A friend of mine in New Mexico is descended from a Spanish family that has been in Albuquerque since 1593. His ancestors were among the first settlers given land grants by the church when Spain first settled that area. Wow. Four hundred and twenty-one years ago. Nearly 200 years before the United States was founded.
New Mexico was the 48th state to enter the union in 1912, almost 100 years after Illinois entered in 1818. In 1818, New Mexico was still part of (old) Mexico!
And, as long ago as that all seems from 2014, there is a city in New Mexico that has been inhabited by Native Americans since about 1200 AD. Old Acoma (Sky City) sits on the top of a 365 foot tall mesa, and while only 15 or so people live there year-round today, the Pueblo was home to hundreds of people for hundreds of years. (The photo was taken from the Acoma Sky City).
But, even 800 years is a drop in the bucket in comparison to forever.
There's an oak tree at Gateway Park in Harvard that is at least 400 years old. That oak was possibly there when my friend’s family settled in New Mexico! I wonder how many oaks were there on the property in 1593 when that one first sprouted. How many 100s of years had oak trees grown on that land? 500? 5,000?
And what about the wetland at Gateway Park? How many hundreds or thousands of years was it filled with swamp milkweed, sedges, bullrushes and all of the insects, birds and other wildlife that are coming back to the area now. The rich, deep, organic soils indicate that they were formed over thousands of years of plant growth and decay in a wet environment. Those kinds of soils don’t develop rapidly.
You get the gist. Do we measure forever based on our lifetimes? An oak's lifetime? The length of time it takes soil to form? The "life" of a Country?
I've never visited them, but I know that some of the Pyramids in Egypt are more than 4,000 years old. A quick Internet search told me that the oldest structure discovered to date is a temple in Turkey that is more than 11,000 years old! Is that forever?
I'm thinking about this because forever is a word that we use a lot when we talk about our work at The Land Conservancy. We promise to preserve land forever - we don't say we'll preserve it for 100 years, 1,000 years, or 11,000 years, but forever.
Synonyms for forever include everlasting, infinity, and "until the end of time." The dictionary definition includes the phrases "without end," "for a very long time" and "incessantly."
Well, I don't know what you think, but I could probably go on and on about forever until I'm blue in the face, but all things considered, it might be better to wait until the cows come home. Just don't wait until hell freezes over - that would really feel like eternity!
Over the past 544 million years, Earth's had five major extinction events. A major extinction is one where between 70% and 90% of all species on the planet are lost – never to be seen again. Each of the five was caused by a cataclysmic event – like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs when it slammed into the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago.
Over most of the time since the dinosaurs’ demise, the total number of species on the planet steadily increased. That is, until about 60,000 years ago when the Anthropocene – “Age of Man” - began.
Since humans came on the scene, species diversity, aka biodiversity, has trended downward, but in the last 500 years, the pace of extinctions has accelerated dramatically. Now, the planet stands poised on the brink of its sixth major extinction event, only this one will be caused by just one species – Homo sapiens – us.
According to a recent article in Time magazine, 25% of species on the planet have gone extinct in the last 500 years. At this time, over a third of remaining species are at high risk of extinction. For some groups of species, more than one-third are at risk – over 40% of amphibians (e.g. frogs and toads) are likely to die off, as are 100% of crickets and grasshoppers! ALL crickets and grasshoppers!
Sometimes, extinction occurs because humans kill the animals (e.g. the Western black rhino, which numbered over one-million in 1900, was declared extinct in 2011 due in large part to poaching for their horns).
Many times, species die because habitat is destroyed or altered to the point where they cannot survive. Structures, like roads, and fragment habitat prevent species from reproducing, so they die out over time. Swamps are “improved” by draining them, and the frogs, turtles, birds and insects that called them home literally dry up and disappear.
While humans may be the problem, there is also the opportunity for us to be the solution.
A recent article in Smithsonian Magazine suggested setting aside half of the Earth for humans and the other half for the roughly 10 million organisms with whom Homo sapiens shares the planet.
