Tuesday, May 23, 2023

It Takes A Village ("Almost a Religious Experience")

The planet and its biodiversity need more Friends.

Communities of care are coming together around the Earth.

In this example, a conservation community was honored by state, county, and local elected officials. In the process, much was revealed. 

The newspaper headline invoked the sacred - referring to the feeling a person can get by being able to do this much good! Stewards feel honor as we work. But some elected officials also saw a helpful opportunity to celebrate something very American, in the best sense.

With food, work, and speeches, instead of recognizing a person or two, the elected officials wisely honored eighty-three individuals (see below) - cited with specifics of their accomplishments. Thousands more were honored indirectly, for decades of work to restore biodiversity to the 410-acre Somme preserves. 

The Northbrook village President was there, along with many other local, county, and state officials. Presenting the award proclamation was Commissioner Scott Britton of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

John McCabe, the Forest Preserve director of resource management told Karie Angell Luc, Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press reporter, "If it wasn't for these volunteers, some of these most critical sites would have been lost to us." The volunteers work collaboratively with Preserve staff on these challenges. 

Biodiversity in the world today does not survive without care. Species populations fade miserably away, despite being on "protected" conservation lands. Indeed whole communities of plants, birds, pollinators and all need to be saved from extinction at many sites.  


An oak woodland choked with buckthorn, old oaks dying, little biota at all, except the invasive buckthorn.


Hundreds of species of animals and plants of the oak woodland are now coming back. 

The resolution by which Forest Preserve President Preckwinkle and the Board recognized the Somme stewards and Friends of Northbrook Forest Preserves is below: 

The event started out in the woods We cut and burned invasive pole trees, while Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press photographer Karie Angell Luc documented the day.

Being in the woods, we had adventures. Someone found a pile of blue-spotted salamanders under a log, too near the fire.

We moved them away, of course, allowing opportunities for education, awe, and ecology. 

At break time, we repaired to the shelter ...

... where a feast was laid out, sociability ensued, and then the proclamation was presented.

Posing above are 18 volunteers, Commissioner Scott Britton (holding the proclamation) and Northbrook President Kathryn Ciesla (third to Scott's right). 

It was a sweet day. Some saw it as a questionable interruption of our urgent work. But events like this are "political" in the best sense. American democracy has an iffy rep these days, but through its processes the Forest Preserves and Nature Preserves System were established. They prosper or decline in proportion to what kind of stewardship they get. Today's celebration affirmed a model for how humans can organize ourselves for something good, for species other than us - collective action motivated by something beyond ego and selfishness. It generated understanding, support, and friends. 

The Earth needs more of this.

Friends of Northbrook Forest Preserves


The righteous List of People who take Special Initiative


April 2023


We stewards are a team. We try to resist hierarchy among ourselves as much as practical. We collaborate, and many help at much more than what’s shown below. But this list attempts to indicate many of the principal contributions.


Certifications and authorizations come principally from the Cook County Forest Preserves. Trainings are by CCFP staff and stewards with specialized training from Chicago Botanic Garden - Plants of Concern Program, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Illinois Department of Agriculture (herbicide certification), Bird Conservation Network, Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Calling Frog Survey, and the Chicago Wilderness Alliance. 




Chipilly Woods: John Cherry 


Somme Prairie Nature Preserve: Laurel Ross and Lisa Musgrave


Somme Grove Prairie Nature Preserve: Stephen Packard and Eriko Kojima


Somme Woods: Linda Masters with zone stewards Christos Economou, Stephanie Place, Rebeccah Hartz, Eriko Kojima, Sai Ramakrishna, John Paterson, Jim Hensel, Matt Evans, Emma Leavens, Katie Kucera, Paul Swanson,  Donna Wittert, Paula Kessler, Carole Ortiz, Diana Economou, Stone Hansard, Beata Fiszer


Certified chain sawyers: John McMartin, Joe Handwerker, Tom Bragiel, John Mahal, Lew Brashares, Estelle Ure, Sai Ramakrishna, Allen Giedraitis, Jonathan Sladek, Rett Donnely, Erin Faulkner


Brush Pile Burn Leader certification: Kathy Wassman, John McMartin, Paula Kessler and many others


Seed harvest, prep, and broadcast: Christos Economou, Rebeccah Hartz, Steph Place, Carole Ortiz, Donna Wittert, Paula Kessler, Amy Broussard, Diana Economou,  Sai Ramakrishna, Matt Evans, Beata Fiszer, Jim Hensel, Fred Ciba, Linda Masters, John Paterson, Russ Sala


