February 2016

Work Days Get Productive With Lots of Help

Valentine's work day 2016
The last few work days have been highly productive for PHNRC and the volunteers. "We have had an influx of new volunteers that we do not normally see," said Commissioner Dana Sievertson. "Our first work day in February, we had Scouts from Troop 166 of Arlington Heights and their parents show up and that made a big difference to the amount of work we were able to accomplish. Our Valentine's work day was just one big surprise as the morning started early with a guest visit from the Jail Bars Jeep Club, who showed up to help chainsaw buckthorn.
Commissioner Wojnarski with members of Jail Bars Jeep Club
"I have been one of the regular chainsaw guys with the commission for over a year now, said local resident Tim Dela Riva. "I thought I would be cool to round up some of the guys from the jeep club and get them to come down and give us a hand. I wanted to surprise the commission with a labor force." And surprise they did as they rolled into the parking lot in formation and immediately laid the buckthorn to waste. 

As the regular volunteers began to show up, we were surprised again when Troop 166 Scoutmaster Master Matthew Hahn showed up with his entire family and a couple of scouts. "They were a well oiled machine, they made quick work of burning everything the Jail Bars had cut down earlier," commented commissioner Peter Hahn.

After having completed a year and a half long project of invasive buckthorn removal at the Prospect Heights Slough in January, the PHNRC moved on to the next phase of activities, invasive buckthorn removal near the sports complex at the Gary Morava Center.

“Although it may seem that all we do is remove buckthorn, the cold winter season is the optimal time to do so. Removing invasive plants is extremely important to restore biodiversity and buckthorn is just a seasonal undertaking, “ said Commissioner John Kamysz. “It definitely has one of the greatest visual impacts once it has been removed.”

The current work site is roughly two acres in size and is heavily infested with buckthorn that is choking out any possibility of native regeneration. Predominately a woodland area adjacent to the Park District parking lot, the area gives a quick rise to a hill that falls more gradually on the other side down into the tributary creek that directly feeds the Slough and Hillcrest Lake. Heavy erosion exists for much of the creek bank as a result of nothing in the understory to absorb the runoff. "That is an issue we be resolving in the restoration of this area," commented PHNRC Chairperson Agnes Wojnarski. We will reseed this area with native woodland grasses and native plantings on the creek bank," she explained. “This current phase is all part of the PHNRC plan to restore the tributary watershed and reduce excessive nutrient loads from entering the watershed."

John McCabe Heats Up A Cold Night

Photo courtesy of Joe Occhiuzzo

On January 26, 2016, John McCabe, Director of the Department of Resource Management for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County gave his presentation entitled “Fire and the Forest Preserves of Cook County” to a large crowd of hearty souls who braved a cold January night. Needless to say, it was very warmly received. "John is an intensely focused guy with great attention for every detail," remarked one resident. "He seems like the perfect man for this job. It explains why you never hear about Forest Preserve fires getting out of control." 

It was a packed Borland Room at the Prospect Heights Public Library, as residents, stewards and environmentalists from the chicagoland area came to listen about the history behind prescribed fire and how it is safely and effectively employed across the forest preserves. Several residents had commented that they had no idea how much preparation went into scheduling and executing a prescribed burn. McCabe's presentation made use of exquisite burn photographs while the drone photographs put it all into perspective.

"I think the residents of Prospect Heights can now understand how burning in Prospect Heights is possible," said PHNRC commissioner Dana Sievertson. "When you see all of the information that is collected and processed, all the thought that goes into the decision to make a prescribed burn, it seems more like rocket science."

Representatives of the Park District came to show their support. Newly appointed Park District Executive Director, Christina Ferraro was impressed with the attendance and the presentation. "John McCabe's  presentation was very educational, remarked Ferraro. "He enthusiastically presented the history behind prescribed fire in urban settings.  Some attendees naturally had questions about burning practices and I feel Mr. McCabe did an outstanding job explaining his experiences,  the facts and the benefits of the practice."

McCabe is recognized as an expert in conducting prescribed burns in the urban environment and is a lead instructor for the Chicago Wilderness Midwest Ecological Prescription Burn Crew Member training course, which several PHNRC Commissioners will be taking in February.

