Oak Conservation - Project Quercus
Oak Conservation in McHenry County
Project Quercus ®
Quercus\Kwer'kus\, n. [Latin], an Oak
We love our oaks. They provide shade in the summer, acorns for wildlife in the fall, and enhance the natural beauty of the area, even in winter, with their gnarled, expansive branches. Oaks also offer habitat for a larger diversity of insects than any other species of tree, which translates directly into a higher diversity of birds that eat those bugs!
However, these beloved trees are under stress, and if nothing changes, they may be largely gone from the local landscape within 20 years. But there is reason to be hopeful.
The future of our region's oak groves will depend upon the efforts of individuals, corporations, governments (local, state and federal) and non-profits. No one agency, governmental jurisdiction, landowner or organization can save our oaks. But as a community, we can ensure that these majestic, sacred witnesses to our history will grace the landscape for our children's children's children.
The Land Conservancy founded Project Quercus to explore options to protect, preserve and regenerate the oak woods. Project Quercus is a diverse coalition that brings together public and private, government, corporate and non-profit interests, working collaboratively to create solutions to the problem of oak woodland loss.
Founding Premise: Oak woodlands and savannas are a vital part of the natural and human communities in McHenry County. If they are to remain that way 100-200-400 years from now, a majority of local residents need to be engaged. There is something that everyone can do, and our job is to inspire as many people as possible to do what they can for the oak woodlands.
Framework: Project Quercus is a framework that others can use and adapt to advance oak woodland/savanna conservation in their communities. From a practical standpoint, there is not a prescribed program that someone can take “off-the-shelf” and replicate. Rather, PQ it is truly community-based, meaning that when implemented it should reflect the character and culture of the community. The main elements of Project Quercus are:
- Science: knowing what we have today, what we have lost, as well as the threats to long-term conservation of this natural resource. Click here for more information on the various ways science has been incorporated into Project Quercus.
- Inspiring Action: this may include informational materials, educational events, landowner outreach, community activities, school programs, and anything else that seems to fit.
Inspiring Action takes many forms. Since the start of Project Quercus®, TLC has added elements aimed at increasing awareness of local oaks and participation by the whole community in efforts to preserve and restore the remaining oak woods/savannas. The major actions are described below.
- Living with Trees Awards program. 2006-present
The first action item was to create an awards program to thank and recognize individuals and organizations that were going above and beyond to take care of the local oaks. Awards are presented at TLC’s Annual Meeting in January each year. Recipients have ranged from individual landowners to municipalities and volunteers.
- Acorn Roundup. 2007-present
In fall of 2007, TLC began promoting an “Acorn Roundup” to the community, asking individuals to gather acorns from under their oaks and bring them to TLC for propagation. Acorns were taken to a local nursery that agreed to propagate them. The resulting oaks are used for community oak planting events and Memorial/Celebration oaks.
- Community Oak Planting Events. 2007-present
To raise awareness of oaks and to engage more people in their recovery, TLC set up a program to work with youth groups, schools and communities to plant oaks at sites that were permanently protected from development. Approximately 100 trees were planted each spring and fall at 3-6 sites around the county. Specific planting protocols were created that include fencing, mulching and watering the trees. Well over 1,000 trees have been planted, and the survival rate is over 90%.
- Oak sale to the public. 2009-present
To help raise funds to support the community oak planting program, TLC began working with a local nursery to sell locally sourced oaks to the public at a Spring and Fall oak sale. Thirty percent of sales go to support Project Quercus®.
- Third Generation Oak Fund. 2008-present
To help ensure that there will be the financial resources to support oak conservation efforts in the county long-term, a dedicated fund was created in 2008 and donations for the project were placed into it. Additionally, income from the sale of Memorial/Celebration oaks as well as the Oak Sale is placed into the fund. The principal can be used to cover out-of-pocket expenses related to the oak planting program (such as the cost of fencing or signs).
- Memorial/Celebration Oaks. 2008-present
Oaks are planted each spring and fall at a TLC property that is being reforested through the Memorial/Celebration oaks program. Individuals pay $50 per tree to create a living memorial for a loved one who has passed or to mark a special occasion like an anniversary or birth of a child. About 200 oaks have been planted so far.
- Oak Rescues. 2011-present
In 2011, Oak Keepers came up with the idea to hold an occasional “oak rescue” event for one of the landowners whose property they had surveyed as a way to help encourage landowners to restore their woods. Use of the term has expanded to include restoration events at any oak woodland/savanna site.
- Oak woodland/savanna replanting projects. 2012-present
In conjunction with the Chicago Wilderness Oak Recovery Plan project, TLC committed to replant approximately 20 acres of former oak woodland/savanna using three techniques: direct seeding with acorns, planting container grown oaks and planting bare-root whips. The success of each method will be evaluated over a two year period so that recommendations can be made about the most efficient and cost-effective way to re-establish oak woods on larger properties.
We hope this information will inspire others to take actions to ensure oaks are part of the community for many generations to come. Here are some examples of ways that others have been inspired to take action:
- Johnsburg Junior High Arbor Day project. 2009-present
In early 2009, a Junior High Science teacher in Johnsburg contacted TLC about an Arbor Day oak planting that he wanted to do at a TLC easement in the Village. Each year since then, the teacher and a group of about 30 students have planted 45 bur oak seedlings at the 60 acre natural area. Prior to the event, the students learn about the history and current state of local oak woods and savannas. PQ donates the oaks for the project.
- Hannah Beardsley Middle School oak project. 2011-present
In early 2011, Seventh Grade Science Teacher at this Crystal Lake school contacted us with an idea to incorporate oak woodland education into the school’s science curriculum. In fall 2011, all 7th grade students visited local sites to collect acorns for the Acorn Roundup. They sorted them and tested them for viability. In spring 2012, the students planted 40 oaks at a City of Crystal Lake public site. In fall 2012, seventh graders again collected acorns, but kept many of them to start propagating them at the school. In spring 2013, the students planted 120 oaks at the same Crystal Lake site. Eventually, they will be planting trees that they helped to grow, learning about acorn germination and nurturing a seedling over the course of two or three years until it is ready to be planted. PQ donates the oaks for the project.
- Large Oak Donation Project. 2013-
A TLC member approached the organization in early 2013 to offer to transplant large oaks from his farm to TLC properties provided we ensure that the trees are watered. There are about 500 trees that are 3-4” dbh (about 30 years old), that were all moved as seedlings from another property to the current location. He has a 54” tree spade, and has been selling and donating the trees for a few years. TLC will be working with the donor to plant these trees at several of TLC’s sites in order to enhance planned reforestation projects. TLC will ensure donated oaks are watered.