Herbicide license: John McMartin, Russ Sala, Paula Kessler, George Westlund, John Paterson, and many others


Workday leader certification: Linda Masters, Stephen Packard, Laurel Ross, Lisa Musgrave, Eriko Kojima, Sai Ramakrishna, Paul Swanson, Steph Place, Jim Hensel, Matt Evans, Katie Kucera, Estelle Ure, Christos Economou, Diana Economou


Safety task force: Ed Samson, Steph Place, Matt Evans, Sai Ramakrishna, John McMartin, Estelle Ure


Trails maintenance: Estelle Ure, Russ Sala, Tom Dallinger, John McMartin, Bob Miller, Joe Handwerker, John Mahal, Jim Hensel


Representatives to FPD Key Stewards meetings: Paul Swanson, Lisa Musgrave, Sai Ramakrishna, Eriko Kojima, Linda Masters


Plant Monitors: Lisa Musgrave, Laurel Ross, Stephen Packard, Emma Leavens, Sai Ramakrishna, John Cherry, Eriko Kojima 


Individual Plant Species Stewards: Mike Zarski, Sheila Hollins, Lisa Musgrave, Emma Leavens, Eriko Kojima,


Bird Monitors: Danny Leggio, Stephen Packard, Melissa Foster, Chris Monaghan


Butterfly Monitors: Ryan Chew, Laurie Leibowitz


Calling Frog Monitors: Eriko Kojima, Rebeccah Hartz


Shrub and young oak stewardship: Sai Ramakrishna, Matt Evans, Steph Place, Eriko Kojima


Instagram task force: Josh Breer, Andrew Condrell, Kaitlin Cywinski, Sofie Richter


Tool maintenance task force: Ed Samson, Jim Hensel, Matt Evans, Linda Masters, Russ Sala, Bob Miller, Estelle Ure


New Year’s Bonfire Celebration team: Ed Samson, Jim Hensel, Steve Tattleman, Russ Sala, Linda Masters, Rebeccah Hartz, Marty Maneck (bagpipe), John Paterson (art), Eriko Kojima


Friends of the Chicago River’s Chicago River Day Somme Woods site captain: Jim Hensel


Treat Bakers at volunteer events: George Westlund, Jim Hensel, Carole Ortiz, Donna Wittert, Linda Masters, Kim Ciba


Friends of Northbrook Forest Preserves organizers and convenors: Stephanie Place, Jim Hensel, Pat Johns, Linda Masters, Mike Piskel, Rob Sulski, Donna Wittert, Carole Ortiz, Russ Sala, Ed Samson, 


Eco-hike leaders:  Rob Sulski, Steph Place, Stephen Packard, Donna Wittert


Recruiters: Jim Hensel, Rae Goodman-Lucker and family, Josh Breer, Andrew Condrell.


Media and communications: Steph Place, Jim Hensel, Steve Tattleman, Pat Johns, Eriko Kojima, Carole Ortiz, Donna Wittert

Our apologies to the many people who deserve more mention. But we hope this list gives you a flavor of how this community thrives. 


This post benefitted from edits and proofing by Emma Leavens and Eriko Kojima. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

How We Burned Kishwaukee Fen

This is a shortened, step by step, story.

For a lot more detail, see the Strategies for Stewards post.

The plan was prepared by Illinois Nature Preserves staff John Nelson. As shown on John's map (below),  with a wind from the southwest, we would start at A and carefully complete a backfire to B. 

Before we start, the area looks like the above. A-B is in the foreground: a degraded, early-stage prairie restoration with not much fuel. In the background are the fens and sedge meadows, with lots of fuel. 

John Nelson ignites the fire. On the north, our fire break is the Kishwaukee River headwaters. 

Next, John lights a backfire. The rest of us make sure it doesn't cross the break. 

Once the fire has consumed the fuel in a strip all the way to the green grass of the golf course, that break is complete. 

Now we start the backfire through heavier fuel along the south bank of the creek. 

At some points, where the fuel was wet and burned poorly, we made a number of strips ... until there was a complete burn wide enough to protect the other side of the creek from the headfire when it came. 

Some areas were somewhat difficult, as downed trees made passage difficult.

We watched such areas carefully. 

