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Journey Along the Shores – Part 19 (All About the Trees)

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Over the past several years, countless hours have been spent in the field and in meetings to assess the state of our tree population, and to chart a course forward toward making that population larger and significantly healthier.

Our findings will not be a surprise to anyone who has taken the time to look closely at the ecological picture at Canal Shores.  In many places, the property is a disaster area, and it has been for many years.  I am grateful to the members of the community who decided that the “gem in their backyards” was in distress and stepped in to save it.  For those who have not yet done so, now would be a good time.  We have a plan, and there are opportunities to target contributions of volunteer time and money to revitalize Canal Shores, including its trees.


ASSESSMENT

We are not short of trees at Canal Shores, but as it turns out, we are short on good ones.  Planning Resources Inc. sent their Arborist out to do a tree survey.  They were looking for valuable trees to keep and incorporate into the ecological master plan for the property (full Plan coming soon…).  “Valuable” is defined as important native species, or large, healthy trees that are not invasive species.  The survey found that Canal Shores has 904 trees on our 82 acres.

At first glance, that number might seem big, but it really isn’t.  Given that the golf course occupies less than half that total acreage, a healthy tree population would number in the thousands.

PRI tagged every valuable tree they could find.  I encourage anyone walking or playing the course to look for tags to better understand which trees are desirable, and sadly how few of them we have.

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Tagged trees are numbered and catalogued for reference, and have been geo-located onto the map that follows.  The map, along with the associated illustrations, is a great reference for learning more about where our desirable trees are, and what they are.  I have learned a great deal about trees from PRI’s work, and I have started to share that knowledge with my boys.

Valuable trees are circled, and “key” trees (meaning high value species and of size) are in orange.

GREEN BAY TO LINCOLN

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LINCOLN TO CENTRAL

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CENTRAL TO ISABELLA

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ISABELLA TO LINDEN

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LINDEN TO SHERIDAN

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INVASIVES

Invasive species are making Canal Shores unhealthy.  I am far from being an expert, but what I have learned is that a healthy ecosystem has layers, each layer ideally containing a variety of species:

  • An herbaceous (ground) layer of grasses, flowers and groundcover that are the home to pollinators and other important insects and animals.
  • An understory (shrub) layer of small trees and shrubs that provide food and habitat for birds.
  • A canopy of trees, of varying species and age.

The primary problem that Canal Shores has with its invasives is in the understory, specifically with buckthorn and honeysuckle.  That problem has manifested in three ways:

  • First, within the understory, buckhthorn and honeysuckle are extremely aggressive competitors and they have left us with almost no other shrubs, greatly decreasing biodiversity.
  • Second, they form dense thickets, starving the herbaceous layer of sunlight.  Where buckthorn grows densely, there is bare ground underneath which also creates erosion problems on the canal banks.
  • Finally, the buckthorn and honeysuckle leave no space for desirable trees to regenerate.

There are good reasons why it is illegal to sell or plant buckthorn or honeysuckle in the state of Illinois.  They are parasitic plants that take over and leave the areas they populate in much worse health.  To say that one likes buckthorn is the equivalent of liking a tapeworm.

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In fighting buckthorn at Canal Shores, I have learned first hand the many ways that it fights back.  It has whacked me in the face, hit me in the head, poked me in the eye, cut up my arms and legs, and more.  Suffice it to say, I have never been a fan.  However, when I watched the video below, I was tipped over the edge.

Not only is buckthorn bad for the other plants around it, but the berries produced by the females have a laxative effect on birds, while providing no nutritional content.  Are you kidding me?  This demon weed must go.

Many thanks to Brandon from Ringers Landscaping for allowing us to share his webinar.  I highly recommend watching at least the first 18 minutes.


STEWARDSHIP

During the course of this lengthy process of assessment and learning through pilot projects, I have heard and read statements like “Save the buckthorn!” and “Can’t we just let nature take care of itself?”.  These statements are born of ignorance and are in direct conflict with the principle of land stewardship for which our community is responsible at Canal Shores.

Abdication of our stewardship responsibility has directly resulted in ecological degradation.  In the hundreds of hours that I have spent on the ground with fellow Buckthorn Warriors, I have seen what this degradation looks like.  We have saved desirable trees that were literally being choked to death by invasive vines.  We have watched in disappointment as a large, unhealthy tree falls over in a storm, taking with it several desirable trees that we hoped to save.  We have seen the bare ground under buckthorn thickets suffering from stormwater erosion.  And we have seen newly cleared areas spring back to life with grasses and flowers when sunlight is allowed to reach the ground.

The results of doing nothing are obvious and incontrovertible.  It doesn’t work.  Based on our learnings and the counsel of experts, we are now moving forward.  Special thanks to Grounds Committee member Matt Rooney who drafted our Tree Policy, and then painstakingly revised it to incorporate feedback from numerous parties.  Click here to read the Canal Shores Tree Policy, which has been approved by our Board of Directors.

What does this look like on the ground?  Before areas can be revitalized, clearing has to take place.  We are prioritizing spots that directly impact the golf course – tees, greens, fairway landing areas are all of highest priority as we want to enhance the turf quality, playability and visual beauty for our paying customers.  We have selected specific trees (e.g. black cherries) to add to the tagged group for preservation, and buckthorn has been painted for removal.

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The work is well underway on holes 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12-18.  We have applied for a burn permit from the EPA to deal with the cut brush.  We are also recruiting a Landscape Architecture / Ecology intern whose focus will be on maintenance of cleared areas as well as site-specific habitat design and implementation.


CONCLUSION

Decades of neglect and mismanagement are not going to be undone overnight.  However, we have made a beginning and we will continue working toward our goal of making Canal Shores a healthy ecosystem that includes a variety of native and other desirable trees.

We hope that all members of the Evanston-Wilmette community join us.  Check the Greens & Grounds blog for dates of upcoming volunteer work sessions, or email me at jwizay1493@hotmail.com to be added to the Buckthorn Warriors mailing list.  Inquiries about tree donations can be made with Dan Bulf (dbulf@canalshores.org).  This is a big job, but together, we can do it.

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More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

One thought on “Journey Along the Shores – Part 19 (All About the Trees)

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