Trees may be root of some evil Critics appalled by clearing at Spring Creek, but experts say trees must go that aren"t native to forest preserve
Monday, April 17, 2006
by Andrew Schroedter
Oak and ash trees are just some of the species that have been cut down at Cook County’s Spring Creek Forest Preserve.
Silver maple and cottonwood trees also have met the buzz saw.
One group of environmentalists contends the cuttings are necessary to restore the property’s ecosystem.
But others — including the director of a South Barrington nature center and neighboring horse farmers — disagree.
They worry that when the trees go, so will birds and other wildlife. Riders will lose their shade, and coyotes and deer looking for food will wander into backyards and onto roadways.
DANIEL WHITE/DAILY HERALD
Tom Vanderpoel of Barrington is among the environmentalists who say cutting down trees at Spring Creek Forest Preserve is necessary to restore the 3,910-acre property.
The 3,910-acre forest preserve, located near Barrington Hills, originally was a confluence of savannas, woodlands, prairie and wetlands.
Over time, some of those habitats have given way to invasive tree species such as box elder and buck thorn that have grown to 15 feet tall in some areas. Oak trees also are considered invasive in prairies, which consist mostly of tall grass.
The trees keep sunlight from reaching the ground, and native plants and shrubs die out.
Birds fly away. So do butterflies and other insects.
“You hate to lose any trees but it is a necessary evil,” said Stephen Packard, director of Chicago-Audubon Region.
“These trees are not native to the ecosystem at Spring Creek Forest Preserve,” said Tom Vanderpoel, chairman of restoration for the Barrington-based Citizens of Conservation. “That’s the reason they’re being removed. This is not an arbitrary thing.”
But nearby residents, many of whom ride horses on forest preserve trails, can’t understand why trees have fallen.
They say they understand the land needs to be restored. But why target oaks, some of which were planted by the forest preserve district in the 1960s and ’70s?
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine they would cut down oak trees,” said Mark Spreyer, director of South Barrington’s Stillman Nature Center.
“We’re hysterical,” said Charlene Christian, owner of KC Farms in Barrington Hills. “There’s no longer one section of forest left. They keep taking more and more out.”
Vanderpoel said he didn’t know how much the Spring Creek restoration would eventually cost, though grants, including one from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will help.
Citizens for Conservation, the Cook County Forest Preserve District and Audubon-Chicago Region are among the groups supporting the project, now in its second year.
All together, workers have removed invasive trees and shrubs from about 30 acres.
That means another 3,880 or so acres still need work.
Vanderpoel said the project could take decades to complete.
“It’s a long-term process of turning it into a healthy ecosystem,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight.”
Christian and others wish it wouldn’t happen at all.
“I thought it was terrible that they took those woods out,” said Lynn Bradshaw of Inverness. “There’s a lot of animals that use those woods.”
Bradshaw said she’s ridden horses on the Spring Creek trails since the mid-1990s.
With the trees gone in some parts, she worried the riders now lack protection from the sun and wind.
Christian worried that coyotes and deer would move toward homes and horse farms now that the woods are shrinking.
“It really is a danger,” Christian said. “They have nowhere to go.”
Vanderpoel said animals will not be displaced because of the restoration.
“We’ll create tremendous habitats for all the species,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re doing it. The coyotes will be just fine. There will be plenty of deer.”
Karen Selman, president of the Riding Club of Barrington Hills, said her members support the restoration.
“We’re very aware of the deterioration of the landscape that has taken place because of these invasive species,” she said. “It’s alarming.”
“It’s imperative that we get moving on this,” Vanderpoel said. “Every day, every week, the ecosystem degrades even more.”