Other areas were impossible. There was no practical way to keep the fire from jumping the creek in such a place. At this point we reminded ourselves that an important objective before the next burn would be to clear those downed trees away from the firebreak. But for today, with a bit more effort, we moved the break back to a deer path.

Here, with a bit of care, it worked fine.

This was the hardest work we had to do.We moved slowly. Many of the crew were relatively new to fire control, and we all learned more by doing. 

And now, we've reached point D on the plan. For a refresher, see below.
Once we've finished this break down to the golf course, we're done with the hard work.

This west break was especially quick to complete, because of a pre-prepared break and a hose in case we needed water. 

Now the work is done, and the headfire is lit.

Here, the fire doesn't reach the edge of the golf course, because it stops at the no-fuel area where we've been cutting the buckthorn (and collecting stray golf balls). 

In a few minutes, fire does the work that otherwise takes us days and weeks, where lack of fire had allowed brush to grow dense. Fire keeps the grassland healthy, and a healthy grassland resists invasion by brush. 

Then, within secure firebreaks, the flames wandered around for some time, going out in wet areas of little fuel, and flaming high where the fuel was dense. 

The drone video below by David Martin gives a "hawk's eye view." Note how much bigger the headfire can be, compared to the backfire.

At this point we noticed that one of the raised fens had entirely escaped the burn. The sedge meadow that surrounded it was wet and had little fuel, as last year we had sprayed out the invasive Reed Canary Grass that had been thick there. But it was the fens that were the priority to enrich by burning, so Ben Davies hiked back down with the drip torch and touched it off. 

Here, at the top of the high hanging fen, springs pour out of the moraine. Parts didn't burn simply because of the character of the fen. Those unburned areas we were happy to leave naturally unburned. 

At the end, we gathered for an "after action review." We discuss options, ask questions, explore suggestions, and definitely committed to deal with those nasty invading brush that had given us a hard time along the stream. We need more trained burn leaders and crew, so education and experience are another high priority. Public relations is also important. The golf course was busy, and one of Amy's jobs was to talk with golfers as they came by and answer questions. 

Honor Roll

People deserving recognition:

For preparations: Rebeccah Hartz, Eriko Kojima, Amy Doll, and John Nelson

Burn boss for the day: John Nelson

Crew: John Nelson (INPC), Patti West (Kish volunteer), Ben Davies (Boone County Conservation District and Kish volunteer), Kent Beernink (Kish Volunteer), Sadie Dainko (Kane County Forest Preserves and Kish volunteer), Rebeccah Hartz (Shaw and Somme Woods volunteer), Amy Doll (Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves director and Kish volunteer), Dave Griffith (ILDNR), Ellie Krall (Shaw volunteer), Athena Knisley (Plank Road Prairie volunteer), Justin Hunger (Plank Road Prairie volunteer), and drone videographer David Martin (friend of Amy).  

After the burn, we did a bit more planning for what comes next.

Life is good. 

Thanks to Amy Doll and Eriko Kojima for edits and proofing.
Thanks to David Martin for the drone video.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

One Growing Season - in 48 Consecutive Images


“The prararies in the summer present one vast natural garden of delights spreding before the aye such a butiful and varagated senery decked with flowers of evry shape, sise, hugh, that they that could not admire them must be destitute of a sence of beauty and elegance.”

The spelling is iffy. But this 1839 letter from James and Sarah Smith, captured the prairie. The rest of that letter is about commerce, sickness, relatives, hard work, and land prices (see Endnote 1). But forever, a bit of the ancient grassland lives in those words.


Settlers did not leave us photos, or drawings, or even much prairie itself. But haunting, suggestive descriptions from many let us know that the writers recognized something beyond the experience of Europeans and easterners - the tallgrass prairies, savannas, and woodlands - richest natural ecosystem of the temperate world. But, indeed, they would understand it and see it less and less as the decades passed. In recent years, restoration has begun to reveal nearly-lost, ancient nature once again. 

A first photo below may suggest what the 1839 language sought to convey. 

White - wild quinine. Yellow - black-eyed Susan. Orange - butterfly-weed. Wide leaves - prairie dock. The grass here is mostly Indiangrass and prairie dropseed.

The rest of this post shows a year at Somme Prairie Grove, a prairie-savanna-woodland ecosystem trying to recover something nearly lost from the Earth. (Really? Lost from the planet? See Endnote 2.)

