The Simple Science of Oak Conservation
Conservation of oak woodlands is actually very simple. Plant more oaks. Cut more buckthorn & honeysuckle. Then repeat until we have healthy, abundant oak woodlands in McHenry County. That is the essence of TLC's...
The origins of PQ: In 2006, experts from state and local conservation agencies, tree care companies, tree nurseries and municipalities gathered at TLC to talk about the state of McHenry County's oak woodlands and share what they knew. The news was alarming.
Nearly 90% of the oak woods that were in the county in the 1830s have been cut down for farming, lumber, firewood, gravel mining and development. And while public agencies have preserved some important oak woodlands – such as those found at Moraine Hills State Park, MCCD's Coral Woods Conservation Area, Glacial Park and Rush Creek Conservation Area, 85% of the oak woods remaining are owned by individuals.
All agreed that if nothing was done, we might see the remaining oak woodlands die off within 20 years. Environmental stresses – gypsy moths, oak wilt, climate change – were taking a toll. Lack of management was leading to widespread invasion of local woods by non-native, fast-growing shrubs like buckthorn and honeysuckle. The invasive shrubs were killing off the lower limbs of oaks (known as shade pruning) and their dense growth was preventing sunlight from reaching the woodland floor, so young oaks were not germinating.
PQ Today: Over 1,000 oaks have been planted by over 1,000 local residents of all ages through PQ. Tens of thousands of PQ oak seedlings that were raised from local acorns are waiting to be planted. The largest, oldest white oak in the county was discovered on private land near Harvard. Hundreds of volunteer hours have been donated to "rescue" ancient oaks throughout the county. Citizens from Algonquin to Alden are raising their voices to demand that elected officials do more to preserve our oaks.
Five years have passed, and while the stresses to our oaks remain, there is a growing awareness in McHenry County that everyone has a role to play in ensuring the oak woods will remain a vital part of our community 100 – 200 – 300 years from now.
The Future of PQ: By the end of 2012, Project Quercus is on track to:
- have planted nearly 2,000 oak trees, including reforestation of 20 acres of private land that was once an oak woods, but was cleared for farming a century ago,
- complete Oak Keeper surveys for all of the remaining privately-owned oak woodlands that are 50 acres or larger in size,
- create a "Community Forest" in McHenry County to help demonstrate the many benefits of responsible use and management of privately owned oak woodlands, and
- help communities throughout the Chicago region implement oak conservation efforts in their own counties and municipalities.