Scientists suggest that biodiversity on Earth could be preserved by a network of large protected areas connected by corridors of habitat equal to half the area of the Earth’s surface that allow species to move safely across the landscape in response to climate change and natural disasters.
Can it be done? Would humans agree to “give up” half the surface of the Earth to the non-human species with whom we share the planet?
Well, let’s look at McHenry County to see what the “half Earth” concept might look like:
McHenry County has more than 390,000 acres of land, so 195,000 acres is half. The Conservation District owns just over 25,000 acres of land, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources owns another 5,000 acres at Moraine Hills and Chain O’Lakes State Parks. Various park districts, TLC lands and privately-owned Nature Preserves add another 3,000 acres, bringing the total to 33,000 acres, or about eight and a half percent of the land area of the county. That leaves another 162,000 acres needed to preserve biodiversity.
162,000 acres is a lot, but consider this – all of the water that humans use in McHenry County comes from aquifers in the ground, and the land area that allows rainwater to soak into those aquifers amounts to 222,000 acres of land, or 57% of the land area of the county.
In other words, if we plan for biodiversity AND human water needs, half the surface area of the county seems quite realistic. When humans realize that their own self-interest is at stake, perhaps there is room for biodiversity?
My husband and I have subscribed to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) service since 2007. For 18-20 weeks during the growing season (typically late June to early October), we receive fresh vegetables grown at a local farm. We like knowing the farmers, and have learned to prepare some vegetables we never would have tried otherwise.
Sometime during the winter, we send the farmer money to reserve our “share” of the coming year’s produce. The upfront payment helps the farmer cover his or her costs to get the crop planted and taken care of until the produce is ready for harvest.
Once a week, during the growing season, we visit the farm and pick up a container of produce.
This year, we decided to try a new CSA: Brook Farm on Lawrence Road just northwest or Harvard. 2014 is the farm’s first year offering a CSA, but the Brooks are not new to farming.
Rich and Sonja Brook have been producing annual flowers and a variety of vegetables at their farm since 1974. For many years, the Brooks have been fixtures at the Woodstock Farmers Market. They were also instrumental in starting the Harvard Farmer’s Market that ran for three years, but was discontinued after the 2013 season.
Four years ago, the Brooks started mentoring a young couple in the farm’s operation: Beth and Vijay Narayanan. Beth grew up in Harvard with the Brook’s daughter and helped out at the farm during her teenage years.
Recently, I sat down with Beth and Vijay to talk about the farm and their experience as young farmers. They are a lovely couple with three young daughters. Vijay grew up in California, and worked in the construction industry before deciding to begin working with the Brooks to learn the business of farming.
Brook Farm is not certified organic, but they do farm sustainably, using cover crops and applying compost to the fields. On a case by case basis, they treat specific crops for specific pests – but only if they can do so safely with an end result that they will eat themselves.
Brook Farm sells directly to consumers through the CSA, at both the Woodstock and Lake Geneva Farmers’ Markets, and from the store that is located on the farm. In addition to retail vegetable sales, they sell produce wholesale to several restaurants including Simple Café in Lake Geneva, and make and sell a variety of popcorn flavors that are popped and packaged at the farm.
Beth and Vijay acknowledge that the CSA has been a learning experience. This year, they started with just 30 shares to test the waters. If selling at Farmers’ Markets, they can bring along whatever produce is ready that day. When raising crops for 30 CSA families, they need to be sure that there are at least 30 heads of lettuce, eggplants, etc. ready to be harvested at the same time, and are of similar size and quality to one another – every week, for 18 weeks.
Personally, I think they are doing a great job, and will be looking forward to next week’s vegetables.
For information on local farms that sell direct to consumers, visit: www.localharvest.org
I heard a story the other day about a situation where one neighbor did not like another neighbor’s pine tree because the branches grew over part of his yard and he thought the roots were going to crack his foundation. So, the fellow cut all the branches on his side of the tree back to the property line, and then dug a trench along the property line to sever the tree’s roots.
Shortly thereafter, there was a big storm and the pine tree blew over onto his house. I guess he got what he wanted… kind of….