Now, The Post Itself
One Growing Season of Images from Somme Prairie Grove
Seven Months in a Restored Grassland Garden of Eden

Every year, April gives us a snowstorm or two.

The early plants are not fazed. 
This one is bellwort. 

We stewards aren't fazed either. Snow doesn't stop us. 
Month by month, year by year, the deadly invasives retreat and burn.

April 12 - in the woods
Bloodroot in bloom. 
The thin leaves are Toothwort, which will bloom next.
The big leaves are Wild Leek, which won't bloom till mid-summer. 

April 28 - in the woods
In the woodland, the early plants are in full swing.
Toothwort blooms by the hundreds.
Bloodroot long past bloom, one lobed leaf showing here at bottom of photo.
Yellow woodland violet blooming in center with wrinkled leaves. 
The woodland blooms weeks before the prairie and open savanna. As if the grassland were scared of a late fire. Woodland wildflowers get much photosynthesis done before the leaves appear on the trees to capture most light. 

May 3 - in the savanna
In the nearby grassland, early bloomers rise just an inch or three from the ground. Here: the rare Prairie Violet (note blue flowers and deeply cut leaves) and the five-petaled Violet Wood Sorrel, a rare plant of of fine woodlands, savannas, and prairies. 

May 7 - in the woods
Blooming: Bellwort (yellow) and Large White Trillium. 
Leaves of Wild Leek, Cow Parsnip, Toothwort, and Penn Sedge. 

May 12 - in the woods
Shown above: Rue Anemone (white), Yellow Woodland Violet (yellow), and the leaves of Shooting Star, appearing huge here, next to sweet little rue and violet. 

May 14 - in the prairie
Oh how agonizingly slowly emerges the prairie.
We - for inspiration by the miracles of life - in early May mostly remain in the woodland.
Yet, there's much to learn in this photo.
The big wide leaves are Shooting Star, soon to bloom.
The clusters of small wide leaves nearby are young Shooting Stars.
Most of these too-dense plants won't survive to adulthood; they live for a while where the seed of the mother plant fells densely. As this is a young restoration (only four decades old), it's still in the early stages of diversity re-establishing itself, a slow process, profound and awesome to watch.   

A companion to the photo above - in the prairie or open savanna.
Here Prairie Violet is everywhere - but Shooting Star nowhere.
One hundred years from now it seems reasonable to predict that both plants will be in every square yard, or at least in every square meter, if we're metric by then. 
These species are that common in fine prairie and open savanna.
Other species visible here, indicating progress toward recovery, include Bastard Toadflax, Compass Plant, Prairie Dropseed, and Rough Blazing Star. 
There's also wild strawberry, Indiangrass, and rigid goldenrod, which are nothing to write home about, but do contribute to diversity in the long run. 

A Note on Dates
These photos are dated when I have the dates handy. They're the real dates of these photos. But don't expect them to be accurate for all years. Bloom dates differ from year to year and place to place, partly in response to that year's weather, partly in response to landforms (for example south-facing slopes bloom before north-facing) and recent fire history: a burned prairie emerges and blooms a couple of weeks earlier than when unburned. 

A Note on Animals
This post focuses on the vegetation.
Occasional photos of animals (like this Eastern Bluebird) are reminders that animals, fungi, rare bacteria, and all manner of other biota worth conserving thrive in this recovering habitat.

May 17 - in the prairie 
Small White Ladyslipper blooming with Violet Wood Sorrel and Yellow Stargrass.
In a good season, this lady-slipper clump would have a dozen blooms. This year it had one. 
The previous growing season presented two challenges, no burn and poor rains during the lady-slipper's prime growing season. 
Next year we may well see it at full strength again. 

May 26 - in the savanna
Shooting Star 

May 27
Hoary Puccoon (yellow-orange), Bastard Toadflax (white), and Blue-eyed Grass (pale blue).
Leaves of Prairie Violet, Prairie Rose, and Prairie Dropseed Grass.

Wild Columbine (red) grows mostly in the dappled shade of the savanna.
Golden Alexanders (yellow) grows in prairie, savanna, and woods. 

May 29
Violet Wood Sorrel and Yellow Stargrass in bloom, both happy in prairie, savanna, or woodland.
The carrot-looking leaves to the right belong to the less-broadly-adapted Thicket Parsley, telling us that this photo is from open woods. 

As Shooting Star begins to mature seed, the burly Cream False Indigo bursts up, fully formed when the shoots leave the ground and the leaves and flowers quickly unfurl.  

