALS AT ROLAND OLSON, PECATONICA RIVER, AND FULLER MEMORIAL FOREST PRESERVES

The Winnebago County Forest Preserve District undertook the pine removals as part of our land management/restoration efforts. Most of the pines removed were approximately 35 years old and their health declining. Two goals of the resource department are relevant to the removals:

1. To recreate or restore the landscape as it existed in the 1830’s and

2. To “Perpetuate biodiversity by reintroducing native plant and wildlife species to their appropriate physical environment.”

We base much of our knowledge about the Winnebago County vegetation on the first survey taken in the County between 1836 and1840. Those first surveyors took notes on the vegetation and no pines were mentioned. From the notes we can conclude that pines were not a part of the pre-settlement landscape. The pines were planted in rows and close together. As the trees mature they shade the understory and acidify the soil creating a sterile environment. By thinning the stands more sunlight can penetrate the tree canopy and a larger diversity of understory plants can survive. The District also started this work because we had a company, Premier Forest Products, willing to pay us for work that we wanted done. They have performed similar work for the Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. We would not have considered this work without someone willing to pay us. The process after all the trees are removed is to begin site clean-up. In selected areas stumps will be ground and brush mown. Remaining branches will be burned or chipped. The sites will then be seeded with a native seed mix. In some areas the site will be restored to prairie and other areas will require reforestation. That determination is based upon what the soil is telling us. Once the planting reaches three years of maturity the areas will be maintained with controlled burns.

According to our estimates 2,237 pines were taken at Roland Olson Forest Preserve. There were 301 White Pine, 866 Red Pine, and 1,070 Scotch Pine removed. Roughly 50% of the pines that were existing remain and most of those remaining are White Pine. The site perimeter was left untouched. Red Pines do not mature well in our climate and soil. They had thinning canopies and were at the end of their approximate 50-year life span. The Scotch Pine do even worse than Red Pine with age as they are vulnerable to borer activity and pine nematode attack and have a short 30-40 year life span. Some deciduous trees were removed—those were Black Cherry (54), Elm (49), Boxelder (66) and Green Ash as well as Mulberry, Honeysuckle, and Buckthorn. At Fuller Memorial Forest Preserve we estimate 1,013 Red Pine were removed, 351 White Pine, 70 Spruce, 30 Boxelder, and 20 Black Cherry. Approximately 70% of the existing evergreens remain. We were most concerned with loss of bird habitat at Fuller and therefore kept a larger percentage of evergreens. The most drastic reduction of pines was done at Pecatonica River Forest Preserve. In the plantation located in the northwest corner of the preserve with Brick School Road forming the northern boundary all of the pines were removed. A total of 382 Red Pines and 1,421 White Pines were removed. The remainder of pines in the preserve were retained.

Similar removals were done in 2009 in Sugar River Alder Forest Preserve with the services of Premier Forest Products. At that time we investigated the potential of having the work bid to other companies but found none in the area interested. The pines at Sugar River Alder were located within a nature preserve and required approval from the Nature Preserve Commission. There the pines were removed with little public response and about the same level of public notification. We also undertook a reforestation in the winter of 2008-2009 at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve. Former cropland had been left to ‘nature’ and the result was a thicket of Boxelder, Cherry, and Buckthorn. Again we removed the existing vegetation and gave some public notice but did not receive the same level of complaint as is true of Roland Olson Forest Preserve.

In light of the public response, we will do a better job in the future to inform and educate people about our land management program. Part of our legislation mandates preserves exist for the “enjoyment of the public.” We believe that a greater understanding of our land management will lead to greater understanding and appreciation of the preserves. Our hope is that in time the public will appreciate our most recent restoration efforts.

Tom Hartley

Director of Land & Development

The question asked:

JOIN IN JUDGING IF HARTLEY’S STATEMENT, “Most of your questions are answered in the attached explanation,” IS TRUTHFUL.

1. Have the Fuller and Pecatonica preserves already been harvested? Was harvesting done last week at Pecatonica? Were the neighbors informed, and was their input asked for by staff or the appropriate board member? Will any more harvesting be done at those preserves? NOT ANSWERED.

2. Who were the bird experts that were consulted prior to the harvest at Roland Olson, Fuller and Pecatonica? NOT ANSWERED.

3. Were experts contacted to study the effect on other wildlife, such as the nesting squirrels, raccoons, opossum, fox, owls, songbirds and even eagles? How about moths, butterflies and bats? NOT ANSWERED.

4. Why was it necessary to clear-cut the preserve? NOT ANSWERED.

5. Will they also be removing/culling the dead trees? If so, will the pricing be the same as in the contract? NOT ANSWERED.

6. If the contract was signed in February of 2010, why were the signs posted only days before the harvest began? NOT ANSWERED.

7. Who proposed the restoration plan? NOT ANSWERED.

8. Who decided that public input was not necessary prior to entering into the contract? NOT ANSWERED.

9. Was public input ever suggested by any board member? NOT ANSWERED.

10. Did Premier Lumber solicit the right to harvest trees from other public parks? How much work have they done for the WCFPD in the last 15 years? PARTIALLY ANSWERED.

11. How did Premier Lumber become aware of the WCFPD’s intent to convert Roland Olson from forest to prairie? Does Premier have any relationship with board members, staff or any other personnel or their families? NOT ANSWERED.

12. Why are only the areas of the preserve with a marketable commodity being converted to prairie? If restoration of the area is the intent, should not the whole park be converted? NOT ANSWERED.

13. Were other companies approached to bid on the harvest? Were public notices for bids placed in papers of record and general circulation according to statute? NOT ANSWERED.

14. Have the Winnebago County taxpayers been given a fair-market price for our trees? NOT ANSWERED.

15. Will other forest preserves be harvested? Why are 100-year-old pines considered invasive? PARTIALLY ANSWERED.

16. What other forest preserves have been restored to prairie? PARTIALLY ANSWERED.

17. Why is prairie considered more desirable than forest? Is this based on any public survey? PARTIALLY ANSWERED.

18. Why is the project referred to as a pine tree removal when many other species of tree are included in the contract? NOT ANSWERED.

19. Why did the press release on the prairie restoration not include a map that detailed the scope of the harvest? NOT ANSWERED.

20. Was the board aware that in excess of 1,000 trees would be harvested from Roland Olson? NOT ANSWERED.

21. How are the stumps going to be removed so the prairie planting can be done? What will be the cost for stump removal, by what firm, or will the work be put out to bid? NOT ANSWERED.

22. Why are we letting the lumber company choose the scale for weighing the trees, and have WCFPD personnel been present at the weighings? NOT ANSWERED.

OUR COUNT: 18 OUT OF THE 23 QUESTIONS WERE NOT ANSWERED AT ALL, AND FIVE WERE PARTIALLY ANSWERED. What’s your count? Is this a truthful and open response fullfilling the public’s right to know? Is this an example of good business management?

To be continued …

From the Jan. 18-24, 2012, issue

2 Comments

  1. Jim Kennon

    January 18, 2012 at 10:16 am

    This is unfortunate, this was a perfect opportunity for them to to communicate. It looks like we will have to dig for the truth and we will do so. We intend to hold these people responsible for this action as well as any future. The Taxpayers do matter.

  2. Husq Stihl

    January 18, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    No. 21, marked “not answered,” is answered in detail by Mr. H. “Ground and brush mown” is plain as dirt.

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