Property line disputes are common. Trees, fences, ATVs and lawn mowing were common themes on the Internet when I looked up “property line disputes.”
The Land Conservancy of McHenry County holds several parcels of land that preserve natural areas within subdivisions (like Prairie Ridge Fen in the photo), so we have plenty of neighbors. Most of those neighbors are lovely people who appreciate living next to nature and respect the property line between their backyard and the natural area. However, once in a while a neighbor decides to extend his or her “property” into the natural area.
The most common encroachment we see is lawn mowing. Personally, I wouldn’t want to mow any more lawn than absolutely necessary, but some folks like mowing so much they mow many feet – 20 or more – into the adjacent natural area. They mow past signs. They mow after being asked – politely – to stop. I have no idea why some people choose to use someone else’s property, but they are “kind of” breaking the law.
So are the folks who decide that “nature” won’t mind if they dump their yard waste into it. For the record: bags of leaves, broken plastic pots, mounds of grass clippings, etc. do not help natural areas.
Now, let’s get back to trees.
As I discussed in a previous blog, in Illinois, the property owner owns any tree whose trunk is located completely on his or her land. And, the tree includes the branches, trunk and roots. If the trunk is even partly on a neighboring property, then the tree is owned jointly by the two neighbors.
These facts are important to keep in mind when faced with a dispute involving a tree and a property line. Another concept that seems helpful is that one is not permitted to do anything to someone else’s tree that would harm the tree’s health or change its shape unless the tree can be declared hazardous and dangerous. If the tree is owned jointly, then decisions about the tree must be made jointly by the two parties.
In the pine tree situation, the neighbor who removed the branches and severed the roots was wrong to do so. The trunk was completely on his neighbor’s property and he did not have the neighbor’s permission to cut the branches. Similarly, he did not have permission to cut the roots.
The pine tree was healthy and had a symmetrical shape. By pruning the branches back to the property line, he altered the shape of the tree and probably its health. By severing the roots, he harmed the tree’s health. And ultimately, the tree repaid him for his effort.
Try not to let a similar situation happen between you and a neighbor. Talk boundary issues out with the neighbor, and if that is unsuccessful, get your city code officer or an attorney involved.
McHenry County government has been working for three and a half years to develop something called a Unified Development Ordinance, UDO for short. Essentially, it is a document that combines the zoning, sign and subdivision ordinances into one document. If done right, a UDO resolves any conflicts that may have existed between the various separate regulations and streamline the regulatory framework for development projects.
The desire to unify the development rules into one ordinance grew out of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan that was approved by the County Board in April 2010, setting forth a vision for the future of the county in addition to recommendations for actions to guide future development. Overall, the plan reflects the fact that McHenry County has many precious natural resources that should be preserved as the county population grows in the future.
The final document is over 300 pages long. The County Board's Planning and Development Committee members and Zoning Board members held what seemed link a gazillion joint meetings over the last year or two to review the draft UDO section by section. They tried to meet with all special interest groups to hear comments and concerns. They then tried to balance competing interests.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the current draft, but did read several chapters of earlier drafts. Additionally, TLC provided many pages of comments related to protection of groundwater quality and standards for conservation subdivision design.)
The UDO was placed up for 30 day review by the County Board at their July 1 meeting. They are planning to discuss and vote on the ordinance at their August 5th meeting.
For people who are interested in the future character and quality of life in McHenry County, you can read the ordinance here: Link to UDO. Additionally, you might be interested in the comments provided to the County Board by the Alliance for Land Agriculture and Water (ALAW). You can read their letter - written by Dunham Township resident Pat Kennedy - by clicking here.
Finally, if you don't know who your county board members are, click here to find out!
What is the law if a tree is on your property, but the branches hang over the neighbor's property?
Does your neighbor have the right to cut the branches that are hanging over his property?
Can he sever the roots along the property line?
What if the trunk is on the property line?
In Illinois, if the tree is growing on your property, it belongs to you. You own the trunk, roots and branches. If you want to remove it, that is your right. If you want to keep it, that is your right too.
