Cheering for the Cold

A large mower us used to remove buckthorn and other invasive species at Sweet Woods in Glenwood, Ill.

At this time of year at Friends we are always grateful for a deep freeze. Despite grumblings of some, we know the cold dip in temperatures creates good conditions for ecological restoration work that requires large equipment because the frozen ground protects the soil and plants from harm. 

Cold weather and frozen ground is why the removal of woody invasive species and low-quality trees is primarily targeted to happen during the winter months. However, as noted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA, “Soil is a living and life-giving natural resource.” So, we take great care to mitigate disturbances to the soil during winter restoration. Compacted soil with fewer natural voids not only prevents stormwater infiltration but also restricts the root growth of plants, affects nutrient uptake, and reduces places for animals to burrow.

Every winter, as we work to expand the footprint of healthy plant communities, and all of the benefits they bring with them, Friends coordinates closely with our contractors to monitor site conditions so we can quickly mobilize when conditions allow for work at targeted sites. Removal of invasive species enables sunlight to reach the ground allowing native species to flourish again. Unlike invasive species, native plants have deep root systems which enable greater stormwater infiltration. By holding stormwater instead of having quick runoff, we see less erosion and higher quality water over time.

With good cold weather work days this season we anticipate the restoration of approximately of 77 acres in the Palos-Sag Valley region including 49 acres of turtle nesting habitat near the Cal-Sag Channel.  By clearing woody invasive species, female turtles have more options of areas to nest and their nests experience less predation. Friends’ habitat improvement effort has resulted in a 60% increase in turtle nesting success at those sites. Friends and the Forest Preserves of Cook County identified turtles as water-dependent animals already present in the river system whose reproductive success could benefit from help. Since 2015, Friends has worked on 135 acres of river turtle habitat restoration.

At McClaughrey Springs Woods work commences to clear nuisance trees and invasive plant species. The project’s goals are to increase light levels to the ground which will result in an increase in native plant cover and better the overall habitat.

Last year Friends’ winter restoration covered over 170 acres including a 129-acre restoration project at Country Lane Woods as part of our continuing work in the open spaces around Crooked Creek. Near the Cal-Sag Channel 41 acres were cleared for turtle nesting habitat.

Keep an eye on Friends’ social media pages and our website for updates on all of our restoration work. Thanks to the Forest Preserves of Cook County for their partnership in all of these projects as well as the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, and a Chicago-based family foundation for supporting this important work.