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
Yes, I am the one driving my car 25-40 mph on Route 14 between Bunker Hill Road and Hughes Road from Harvard to Woodstock and back again most days of the week. If you have not yet experienced this stretch of road this winter, well, I suggest you plan to avoid it for the foreseeable future.
The road became particularly rough shortly after the first major cold spell broke in early January. Road heave, also called frost heave, occurs when moisture underneath pavement freezes and expands, forcing the asphalt up. It gets worse as the ice melts and then refreezes – again and again. Eventually the pavement starts to break apart. The more traffic, the faster the road breaks up.
The section between Deep Cut and Dunham Roads is particularly awful. Like driving over a series of unmarked speed bumps for half a mile. If you ever accidentally hit an actual speed bump at full speed, you probably thought: “Ouch, I hope I never do that again!” (At least that’s what I thought, only “ouch” was replaced with a different 4-letter word.) Now, imagine doing that every 20-30 feet for half a mile at 55 miles per hour.
This morning, two cars decided to pass me in this stretch of Route 14. I just shook my head as I watched them bounce down the road ahead of me. Apparently they didn’t care about the neck and back injuries they are likely to sustain (maybe hoping for a Worker’s Comp claim), nor did they mind the extra wear and tear on their cars’ suspensions (must have been leased vehicles).
The driver of a semi-truck that was right behind me – much too close for comfort or safety – was so annoyed by my turtle-esque pace that he passed me in a no-passing zone shortly after Dunham Road. (Note, I could still see him about one-quarter mile ahead of me when I reached Dean Street a few miles later.)
I’m telling this story because it occurred to me that maybe some people drive full speed down bumpy roads because they don’t understand the effects such behavior has on their bodies or cars? Specifically, the jarring movement of driving quickly across a bumpy road results in:
$1- Neck and back injuries. The result is higher medical costs, more time off work due to pain and injury and an increased likelihood of chronic neck and back problems as one ages.
$1- More accidents. Drivers are more likely to lose control of a vehicle when driving at high speed on a rough surface.
$1- Increased vehicle maintenance costs. In fact, driving on rough roads adds an average of $400 each year to the cost of maintaining a car as the suspension, tires, and many other parts wear down more quickly. The increased costs are higher in areas that are more heavily developed.
$1- Increased fuel costs. Plain and simple, a car uses more fuel when driving on bumpy roads – and driving fast on a rough road uses more fuel than driving slowly on the same road.
It also crossed my mind that some folks may not understand the extra costs society bears as the roads breakdown more quickly and require more maintenance. The costs of maintaining and repairing public roads are paid by tax-payers, whether the roads are maintained by the township, Village, county, state, or federal government.
Personally, I would rather see my taxes spent on something other than the constant repair of roads that are prematurely disintegrating because so many people refuse to slow down a little when driving on a bumpy road.
Most years, I dread January – cold, sleet, ice, and heavy grey skies. But not this year.
Because winter started in earnest last November, I am already acclimated to the cold. I’ve slipped on the ice (once) and shoveled snow – multiple times. Instead of being tired of winter, I was actually quite comfortable with the winter routine when we hit January.
In fact, I still haven’t worn my winter coat – that’s right. I’m wearing my fall canvas field coat with a fleece vest on top. Unprecedented! (For the record, I did not leave my house on the two coldest days of the year. But that's part of acclimating to winter, as you will learn below).
Acclimatization is a natural process where plants and animals adjust to seasonal (or other temporary) changes in their environment. For instance, as average temperatures slowly decrease from fall to winter, one’s system will adjust to the changing temperature. (Note: acclimatization is different than adaptation. Adaptation is what happens when species evolve over generations to have different characteristics than their parents.)
Plants that are meant to grow in a northern climate have genes that cause them to go dormant for a period of time when there is less light and the temperatures are cold. The reason that plants from more southern climates often die during northern winters is because they do not have the ability to adjust to the seasonal change in temperature.
Humans are warm-blooded (endotherms) like all other mammals and need to take steps to reduce heat-loss during the cold weather.
Like many birds and mammals, people add layers of insulation to stay warm during the cold. In our case, the insulation is in the form of clothing – for our feathered and furry friends, it may be more feathers, a thicker coat, or additional layers of fat.
Some animals (and people) stay warm in winter by moving south. Others choose to hibernate for long-periods, conserving energy by dropping their metabolism to just 1-5% of what it is during active periods. Some birds and small mammals, like chickadees and shrews, enter a lower-energy state called torpor at night, dropping their body temperature as a way to reduce heat-loss while sleeping.
Another way to stay warm on a cold winter day is to be active. Cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing or taking a hike will all cause the body to generate heat. For birds and mammals, the most common daily activity is finding food. Maybe we humans would put on less weight during the winter if we had to work a little harder at feeding ourselves!
TLC’s winter oak rescues are a great way to warm-up. Cutting and stacking brush gets one’s blood flowing, and a brush fire keeps everyone toasty. Harvard area events will be held on the following dates:
- January 20th, Maguire Woods, 5507 Irish Lane, 10am – 1pm. From the intersection of Route 14 and McGuire Road in Harvard, take McGuire 3.6 miles to Irish Lane and head north 0.3 miles to the work site.
- January 25th, Gateway Park, Heritage Lane and Route 23, Harvard, 9am-noon.
- February 17th, Van Maren’s Woods, 20202 Lembcke Road, 10am – 1pm. Take Route 14 south from Harvard to Lembcke, turn right, and proceed 1.2 miles to the work site.