Branches: If your neighbor doesn't like the branches that are hanging over his yard, he needs to have your permission before he removes them or prune them back in a way that could harm the tree's health or change its shape (unless the tree or branches are considered hazardous and dangerous - check with your community's code enforcement staff to find out how they define "hazardous and dangerous" trees).
Further, you are not required to pay for trimming or pruning a tree that hangs over the neighbor's property, unless it is considered hazardous and dangerous.
Roots: A neighbor needs your permission if he is going to trench or cut through the roots of your tree, even if he is trenching in his yard. An exception would be if he can show that the roots are damaging his property (maybe harming the foundation of his home or clogging his sewer line).
Property line: If the tree is on the property line, you own it equally, which means that one neighbor cannot unilaterally take down the tree without permission of the other. nor can one neighbor legally sever or damage the root system on his property without your permission.
Recently, someone told me about a situation where there was a pine tree on the property line. One neighbor hated the tree, so he cut off all the branches on his side of the tree and then severed the roots on his side of the lot line. Shortly afterward, there was a storm and the weakened tree fell over - onto the house of the guy who damaged it!
Here's a nice article from the Village of Northfield that might be of interest.
If dead branches from the tree fall on the neighbor's property, you are not obligated to remove and dispose of them (but it might be the neighborly thing to do), just as you are not under any obligation to rake the leaves from your tree that fall on another's property! Frankly, both situations are part of living in a community.
We all have a responsibility to respect the rights of others and their property.
Did you know that nearly one-third of the produce (fruits, nuts, vegetables) consumed in the US is pollinated by honeybees? And without honeybees, those items would not be available – at least not in the quantities they are today.
Pollination is the process by which plants reproduce. Pollen produced by the “male” part of a plant (called the stamen) is transferred to the “female” part of the plant (the carpel). The next generation of the plant grows from the fruit or seed that results from the union.
The use of bees for crop pollination is big business. At any given moment, truckloads of bee hives are crisscrossing the country to provide pollination services for a flowering crop. Seriously, there are semi-trucks full of bees driving on an Interstate highway right now somewhere in America.
For example, in February and March, 1.4 million colonies of bees arrive in California’s Central Valley to pollinate almonds in an area the size of Rhode Island. Each colony has about 30,000 bees, so that means about 50 billion bees are buzzing around that area each year – for two weeks. After the almonds are pollinated, the bees are rounded up and taken to the next blooming crop.
March might find them in Florida’s citrus groves, then on to New York for apple pollination in April and May before they head up to Maine to pollinate the blueberry crop in June. A “migratory bee colony” may rack up 11,000 miles in a year.
All that travel takes its toll on the honeybees. For instance, pests and disease spread between the colonies and across the country more readily.
It is believed that this movement contributes to a problem called “Colony Collapse Disorder” that has decimated honeybees. Entomologists, insect experts, have found that bees from CCD hives are infected with a large number of known bee pathogens. It is as if their immune systems have failed – much like AIDS in humans.
Two other stressors for bees are loss of diverse foraging habitat and the chemicals found in pesticides and herbicides.
Just like people, bees are healthier if their food comes from a variety of sources. Imagine eating only almonds for a month, then switching to oranges, then apples, then blueberries – each item being your sole source of nutrition for a month. That is similar to the travelling bee colonies’ diets because they travel from one monoculture landscape to the next.
In the case of chemicals, the problems are much more complex. In some cases, both the active ingredients and the adjuvants (substances added to make the chemical work more effectively) have been found to affect bees.
One might wonder why farmers don’t have their own bee colonies. Quite simply, an almond farmer in California or blueberry farmer in Maine does not have a year-round food supply to support resident honeybees. If the bees remained after the crop was pollinated, most of them would starve.
Fortunately, there are things that anyone can do to help the honeybees. Visit www.honeybeehaven.org for ideas. For those interested in beekeeping as a hobby, Illinois State Beekeepers Association (ilsba.com) and the Northern Illinois Beekeepers Association (nibainfo.org) are good resources.
