HELP US Save the OLD Long Grove by Helping Us Preserve Our Open Spaces!
The World Wildlife Fund recently designated the hardwood forests and oak-savannas of our Midwest ecoregion as one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems. Our Long Grove is a part of this declining savanna ecoregion.
Prior to European settlement, oak savannas covered approximately 27–32 million acres of the Midwest from Texas to Minnesota to Ohio (Nuzzo 1985). Now, they are even more endangered than the tropical rainforest, less than five percent of what was here remains. This “in-between” ecoregion, aptly named the Upper Midwest Forest/Savanna Transition Zone, separates the grasslands in the west and the forests in the east with a unique blend of prairies, wetlands, savannas, and open woodlands.
Our historic oak savanna/woodland systems of the Chicago Wilderness region are declining and disappearing, because they are being abused. Our once-open oak and hickory groves have, from misuse and neglect, become overgrown thickets deprived of sunlight.
They have been losing their vast diversity of plants and animals as they are invaded by exotic and lesser weedy species. People could do more to help our vanishing ecosystem. We think that because they are just becoming woodier, it’s natural … but this progression to denser low quality forests is killing our old growth trees and their offspring.
Our woodlands need our help because they cannot restore themselves … there are too many commercial pressures and too many invasive species. If we lose our old groves we lose places of refuge for rare plants and animals, purifiers of our air, deep roots to soak up stormwater and these tall trees that provide a cooling shade. More importantly we lose a legacy and a sense of place in our natural world.
Steward of Reed-Turner Woodland, Barbara Turner during an interview for this article stated “as we lose our historic grove, we don’t even know how much we are losing …how many medicines and antidotes are held in these shady groves, how many heathy compounds we breathe from these forested areas. It is a huge loss and everyone needs to help their piece of woodland today before it’s too late.”
Research has determined that there are over 100 chemical compounds found in forest air, most given off by the trees perhaps to deter insects or ward off disease. Research has shown that when diabetics walk through forests their blood sugar levels drop to healthier levels. People are not the only creatures that benefit from this ecosystem, our area is an important migratory area for geese and is home to populations of rare hawks, butterflies, river otters and other larger mammals that extend throughout the prairies, wet meadows, stream corridors, savannas and woodlands.
Most of the oak/hickory savanna and woodland remnants in northern Illinois are degraded and fragmented because of agriculture, overgrazing, and development.
People settled in the Long Grove area because they wanted homes built in more natural areas with open spaces. Early settlers to this area wrote “among these oak openings were found some of the most lovely landscapes… here trees grouped or standing single, and there arranged in long avenues, with strips of open meadow in between”. These noted landscapes were maintained by natural or Native American fires which were stopped by the European settlers.
Especially today, woodlands and our other open spaces need periodic slow prescribed burns to fertilize soils and keep weedy trees and invasive and introduced plants under control. Overdevelopment and land abuse ….starting with overgrazing of wooded sites by cattle and deer, then clearcutting of our old growth trees, and ultimately invasion by exotic plants such as garlic mustard, buckthorn, honeysuckle and reed canary grass… have quickly catapulted our long groves into possible extinction. Careful management and quick action will be required to keep other plants from out competing our old oak and hickory groves and their rich understory of native grasses, sedges and wildflowers.
Long Grove had the good sense to preserve the land, now we need help from everyone to preserve this rich and endangered local resource and all that goes with it. There are many benefits to restoring your woods or oak savannas. Besides increasing your land’s tax value and health, there is increased natural beauty, preservation of wildlife diversity, ecological resilience, water conservation benefits and help in fighting global warming trends. Healthy trees also fight disease and insect infestations better. If carefully managed, portions of our endangered forested eco-region have good potential for recovery. It is estimated that after a few decades of management, thousands of acres of overgrown oak savanna woodlands and other natural areas could be recovered by following this plan for restoration
- Logging and removal of invasive woody plant species
- Releasing oaks in the canopy and understory from competition of other lesser trees
- Treatment and control of any invasive herbaceous plant species
- Monitoring of seed bank and herbaceous layer for remnant plant species
- Reintroduction of local genotype native plant species and 6. Periodic management of the plant community with prescribed burning.
Please help us help our endangered open spaces today. Get educated and get involved to help preserve and restore our wonderful woodlands and remaining open spaces now, we don’t have time to wait!
Article Sources: Terrestrial Ecoregions of North America:A Conservation Assessment, World Wildlife Fund © 2001 Island Press.
Rebirth of the Oak Woods, article in Chicago Wilderness magazine, by Sheryl De Vore, Fall 1997 and the CW Biodiversity Recovery Plan.
Breathe, essay by Joan Maloof, from Conservation in Practice magazine © Jan-March 2006 Society for Conservation Biology.
Facts text from website -Ecological Restoration Serv., L.L.C. of WI, 1995.