Guest Column: Forest Preserve harvesting native endangered trees

February 8, 2012

Photo taken a week and a half ago at the Pecatonica River Forest Preserve. (Photo by Travis Castrey)

By Travis Castrey

Our Winnebago County forest Preserve district (WCFPD) has fallen victim to prairie mania.

Under the guise of restoring native habitat, more than 5,500 mature pine trees have been harvested since December 2011; in addition, untold thousands of mature native hardwood trees have also been destroyed to aid in removing the pines. The WCFPD explains their actions at www.wcfpd.org as removing non-native pine trees to restore native prairie and also removing pines because they were planted too closely together.

Actually, most of the trees removed are native to Illinois, including red and white pine, box elder, hackberry, maple, ash, locust, cherry, basswood, and elm, per an Illinois natural history survey viewable at http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/~kenr/woody2.html.

I am planted close to my neighbor because I live in an urban area I may not grow quite as tall and healthy as my relatives spaced farther apart in the rural areas of our great nation. So shall I, too, be cut down since people in 1830 were planted farther apart? Will my neighborhood be cleared to make way for the neighborhood occupants who were here before me, the Native Americans? Where are the brakes placed to stop WCFPD from being sold to a real estate developer?

Photo taken a week and a half ago at the Pecatonica River Forest Preserve. (Photo by Travis Castrey)

Why are we letting our forests be destroyed? How do they call this restoration? Grass grows in one season; the trees affected here have been an integral part of our ecosystem for anywhere from 30 to 100-plus years. Whether planted “plantation style” by man or sown by the grace of God, these trees all had a right to stand in our preserves as much as you or I do.

At www.wcfpd.org, it is stated under preserve: “the very name preserve implies protection and freedom from harm it is therefore UNLAWFUL to hurt collect or injure any tree, shrub, flower, or wildlife.” These fallen trees cannot press the charges for this atrocity themselves. We as nature, exercise, recreation, education, and environmental harmony lovers must stand for the trees WCFPD plans to harvest in the near future.

Another troubling fact according to the Illinois endangered species board in Springfield is that the red pines harvested by the WCFPD are endangered species in Illinois www.dnr.state.il.us/publications/pdf/00000593.pdf. The DNR states there is only one known small stand of four or five naturally occurring red pines that haven’t been destroyed in all of Illinois. This cannot be justified! If I were to cut down a red pine tree on public land, I would certainly face stiff fines and imprisonment; the WCFPD should be no different.

WCFPD said many of these trees were reaching the end of their 35-year lifespan and were in poor health. Viewing the aftermath at Pecatonica River, Fuller Memorial, and Roland Olson forest preserves, you can see tons of pine foliage left on the ground still robust and green long after being cut. Not a single brown needle or any sign the trees had suffered a blight of any kind.

Furthermore, whitepines.org states white pines live 300 to 400 years and have been recorded to live as old as 634 years.

Pennsylvania State University says Red Pine trees live 350 years on average www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/redpine.htm.

Scots pines, also referred to as Scotch Pines, can live to be 300 years old www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/scots_pine.htm.

Imagine the awe-inspiring presence of these incredible trees had they been allowed to reach maturity. They already towered above the landscape of these three parks majestically, especially because the three aforementioned parks were predominately prairie before the cutting.

Please go look for yourself at Pecatonica River Forest Preserve, 7260 Judd Road, Pecatonica. You’ll see massive pine cutting for a half a mile along the south side of Judd road, extensive harvesting of native hardwoods to the southwest, leaving numerous gigantic piles of branches with the trunks removed, plus colossal pine clearing through the entire park, south of Judd Road.

Go to Roland Olson Forest Preserve, 9669 Atwood Road, Roscoe. Drive to the far northeast corner, park at the spaces in front of the equestrian arena; follow the trail in front of you for just a few feet, and you will find more massive removal of native hardwoods to reach just a few pine trees. At the far north end of the grass field to the west, a 2-minute walk down the trail to the north shows, up close, a fraction of the trees cleared all along the prairie as far as you can see.

At Fuller Memorial, 6700 Fitzgerald Road, Rockford, pines were radically removed in the northeast corner along the east side, along the south side and throughout the middle of the park. The one example of thinning in all three parks (albeit liberal) is along the west side of the park. I speculate being the thinnest trunked of all pine stands in the three parks, they were not worth as much, so many were left behind. A 30-minute walk here will take you around the perimeter of the park, in constant view of the massacre.

Our family of seven enjoys as many of our forest preserves as often as we can. We are left to wonder what will house the hundreds of thousands of critters driven away from the forest as a result of these actions. How will we be shaded from baking summer sun? What will quell winter’s wicked winds at Roland Olson, Pecatonica River, and Fuller memorial forest preserves now? Grass ???!!! We can sit at home and see houses and hear cars; this is not why we visit forest preserves. Now at these three parks, refuge from an ever-encroaching urbanization is even scarcer yet.

Please help preserve our forests. I am looking for suggestions as to what our next step should be and call for your presence at upcoming Winnebago County Forest Preserve meetings.

A preliminary meeting regarding future planning for Roland Olson Forest Preserve may be held Tuesday, Feb., 21, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Winnebago County Forest Preserve District administration building, 5500 Northrock Drive, Rockford. Travis Castrey, PreserveForests@yahoo.com.

From the Feb. 8-14, 2012, issue

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