The presentation was extremely informative, useful and comforting and the perfect way to heat up a cold winter night! 

Doug Taron Up Next for Nature Speaks

Doug Taron, Curator of Biology and Vice President of Research and Conservation at the Chicago Academy of Sciences' Peggy Notebaert Museum, is the next speaker in the Nature Speaks potent lineup of guest speakers.

As a leading expert on butterflies, his dazzling presentation "Butterflies of the American Prairie", April 19th, 2016, will surely be a spring highlight. Space is limited, admission is free. Registration is necessary and now officially open. Click here to register.  

Mr. Taron manages the 2,700 square-foot Judy Istock Butterfly Haven; oversees management of the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ collections; and heads the institution’s insect conservation biology research.  His presentation will explore the butterfly species of northeastern Illinois, their life cycles, and their ecology, with special emphasis on the relationship between caterpillar food plants and habitat.
Photos courtesy of Doug Taron

Nature Speaks will take place at the Prospect Heights public library in the Borland Meeting Room and starts promptly at 7:00. Complete information about Nature Speaks can be found on our website at
Nature Speaks is also very proud to announce the  newest addition to our speaker lineup, Chris Anchor and when Chris Anchor speaks, animals listen!

Chris Anchor's presentation entitled "The Forest Preserve District 
of Cook County Wildlife Division; What We Do", (June 22, 2016) is an overview of wildlife and wildlife habitat management over the past three decades. The District Wildlife Division is tasked with monitoring and surveying all of Cook Counties Flora and Fauna less Game Fish.

Chris Anchor is the Senior Wildlife Biologist for the Forest Preserves 
of Cook County. He has nearly 30 years of experience as a wildlife biologist and has spent much of that time observing the animals that make the forest preserves their home.  

Visit the Nature Speaks page on our website.

PHNRC and Park District Announce New Classes

PHNRC and the Prospect Heights Park District are once again teaming up to bring residents a slate of spring, summer and fall classes with a focus on nature and natural resources.

New this year is the inclusion of two classes for children. "We were looking to expand our reach and be more inclusive this year," said PHNRC Chairperson Agnes Wojnarski. "We need to get the younger residents of Prospects Heights involved earlier in the natural world that surrounds them. Creating classes specifically for children will provide a wonderful opportunity to get kids and families interested.  We hope that these classes will spark an interest and love of the environment in the young minds of the community. At the end of the day, that is what makes it sustainable," concluded Wojnarski.

All details, times and costs will be finalized on the Park District website in March for the spring and summer classes. The fall line up is yet to be determined. 
Beginning Birder Walks 
Learn where to look for birds in your community and how to adjust binoculars for your eyes. Join expert birders from the Bird Conservation Network as we walk around the Slough experiencing the wonder of birds and learning how to spot birds and identify them. Children welcome with adults.Please bring binoculars if you have them and dress for the weather. We will meet at Gary Morava Picnic Shelter and carpool.
Learn to Identify Native Plants
This course will teach you the basics of plant identification and how to unlock the clues of leaves, flowers and fruits. Join botanist Chris Benda on an excursion to Lake Avenue Woods where he will show us the many beautiful species of plants in bloom and how to identify them. Classroom instruction at GMRC followed by a bus ride to the site.
Hop, Skip and Jump
Come out with the entire family and learn about frogs and toads, their habitat, how they develop, what they eat and why they are so beneficial in addition to being everyone’s favorite! The activities will include indoor and outdoor parts with equal parts of fun and learning. Meet at GMRC.
Critters in the Creek
Put on waders, grab a net and a bucket as PHNRC Commissioners go creek wading in search of macroinvertebrates.  These very tiny animals live in the creek under rocks and logs and tell us an important story about how healthy our tributary creek is. Children welcome with adult supervision. Meet at Gary Morava and carpool to the site.
Summer Evening Prairie Walk 
Join restoration ecologist Izabella Redlinski on a walk through the prairie, learning about the natural history of prairies and our remnant sites. Learn the names of important prairie plants and their historical and ecological significance. Classroom instruction provided at GMRC followed by a bus ride to the site. 

