What is an Oak Keeper?
TLC's Oak Keeper Project
Oak Keepers® : Uncovering the Secrets of our Oak Woodlands
The vast majority (84%) of the county's remaining oaks are on private land. If these trees are going to continue to be a significant part of the landscape, maintaining them on private land will be essential. To learn more about the privately owned oaks, volunteers are trained as Oak Keepers(R).
After learning some of the basics about tree identification, working with landowners, and data collection, the OakKeepers set out to gather some information about our local oaks. The results were nothing less than jaw-dropping...the first pre-settlement swamp white oak documented in the county, a grove of 300+ year old red oaks, and so much more!
Six years and counting...
The vast majority of the oak woods that remain in McHenry County are located on private land (84%). In other words, it isn’t going to be the government that saves the oaks woods of McHenry County. The oak woods will be preserved through the actions of residents – the people here today and tomorrow who own the land, the individuals who advocate for policies that will preserve the trees and ensure that new oaks are planted when old ones are cut down.
That is where the idea for the Oak Keepers® program arose – from recognition that we needed to understand what the condition of the remaining oak woods are today, to begin building relationships with oak woodland landowners, and to give more local residents the skills they need to evaluate oak woods.
Over sixty volunteers completed the Oak Keepers® training during the first five years of the program. In addition to offering a sixth round of Oak Keepers® training in 2014, TLC plans to get more information to landowners about restoration, management and preservation of their woods, in addition to holding workshops on management tools such as use of ecological fire for managing oak woods and other natural lands.
The Oak Keeper training was revamped for 2012. Rather than holding classroom training sessions, interested Oak Keepers will be matched with experienced Oak Keepers who will mentor them until they are comfortable conducting surveys independently. If you are interested in being matched with a mentor so that you can learn Oak-Keeping in a hands-on way, please contact Linda for more information.
Notes from the 2010 field season:
Lauretta Wolf likes being an Oak Keeper. "Having the chance to connect with landowners who have lived here a long time and can remember things, like when their woods was free of buckthorn so they could see right through it. One landowner planted multiflora rose many years ago, when the government was promoting its use as a natural fence. Now his oaks are choked by it." Lauretta has been Oak Keeping in Alden and South Marengo Woods.
TLC’s Oak Keepers have surveyed over 1000 acres of privately-held oaks, and in the process contacted over 100 landowners. The information they are gathering will be used to offer technical assistance and educational programs aimed at ensuring the privately-owned oak woodlands remain a part of the local landscape.
"Had my first oak monitoring visit as an official Oak Keeper(R) yesterday! Incredible experience! Becky and John are great mentors, the relationship with the landowner is remarkable, and I couldn't be more thrilled to be a part of this effort. Thanks!" Oak Keeper, Mary Lu Seidel
From the 2009 field season, the story continues...
Some amazing revelations about the remaining oak woodlands in McHenry County came to light because of TLC’s 2-year-old Oak Keeper Program. We’ve gazed at a Witness Tree marked by a land surveyor in the 1830’s, we’ve discovered that there were swamp white oaks in the county before the time of European settlement, and we’ve had the privilege to sit in a grove of huge red oaks that were already large, mature trees when the Continental Congress sat down to business in Virginia more than 200 years ago, all because of the work done by several dozen trained Oak Keepers(R).
But only a mere fraction of the remaining oak woodlands found across McHenry County have been studied. As TLC gears up for a new round of training, we are also preparing to contact over 300 new landowners to seek their permission for Oak Keepers to survey their woods too. These land-owners have properties in eighteen oak woods that are each larger than 50 acres in size. Together, these eighteen woods include nearly 1,300 acres of oak woodlands! That’s a lot of ground to cover, and we need more Oak Keepers to help explore these additional lands. Given that the vast majority of the County’s surviving oaks are found on private property, there is no way of telling what surprises are waiting to be discovered!
From the 2008 field season:
Fondly known as "The year of the mosquito"
A cool summer didn’t stop TLC’s Oak Keepers from visiting dozens of properties around the county, although the abundant mosquitoes did slow them down!
Another 16 Oak Keepers were trained in May, and the new class, along with members of the Class of 2008, explored privately owned woodland parcels across the county, to help us understand the issues facing our remaining oak savannas.
One of the biggest issues that landowners are reporting is the need for help determining how to restore their woods. This can be an intimidating undertaking. The prospect of cutting all of the buckthorn from these oak/hickory woodlands is a huge task. Starting small and expanding slowly is usually the best approach. The release of even one oak from the grip of buckthorn brings immediate satisfaction and inspiration!
- 2nd and 3rd occurrences of swamp white oaks in the county have been documented
- A second witness tree has been verified
- 52 inch diameter white oak tree was found in Bull Valley this summer – perhaps the largest white oak documented in McHenry County!
We'd like to extend a special thanks to all the experts who have donated their time to develop and teach the Oak Keepers training program: Ed Collins and Ben Haberthur from MCCD, John Nelson from the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, Mary McClelland from Glacier Oaks Nursery, Dave Brandt retired from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Grant Jones and Andy Lutz from Davey Tree Expert Co., Adam Klein from The Care of Trees, Scott Kuykendall from Planning Resources, and Greg Rajsky from True Nature Consulting.