Saturday, June 26, 2021

Savanna Legally Saved - Press Release - and Photos

After more than 40 years of often technically demanding work, mostly by volunteers, this blog is proud to present the following news - a Forest Preserve press release, as picked up by the Daily Herald. 

The color photos and captions were added by us.

Somme Prairie Grove receives highest legal protection as Illinois Nature Preserve 

In the Daily Herald - from a release submitted by Cook County Forest Preserves 
June 23, 2021 

The Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution this week recognizing Somme Prairie Grove as the 27th dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve managed by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. 
The light was beautiful yesterday, after the rain ...
... as if to celebrate this press release by Forest Preserve board and staff.
So, all these photos were taken yesterday. 
Somme Prairie Grove near Northbrook offers 85 acres of high-quality mesic savanna and dry mesic woodland. The site supports many conservative native plant species, savanna and shrub land breeding birds. Visitors can explore the site while traversing a network of narrow, unpaved footpaths that meander through the preserve. 
Narrow, unpaved footpaths?
Yes, indeed. Here, on the left, is what they look like. 
Easy to follow - 3.2 miles of them.
See trail guide and map.
Somme Prairie Grove has benefitted from a vibrant stewardship community – led by the North Branch Restoration Project – since 1980 and represents one of the oldest and most comprehensive savanna and woodland restorations in the Midwest. The recovery of Somme Prairie Grove is credited to the longstanding participation of the cohort of dedicated and talented community volunteers. 
What's this dead patch?
Herbicide killed this buckthorn, re-sprouting after last spring's controlled burn. 
We hoped burning alone would gradually kill them.
But buckthorn re-sprouts are still thick in some areas, after 40 years of fire. 
This one (and many like it, thanks to hard-working steward Eriko Kojima) will now be gone for good.
Another kind of steward work.
Here we've scythed woodland sunflower, a species that takes advantage of brush clearance to become so dense, at times, that it kills most of the other vegetation. 

And a close-up of that same area, showing some of what was uncovered.
That big, lobe-y leaf is bloodroot. 
Also visible are surviving asters, snakeroots, and geraniums.
The restoration of an ecosystem is complicated.
When needed, stewards facilitate diversity recovery. 
We find that sometimes a bit of temporary, non-lethal control of this over-exuberant sunflower gives the other species time to make the rich and competitive community that will force the sunflower to "play well with others." 
Stewardship is an ongoing adventure. You're invited, of course. 
Dedication of a site as an Illinois Nature Preserve by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission provides the highest level of protection for the land in Illinois and is granted to natural areas of exceptional ecological quality. The Forest Preserves manages 27 nature preserves – the most of any entity in Illinois except for the state itself – as well as five Land and Water Reserves. The addition of Somme Prairie Grove brings the forest Preserves’ total Illinois Nature Preserve protected lands to approximately 10,405 acres. 
So are you wondering how this savanna got to be so rich in flowers and grasses?
None of the plants in the above photo were in this part of the preserve (or in most of it) when we started in 1980. Indeed, most were not in this preserve at all.
We found their seeds in nearby "remnants" - along railroad tracks or the edges of mowed trails, where there was enough light for them to survive.
During the last four decades, most of these seed sources were lost - to development, herbicide, or the deadly increasing shade and competition of invasive species.
This was a rescue, reconstruction, and restoration of an ecosystem.
As for the colors above, the orange is butterfly weed, white is wild quinine, big leaves are prairie dock, yellow is black-eyed Susan, and the dense clumps of fine grass are prairie dropseed. These are five of the 490 native (mostly rare) plant species now known from this preserve.  

Since 2011, the Forest Preserve has dedicated five new Nature Preserves, additional acreage at one Nature Preserve, and three new Land and Water Reserves – meaning 18 percent of the Forest Preserves’ dedicated Nature Preserves and 23 percent of Nature Preserve acreage hves been done in the last 10 years. The Forest Preserve’s Next Century Conservation Plan seeks to dedicate and register 20,000 acres with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

Here ends the press release from the Cook County Forest Preserves

For details of the dedication from the Forest Preserves' proposal to the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, click here.


Thanks to Eriko Kojima for proofing and edits. 


David Eubanks said...

One of the best restoration stories ever. Congrats on a crowning achievement with Illinois Nature Preserve status reserved only for the highest quality natural areas in the state. Awesome example of the power of guided volunteers. Magnificent level of commitment and communication. Having hiked the site many times with my daughter, I think the Gods are happy.

Stephen Packard said...

To Dave Eubanks:

Thanks for the generous and compelling comment. I was struck by the reference to "guided volunteers." People who struggle to improve our language are doing valuable work. Do we have "leaders" and "followers" at Somme? It doesn't appear that way to me. But just the word "volunteers" by itself can raise eyebrows. I can remember a misinformed newspaper writer raising hue and cry about "volunteers out in the woods setting fires."

Recently on "What Could Possibly Go Right?" I heard a fellow explaining how we in community are not looking for "leaders" but instead for catalysts. People as catalysts. I liked that.

Somme has benefitted from people with great varieties of expertise, skills, and dedications. Credit goes to a community that includes volunteers and staff, many institutions, and especially, of course, the resilience of biodiversity, when given a chance.