June 8 
Cream False Indigo and Downy Phlox

Canada Anemone, Wild Geranium, and slithering vine of River Grape.
In the savanna, vines mix with wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees.  

June 9 - in the savanna
Purple Twayblade orchid 

June 25 - in open savanna
Prairie Lily is one of the most conservative prairie and savanna plants. 
Few prairies today have even one.

Guantanamo For Conservatives
The rarity of some species may be caused in part by our region's out-of-balance deer populations. Some species are so sought by deer, that every plant gets eaten entirely. Their roots survive, but not forever, with that assault annually. We cage them, reluctantly, with two potential hopes. The first is that our culture will increasingly decide that we need to substantially reduce excessive deer populations. The second is that we can foster population increases of the rare plants to such a level that the deer can't eat them all. Actually, we hope for both. See Endnotes 3 and 4.  

In 2007, two prairie lilies bloomed in Somme Prairie. We started caging and propagating.
Numbers in Somme Prairie Grove are up from zero in 2002, when we first planted them, to more than 50 plants in bloom last year.
One of them, shown above, blooms with Prairie Coreopsis, Leadplant, and Wild Quinine.
Leaves of Compasplant, Prairie Dock, Indiangrass, and Prairie Dropseed. 

June 28
Dead trees in the background are likely invasive species, killed by fire.
On the left are burned, shrubby clumps of Hill's Oak - a species that is natural in the savanna but tends to frequently burn off and start over.
In the savanna, scattered fire-surviving trees (mostly Bur Oaks) leave plenty of light for other vegetation.
Blooming above, from the bottom, Leadplant, Black-eyed Susan, Butterflyweed, Wild Quinine, and Compasplant. 

July 4
Prairie White-fringed Orchid

July 9
Mating Great Spangled Fritillaries.
Caterpillars of this savanna species feed on the leaves of violets.
Adults seem to love the nectar of any beautiful flower. 

Purple Milkweed is one the Fritillary's favorites. 

July 10
Purple Prairie Clover (pink), Early Goldenrod (yellow), Mountain Mint (white), and Wild Bergamot (lavender) blooming among Prairie Dropseed grass. Leadplant was purple, now making seeds, and looking kind of gray. 

July 10
In the foreground is a big Compassplant. But the stars of this photo are the prairie clovers. Purple Prairie Clover is a rare and conservative plant. But White Prairie Clover is a very rare and conservative plant. A gratifying triumph of the Somme Prairie Grove restoration is the fact that the quality plants year after year get more abundant. White Prairie Clover started very slow. We had found very little seed. But bit by bit, year by year, it has flourished and spread.  

This photo deserves the longer comments below, as it shows three important features of the site. 

On the right is the Inner Loop footpath. If you like "being in nature" - these paths may be for you. If you prefer a wide mowed or paved trail, well, what can we say?

On the near horizon is a strip of large trees. Those planted trees are unnatural to this site. In recent years we've spent time gradually thinning them to savanna density and encouraging young bur oaks there. Dense trees are common in untended wild lands. The tallgrass savanna, with its well-spaced trees and associated species, is globally rare, barely at the level of sustainability. Expanding this savanna habitat (and thus increasing the populations of savanna plants, animals, and other biota) is a priority for us and for global conservation generally. Endnote 2 has more on this. 

A third feature is visible through that little gap between the trees. Prairie begins toward the west edge of Somme Prairie Grove (see aerial photo, below)  and continues beyond it through Somme Prairie on the west. Especially for species that need more than one habitat, the combined presence of prairie, savanna, and woodland here is an important feature of these three preserves.

As Greg Spyreas put it in a publication of the Illinois Natural History Survey:
Narrow foot trails that cover 3.5 miles through Somme Prairie Grove's 85 acres (east of the train tracks), pass through hazelnut and viburnum thickets, with ancient bur and scarlet oaks overhead, and purple Joe-pye-weed and bottlebrush grass below. At Somme Prairie (70 acres, west of the tracks) the sharp, green boundary between the best preserved prairie and the grassier, less diverse sections illustrates where the prairie lost wildflower species after years of farming ... Excellent trail guides to these areas can be found online. Along with the 250-acre Somme Woods Forest to the east, the slow return to health with prescribed fire, seeding reintroductions, and invasive species removal in this preserve has been breathtaking to behold.

