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Journey Along the Shores – Part 21 (Burn Baby Burn)

There’s a new boss at Canal Shores – a Burn Boss, that is – and his name is Steve Neumann.  Steve is the Chair of our Grounds Committee as well as the Eco Committee that recently completed creation of the Ecological Component of our Master Plan (click here to see the Eco plan).  Being a geeky man after my own heart, he fulfilled an ambition of becoming an officially certified Burn Boss by participating in training with the Forest Preserve District.  Perhaps the coolest title I have heard to date.

In my previous post on trees, I shared about our intention to continue the battle against buckthorn, honeysuckle and other invasives to create space for native trees, shrubs and other plants to flourish at Canal Shores.  The property is currently so terribly overrun with invasives that the by-product of our clearing efforts is a tremendous amount of brush.  Prior to this season, we have experimented with using the material in raised hugelkultur beds, and we have chipped quite a bit of it.  The chipping is faster and tidier, but it is also cost-prohibitive considering the volume of material.

Cue the Burn Boss.

Burning has been a land management practice since before European settlers arrived in America.  Native Americans used prescribed burning of the prairies and woodlands to promote biodiversity, maintain ecological health, and sustain their food sources.  Fast forward several centuries, and ecologists, land managers and Golf Course Superintendents are once again embracing regular prescribed burning as a best practice for maintaining healthy ecosystems.

According to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, “Unburned natural areas can quickly become choked with invasive trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants including buckthorn and honeysuckle.  A periodic fire regime limits these unwanted species while promoting more desirable woody species such as oaks and hickories, as well as numerous grasses and wildflowers.

As an additional benefit to prescribed burns, the black earth left behind after a fire warms more quickly in the spring, which gives native species a jumpstart in growth over unburned areas.  Other benefits include accelerated nutrient cycling in the soil and decreased fuel loads that will reduce the likelihood of wildfire.

Our crew is now committed to the practice of burning to support the ecological enhancements we are working so hard to make.  Steve obtained permits from both the Illinois EPA and the City of Evanston, and organized our first burn.

Although we are starting slowly with burning brush piles, my hope is that we expand the practice to our woodland and “native” areas in the long run because burning is a best practice.


OUR FIRST BURN

After winter clearing projects, we had plenty of brush to burn.  Tony and John moved and compiled it on the 11th hole.  The pile was big to begin with, and during the three hour session, we continued clearing the along the canal.

We were fortunate to have a great turnout of volunteers, young and old.  Our Burn Boss got the fire going, and for more than 2 hours, we fed the fire.

What started as a big pile of brush became a big fire.  24 hours later, all that was left was a small pile of ash.  Spring rain and wind will take care of the ash, and we will do it all again in the next session.

Many thanks to Steve for his efforts to educate and organize, and to our dedicated volunteers who showed up to feed the fire and feel the burn.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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

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