TLC is offering a free Winter Tree Identification class, January 18th, 10am-2pm at Hennen Conservation Area, 4622 Dean Street, Woodstock. Join TLC’s Ecologist, Melissa Hormann, to learn how to identify trees using the twigs and bark. The first hour will be inside looking at twig samples, and the next three hours will be spent walking the hiking trails and using your new skills. Wear clothes appropriate for an outdoor winter hike.
TLC’s Annual Celebration Brunch will take place January 26 from 11-2pm at D’Andrea’s Banquets in Crystal Lake. Join old friends and new as the organization marks another successful year of land preservation. This year, TLC is excited to welcome special guest Mark Hirsch, a photojournalist who gained international acclaim for his daily photos of “That Tree,” a lonely bur oak on the edge of a farm field near his home in Platteville, Wisconsin. Tickets are $50 for non-members ($40 for members) and are available at www.conservemc.org or by calling 815-337-9502 by 5pm Wednesday, January 22nd.
photo by Harris Wishnick, taken at TLC's Woodland Hills Conservation Easement in Lakewood
Why is it so cold? Simply put, cold is caused by the absence of heat. Sometimes conditions are such that there is much less heat in an area. For instance:
Snow cover reflects solar radiation. That means, that if the ground is covered in snow, even on a sunny day, the sun doesn't warm the earth because the sunlight is reflected back into space.
Shorter amount of daylight mean less time for the sun's warming rays. Plus, during the winter season, the sun strikes the earth at a sharp angle, meaning the sun's rays are spread out further (less concentrated), so they have less warming power.
Lack of cloud cover at night allows heat to escape into space. While I love those beautiful winter nights when the sky is clear and the stars are bright, I know that the lack of cloud cover means that any heat that may have accumulated during the day will be lost to space. When there are clouds, the cloudcover helps to trap the heat in the troposphere (lower level of the atmosphere).
The jet stream brings cold air down from the Arctic. The jet stream is a meandering band of air that circles the planet. (There are four jet streams circling the planet from west to east - two polar jet streams and two tropical jet streams) Click here to see a short animation (from NASA) of the jet stream. Sometimes, the polar jet stream dips further south, due in part to increased snow cover across large areas of land - which means... less heat.
“Bitter cold” is a term that’s getting a lot of use this winter – and with good reason. The word bitter – while typically used to describe something that has a disagreeable taste – means something that causes a harsh or stinging sensation, which is exactly what very cold weather will do.
With a high of -15º forecast for Monday (January 6th), and wind making it feel even colder, I think it’s safe to say that Monday’s cold will be bitter indeed.
From a health standpoint, there are many reasons to be cautious when venturing outside in this weather:
Hypothermia. This is defined as the body temperature dropping from the normal 98.6º below 95º. Hypothermia can occur when outdoors in extremely cold weather for a long period of time, even if dressed warmly. It can also occur rather quickly when someone is outside for even s short period of time if they are not dressed for the cold. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, irrational behavior, shortness of breath and eventually, unconsciousness.
Frostbite. Freezing temperatures can cause exposed part of the body to lose feeling and color. Nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are the most likely to be affected. In extreme cases, frostbite will lead to amputation. Symptoms to look for include numbness, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and skin that appears white or grayish-yellow.
Heart attack. If you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, or a family history of heart disease, be careful not to over-exert yourself if shoveling snow. Sudden physical exertion in cold weather – which occurs when lifting and throwing a heavy shovel full of snow – has been linked to heart attacks. Take lots of breaks to rest and warm up.
- Falling down. I’ve fallen down once this winter due to slipping on icy pavement. I wasn’t hurt, but I know several people who have broken wrists, hips, arms and ankles due to slipping on ice. A couple of tips to avoid slipping on ice:
1) wear shoes with good traction. If you don’t have any, invest in slip on traction devices like Yak Trax – they work like chains on tires by providing metal cleats that bite into the ice to keep you from slipping.
2) Use a walking stick, preferably one with a pointed tip. This will improve balance while walking across a slick surface.
If you do find yourself falling, try to remember not to put your arms out to catch yourself – that is the cause of most wrist and arm fractures when falling. Instead, try to remember to tuck your arms in, relax your body and roll so that you land on your shoulder and then roll onto your back. The rolling motion helps dissipate the energy from striking the ground. Trust me, I’ve done this, and it does work.
In general, there are commonsense steps you should take to stay safe in the bitter cold:
Wear a hat. Mom was right – wearing a hat in cold weather is one of the smartest things to do, as a lot of heat will escape through your head if you don’t.
Dress in layers – layers trap air between the layers, and air is a great insulator.
Stay dry. If you get wet, change into dry clothes as soon as practical. Moisture will speed heat loss.
Eat food and drink water. Being outside in the extreme cold causes the body to burn more calories. Also, the air holds less moisture as the temperature drops, so it is important to make sure your body is well hydrated. But, avoid alcohol – it can cause your body to lose heat more quickly.
If driving in the cold, be sure to have your cell phone with you, as well as a set of jumper cables, a bag of sand or kitty litter for traction if needed, and an ice scraper.
Finally, when it is cold, don’t leave your pets outside for very long, unless there is a sheltered, warm spot that they can go into. Pets can get hypothermia and frostbite just like people!
photo by Gail Moreland, taken at TLC's Weers Conservation Easement as part of the Art of the Land Photo Contest in 2012.