If you don't know the site, this aerial might be helpful. Somme Prairie (originally all prairie) is on the left, behind the Northbrook Post Office. East of the railroad tracks is Somme Prairie Grove (originally mostly savanna). East of Waukegan Road is the larger Somme Woods (originally savanna in its western third and mostly woodlands to the east).

July 13
Illinois Rose
Blooming in impenetrable thickets near the edges of woodlands. 

July 13 - in the savanna
New Jersey Tea (white, top left) blooms with Butterflyweed, Wild Quinine, and Leadplant.
Foliage includes Cream Gentian, Hill's Oak, Prairie Dropseed, Kalm's Brome, Tall Coreopsis, Woodland Sunflower, and Meadow Rue.

In open savanna.
Above, starting close and working back:
Leadplant, Wild Quinine, Butterflyweed, Rattlesnake Master, Black-eyed Susan, and Early Goldenrod.

Canada Milk Vetch blooms in open savanna near the edge of the woodland.  

Compass Plant, Gayfeather, Rattlesnake Master, Mountain Mint, Early Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susan, Wild Bergamot, Big bluestem.

July 24
Purple Prairie Clover, Rattlesnake Master, and the dainty Early Goldenrod.
Somme has fifteen species of goldenrods. Only one is a big weedy pest. 
The conservative ones deserve more appreciation than they often get. 

July 31
Tiger Swallowtail on Rattlesnake Master.
Its caterpillars eat the leaves of willows, cottonwoods, and cherries.

 Vestal Grove
Woodland Joe Pye Weed, Woodland Sunflower, Bur Oak.

August 12
In young wet-mesic prairie.
Sweet Black-eyed Susan (yellow) blooms with Culver's Root (white), Ironweed (purple), and Riverbank Wild Rye (pale green). It's colorful but a bit rank. It will become more diverse in conservative species - and more restrained and complex in structure - in time.

Near the previous photo, the prairie merges into the savanna.
In bloom: Cowbane (white), Spotted Joe Pye Weed (pink), Sweet Black-eyed Susan (yellow). 
The closest tree is an elm. Those on the ridge are Hill's oaks. 

August 24

Forked Aster (an Endangered species)

As with goldenrods, there are more species of aster than most people have the patience to learn.

Some are white, some pink, some blue.

Once you've learned them though, they do enrich. 

September 1

Forked Aster blooms among Elm-leaved Goldenrod, Purple Joe Pye Weed, Woodland Brome, and Tall Coreopsis.

September 11
Now the Indiangrass and Big Bluestem have reached their heights. 
We feel somber as the growing season is heading for its close.

September 24
Prairie Gentian. 
A last glorious bloom of the prairie and savanna year.

The Bur Oak (bare branches, left) drops its leaves as fall starts. Hill's (or Scarlet) Oak keeps its leaves all winter. There are contrasting strategies here. Bur oak leaves accumulating on the ground are fuel; they increase the chances that the area of that bur oak will burn. Fire is the main weapon the thick-barked bur oak uses to protect itself from overgrowth by other species of trees - none of which the bur can compete with in the absence of fire. Hill's oak has thin bark and is "top-killed" easily by a burn. By keeping its leaves off the ground, a Hill's oak may be spared injury by a creeping ground fire. But a vigorous fire will burn the whole tree - and anything above it - which is also of benefit to the Hill's oak. It too cannot compete well against most other species of trees. But it is a champion re-sprouter after fire. Hill's oaks on the savanna may live for decades as re-sprout oak bushes, like the many re-sprout clumps in this photo. Occasionally, chance occurrences allow one to graduate to life as a bigger tree, for a while. 

October 22

Nearly ready for a burn, whether in fall or the following spring.

Prairie Dropseed grass is known by its big clumps of very fine leaves. 

Little Bluestems are the reddish clumps. 

All the prairie, savanna, and woodland wildflowers are now fuel.

Many of us, every year, are deeply moved by the expression of planetary richness that is offered by the preserved and restored ecosystems of the tallgrass region. To paraphrase the 1839 letter that launched this post, it's a great pleasure for us to share this "butiful and varagated senery" with all who are not "destitute of a sence of beauty and elegance."

It's been a rich and miracle-filled growing season. Indeed, they all are. 


Endnote 1. 

The letter quoted at the beginning is all the more compelling in context of the challenges faced by the new immigrants. From James and Sarah Smith, postmarked Elkhorn Grove, Illinois, 1839:


Boonsborough, Washington County, Md.