Scouts Make Make a Difference 

Scouts from troop 166 in Arlington Heights and their parents became the latest recruits in the PHNRC war on invasive buckthorn. Sponsored by the St. James Women's club, the boys were eager to get out and contribute to the cause.

"Our boys are used to being outdoors and are constantly exposed to Leave No Trace and the principles of the Boy Scouts of America Outdoor Ethics," said Scoutmaster Matthew Hahn. "From my brother's description, (PHNRC Commissioner Peter Hahn) of the work that is being accomplished by the PHNRC, it seemed to be a great tie in for us. I am hoping to get the boys involved to further their knowledge and experience with Leave No Trace and Outdoor Ethics."

The day began with an orientation given by PHNRC Commissioner Dana Sievertson. "After covering administrative duties, we discussed the big picture which is the tributary watershed and how the work we are are doing way over here in the sports complex affects things over at the lake and slough," he said. After reviewing safety procedures, the scouts were turned over to Commissioner Agnes Wojnarski for a quick course in invasives identification. 

"At the end of the day the Scouts had participated in one of the most productive work days in our history," explained Commissioner Marcia Jendreas. "These guys really came to work and made a big difference in the work that got done." 
The day concluded with the traditional Kielbasa roast and smiles all around. 

"Two of the Scouts gave an overview of the work accomplished on Sunday at our just concluded troop meeting, explained Scoutmaster Hahn. "Their feedback was very positive; it is my intent to encourage even more participation from our troop.  The other Scouts in the troop were quite impressed with their knowledge of the invasive species."
Area with buckthorn                                                           Area with buckthorn removed

Why is Buckthorn So Bad ?

What is it about buckthorn that makes everyone so intent on removing it?

Buckthorn is an invasive, non-native shrub or small tree that was introduced to North America from England during the 1800’s. Buckthorn was planted as an easy growing hedge but has since escaped into virtually every corner of our state and others.  It occupies acres and acres of Forest Preserves and natural areas everywhere. Once you know what it looks like, you will start to see it everywhere.  More than likely, even in your very own backyard!

Buckthorn chokes out all of the native vegetation that used to be predominant in our woodlands, savannahs and natural areas. It has no natural predators because it comes from an area outside of its natural range. As such, it has developed the capabilities to bully everything else and take over.

Photo courtesy of Jack Pizzo of Pizzo and Associates
Buckthorn starts to leaf out earlier that all of the other native tree and shrub species, as well as all of the spring ephemerals and plants that depend on the sunlight before trees expose their leaves .  As a result, all of the plants that find themselves in the understory of buckthorn can’t grow and eventually die away.  What is left behind is bare soil under buckthorn thickets, allowing it to spread and choke out even more. Bare soil that no longer contains the long rooted native plants that stabilized and filtered storm water before a buckthorn invasion causes the further erosion of soils.

Near wetlands, buckthorn produces chemicals that enter the soil and cause the death of amphibian eggs. It produces a chemical that causes diarrhea in birds, hence the botanical name of common buckthorn is Rhamnus cathartica. In this way, it is very easily spread to nearby areas. The seeds can be viable for years in the soil.

Buckthorn can tolerate shade, full-sun, drought and bad soil, so it can thrive just about anywhere.

The leaves, berries and thorns are distinctive in the summer, although only female trees have berries, as buckthorn is dioecious. In the winter months, the arrangement of the buds and twigs can be a very good clue to identification. Buckthorn has “subopposite” buds and twigs, so they are just a little off from being opposite to each other. There are some exceptions, especially at the tip, where there is often a thorn between the buds. Most of the other shrubs and small trees that may look like buckthorn has alternate buds and twigs. 
Buckthorn is detrimental to the health and future of our woodlands, prairies, wetlands and parks because is takes over large areas destroying wildlife habitat and food sources.  It out competes other important native plants that we need for a stable, healthy ecosystem.  Click here for more information.

So get out your loppers and get rid of that buckthorn!!!
Copyright © 2016 Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission, All rights reserved.

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