I understand that it is welcome to see something green in the woods after winter - especially after the winter we just had - but just keep in mind that the welcome glint of green you see spells trouble for our native trees shrubs and wildflowers.
That green you see is honeysuckle. Soon to be followed by buckthorn.
The honeysuckle is about 10 days late this year. I can usually count on it starting to "leaf out" by April 12th, but it waited until Earth Day (April 22) this spring.
It might be late this year, but so is everything else, so the same damage will be done.
"Honey" and her good friend "Buck" are like the Bonnie and Clyde of the local oak woods. They are out of control and leaving destruction in their wake. The equivalent of law enforcement - restoration workers armed with chainsaws and herbicide instead of guns - work night and day tracking them and trying to eliminate them from the local woods. But they just keep popping up some place new.
The duo have killed many innocent by-standers - oaks, hickories, native shrubs, wildflowers - who happened to be "in the way." Oh, they didn't intend to kill anyone, but still, others have died because of them.
And, continuing the parallels, Honey and Buck have their supporters who abet them in their murderous spree:
- Some think they are too "pretty" to be bad.
- Others feel they provide a valuable service by forming a dense thicket that keeps people from seeing and moving through the woods.
- A few help them more directly by nurturing them along their journey (these would be the people who actually treat their buckthorn and honeysuckle as welcome parts of their landscape!)
The truth is, they are murderous villains, not folk heroes. Left unchecked, they will destroy the remaining oak woods, wipe out the woodland wildflowers like trillium and wild geranium.
They must be stopped!
On my daily commute, I’ve been listening to a series of interviews that Bill Moyers did with Joseph Campbell in the 1980’s called The Power of Myth. The interviews were first broadcast on PBS in 1988 – a year after Campbell died at the age of 83.
Most readers will have heard of Moyers, a regular on PBS for many years, but may not be as familiar with Campbell. In fact, this is my first foray into Campbell’s works that explore the role of mythology in human culture.
I was struck by a comment Campbell made about seeing a photo of the Earth from space: “When you see the Earth from space, you don't see any divisions of nation-states there. This may be the symbol of the new mythology to come; this is the country we will celebrate, and these are the people we are one with.”
Sounds like Earth Day.
The concept of Earth Day was first proposed to the United Nations by publisher John McConnell in 1969 as a worldwide event to honor the Earth and promote world peace. According to environment.about.com, “McConnell suggested an annual observance to remind the people of Earth of their shared responsibility as environmental stewards. He chose the vernal equinox…because it is a day of renewal.”
In March 1970, the UN Secretary-General issued a proclamation that read: “May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life.”
The first Earth Day celebration in the United States occurred April 22, 1970 – a month after the first day of spring - and continues to this day across the planet. That first event was organized by US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin as an environmental “teach-in” on college campuses. Nelson chose the date in late April for practical reasons: the weather was likely to be good and the timing would not conflict with school vacations or college exams. The event brought 20 million Americans out to advocate for the Environment.
The flag used for Earth Day depicts the Earth as seen from space against a deep blue background. Please keep that image in mind, and remember that the Earth is the only home we have – all of us: humans of all races and religions, all the animals and plants of all shapes and sizes.
If we take care of her, she will take care of us.
MCC and TLC are working together to sponsor a special tour of some of McHenry County's ancient oak woodlands that are not open to the public.
On May 17th, participants will visit some of the area’s oldest living residents, including a 400 year-old white oak that Native Potawatomi Indians likely sat beneath. See gorgeous spring wildflowers in their natural setting and have the opportunity to speak with private landowners about the oak woodlands that they own and cherish.
The tour will also include a visit to one of the largest remaining oak woodlands in the county – site of the brand new Community Research Forest, a public-private partnership that will become a center of study, training and educational opportunities about oak woodland ecology, health and care.
The motorcoach tour will take place rain or shine, and will include hiking on unpaved trails over gently rolling terrain. Lunch is included in the tour fee.
When: Saturday, May 17, 2014 | 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Cost: $79 - (no refunds)
Trip ID: NST S23 005