Dear Brother, I once more take up my pen to give you some information of our afairs and the far west to which we have straid. We landed at Savanna with father the time I toled you in my last; he landed with $500 and his mair, waggon, and harness which he soled for $165 more making in all a capitol of $665; his 300 acres of land he intended to get has dwindled down to about 3/4 of an acre one of which he proffered me but I declined accepting it thinking he would kneed it himself if he lived to get olde. He built himself a log house on one of his lots into which he moved the 7th. of July without a cent to bless himself and to cap the monstrous climax he and mother ware maried the 1st of Jan. last. You may ask me what I have done (who landed with only one dollar in my pocket and $30.00 of olde debts on me) Well I will tell you I began to work, and as I worked I lived in the olde fashion way from hand to mouth at the following rates, flour $10 per barrel, bacon 14 cts, per lb. beef 9 and mutton 7 and notwithstanding we had four months sickness (dureing which time I was doctor, nurse and cook) we still live to the preys of him whose tender mercies are over all his works, and eat our own corn and pork In addition to that I have 35 acres of prararie as good as any man could wish every foot of which can be cultivated without the annoyance of stump or stone and 5 of timber and a good log caben all for $60 most of which is paid.

I also have 10 lots in Elkhorn city at 125 dollars on a credit of two years to pay it in. We moved to this grove the 2 of Jan. Since that time we have been in good health. Sarah Ann weighs 120 lbs. and I 183 sinse we came to this place we have done better than we ever did in twice the time before. Respecting our country I am afraid to say anything lest I should not be believed; however I will venture an expression of opinion. The prararies in the summer present one vast natural garden of delights spreding before the aye sush a butiful and varagated senery decked with flowers of evry shape, sise, and hugh, that he that could not admire them must be destitute of a sence of beauty and elegance.

Levina has got 5 acres of timber and 5 of prararie for 30 dollars and the prararie broke for her bed. She has lived with us all winter within 4 weeks back when she went out for work for $2 per week. Father and mother are well ...

Endnote 2. 

Really? These ecosystems are nearly lost from the planet? What technically is the status of the tallgrass ecosystems? 

There exists in "The Prairie State" no very high quality prairie on good soil that is bigger than a few acres. A grassland that small is probably not sustainable as a rich ecosystem, as it misses most of its interdependent animals, especially pollinators and insect predators. It's also too small for many needed evolutionary processes that are needed to deal with climate change, acid rain, fragmentation, disease, etc. Efforts are under way at many preserves to restore as much surrounding acreage as possible to foster sustainably large populations and the capacity for continued evolution. 

Large areas of sand prairie and sand savanna survive, and heroic efforts rightfully continue to conserve them too, as fully as possible. But this post concerns "black soil" or "rich soil" ecosystems, which once covered most of the state - but now are so much rarer. 

In even worse shape than the prairie, high quality black-soil savanna is entirely gone. But substantial acreages of degraded remnants survive. Four decades of restoration at Somme Prairie Grove Nature Preserve suggest that a great deal of the biota can revive with good care. Most of the photos in this post are from the savanna portions of that prairie-savanna-woodland complex. 

High quality oak woodland of the tallgrass region is so rare that it has been considered by The Nature Conservancy, NatureServ, and others to be our region's only "G1S1" Globally Endangered Ecosystem. Large areas of degraded former oak woodland survive and very much deserve appreciation and restoration. 

Endnote 3
Some of the species that suffer badly from excessive browsing by white-tailed deer:
Prairie lily
Prairie white-fringed orchid
Prairie lady-slipper
Prairie gentian
Fringed gentian
Eared False Foxglove
Veiny pea
Bur oak reproduction

Endnote 4
What should be done about deer? In the absence of wolves and mountain lions, there does not seem to be any practical alternative to culling them, despite opposition expressed by some. Congratulations to Village of Northbrook and Cook County Forest Preserves for their deer-control programs. Congratulations to Lake County Forest Preserves for establishing a model of transparency and public education. All deer culled for population control by public agencies in Illinois are prepared for distribution through food banks to people who need better nutrition than they can afford. 


Thanks to the staff of the Cook County Forest Preserves for doing the controlled burns and generally being great partners with the volunteer stewards in the restoration of the Somme preserves.
Thanks to Lisa Musgrave for the photo of the eastern bluebird on the bur oak branch.
Thanks to Eriko Kojima for proofing and edits.