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Coles County Partnership for Healthy Forests 

The battle to curb invasive species takes root in a local partnership effort. 
By: Kathy Andrews 

Across the state, organizations are popping up with a similar, but singular, mission—to curb the loss of native habitats and plants by waging war on exotic species. In east-central Illinois, the Coles County Partnership for Healthy Forests is working to educate residents about the health of the county’s 32,000 woodland acres.          

Roger Jansen, the DNR district natural heritage biologist covering Clark, Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Macon, Moultrie, Shelby and Vermilion counties, reports that the majority of Coles County’s woodlands are invaded with exotic species with the end result being  low- to poor-quality woodlands.          

“The effort made by the Partnership is encouraging and I hope this type of effort is taken up by citizens in other areas of the state,” said Jansen.

Dave Mott is the Woodland Invasives Specialist with the Coles County Partnership for Healthy Forests. From May to December for the past two years, Mott has met with landowners, assessed their woodland relative to the presence of native species and ranked the level of the exotic species invasion from light to very heavy. In two years he has worked with 42 landowners, cruised 1,400 acres and removed invasive species on 620 acres.

“I’ve been on some properties where the only thing remaining after the exotics have been cut is bare ground,” Mott remarked. “A heavy infestation of exotic plants changes the structure of the forest by curtailing the regeneration of native species. Exotics are one of the biggest threats to our environment.”

Mott and his team (he’s often joined by interns from Eastern Illinois University) work with each landowner for as long as their schedule permits while the team is onsite, showing them the process for effectively removing bush honeysuckle, autumn olive, multiflora rose and burning bush and the safe use of pesticides with little collateral damage to native species. The goal of this training is to leave each landowner with the skills necessary to continue the removal effort after Mott leaves the site. The final step of the process is a written evaluation of the woodland, including a list of the herbaceous woodland plants Mott noted which provides an indication of the overall quality of the habitat. Mott’s experience as a birder also lends weight to the report as throughout his time on the property he notes the birds he sees and hears, ever vigilant for indications of the presence of species heavily dependent on large woodland tracts.

I followed Mott one afternoon, watching as he attacked bush honeysuckle with a chain saw, followed with a chemical application of glyphosate (Round-up).

“I’ve found that you have to spray the stumps immediately after you cut them as they are too easily lost on the forest floor,” Mott explained.   

Nearby, the EIU interns moved in tandem with their loppers and sprayers.

Taking a break under the shade of a big oak tree, our conversation was periodically interrupted as Mott identified bird calls.

“There’s a yellow-throated vireo, which is one of the birds of conservation concern and indicative of a high-quality forest,” Mott called out. “Earlier today I heard a wood thrush, yellow-billed cuckoo and Acadian flycatcher.”

For the remainder of the year, Mott conducts workshops for landowners, educational programs for school children and adults and leads service learning efforts.
 
“Biologists and conservationists know what exotic species are doing to our habitats, but for the most part this knowledge has not yet reached general public,” Mott concluded. “It is critical that we get the general public involved and more knowledgeable so they seek out suitable species for the landscaping efforts. I’m always preaching the “Go Native” message, encouraging landowners to utilize plants that are beneficial to wildlife and won’t upset the balance of nature on their property—and beyond.” 

For more information on exotic species, visit www.dnr.state.il.us/orc/invasive_species.htm. The site contains a wealth of information, including identification tips, treatment options and local resources available to assist landowners with removal projects.

Additional valuable information can be found at http://dnr.state.il.us/INPC/Management_guidelines.htm.   

The Coles County Partnership for Healthy Forests is sponsored by the Lumpkin Family Foundation, with added financial or technical support from the Coles County Soil and Water Conservation District, Lincoln Heritage Pheasants Forever, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Woodyard Farm, Rollie and Lois Spaniol, Lloyd and Virginia Johns, Fritts Fertilizer, Embarras Valley Quail Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Embarras Volunteer Stewards, River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area, Eastern Illinois University and DNR.