Guest Column: Forest preserve clear-cut: Restoring by destroying?

• Citizen asks for preserving the forest movement in response to Winnebago County Forest Preserve District clear-cutting in three forest preserves.

By Tom Castrey

As a resident of Rockford, and an avid user of the Winnebago County Forest Preserves, I was more than a little surprised when once again, the sound of machinery in our “forest preserve” was found to be the business of clear-cutting and killing our forests.

No, this sound was not from an illegal logger, nor someone in need of warmth on cold winter nights; no, in this case, it was the duly elected Winnebago County Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners who brought this terrible sound.

With an all-new Forest Preserve Board just recently elected and installed, I assumed that the new board was composed of a varied group, interested and dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the treasures that are our “forest” preserves. I knew for me, whatever their motives, this was not how I wanted our forest preserves “preserved.”

I decided to find out when the next board meeting was, and in that process, discovered the board allows only seven citizens, 3 minutes each, to address the board. My son and I registered to speak and attended Wednesday, Jan. 18.

The points I tried to address, in the 3 minutes allotted, were:

I have never in my life said, “Let’s go for a walk in the prairie.”

I enjoy the shade in the preserves, the quiet cool of the forest. How many will enjoy the bright sun and heat in our new prairie?

The name of the board they sit on is the Winnebago County Forest Preserve, not Winnebago County Prairie Preserve.

If the trees growing in a forest preserve are not “native” to our region, how did they get there?

If some previous board planted the trees, then you cut them down, what are the chances we might be replanting them?

But, more importantly, why would you kill something to achieve your idea of what Illinois was hundreds of years ago, when the people of Illinois today want trees? We have plenty of open space; we live in Illinois. Let us keep the few forests we have.

Winnebago County Forest Preserves’ mission statement: “Acquire lands … for the purpose of protecting and preserving the flora, fauna and scenic beauties … and to restore, restock, protect and preserve … such lands together with their flora and fauna, as nearly as may be, in their natural state and condition…”

With this decision, it was clear the board was more interested in restoring by destroying. Why couldn’t we just wait and let the trees die off and then decide the best use of the land designated as “forest preserves”?

I felt our concerns were respectfully listened to, but no questions were asked. When the last speaker was done, the board closed the meeting, and went into a private session. I was more than surprised that after hearing from five speakers about our concerns, and facing a packed house of opponents to the destruction of our forest, the board just essentially kicked us out of the room. In fairness to Mr. Randy Olson, the board chairman did offer his regrets and apologize about the manner in which the killing of our trees was handled, at the opening of the meeting. But after our trees have been hacked and mauled, then hauled away for pulp, an apology seems worthless; the destruction has already occurred. The trees are gone. There will be no more wind break from the cold, no shade for the hot summer days, no birds, no squirrels to nest in trees that have been sold for $ 5 a ton.

So now what? The tress are gone, stumps remain, which, by the way, we the taxpayers get to pay to have ground down. Three forest preserves have been altered and trees killed this year. What prevents this board from “preserving” more of our forest by cutting it down? I am not a tree hugger, I understand that wood must be harvested and grown for the good of all. But somehow harvesting trees from a forest preserve seems hypocritical, to “saw” the least.

Outside, after the doors were closed and locked, some of us exchanged e-mail addresses. I can’t and won’t speak for everyone, but my goal is to Stop Killing our Trees in Forest Preserves. If a law, a rule, by law, amendment, referendum or whatever must be passed to prevent this and any future forest preserve board from cutting down trees that are not diseased or dead, then that is my goal.

My name is Tom Castrey, and I am asking for your help in attaining my goal, because frankly this is not what I know how to do. But I do know that we are fortunate enough to have trees here in Illinois, no matter how they got here, and I want to “Preserve” the Forest Preserve. I have established an e-mail account for anyone interested in helping keeping the forests in the Forest City. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

Tom Castrey

From the Feb. 1-7, 2012, issue

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