Stewardship Begins

by Carl Strang

Earlier this spring I began my work as volunteer steward of McCormick Woods, the main forest at St. James Farm Forest Preserve. The stewards provide backup and extension of the ecosystem restoration work by Forest Preserve District staff. The McCormick Woods ecosystem is the highest quality forest in the western half of DuPage County, and the District has put considerable effort into its restoration, but there still is plenty for volunteers to do. Invasive shrubs and herbaceous plants are established in significant portions of the forest, there supplanting the diverse native plant and animal community.

I have had the help of two other volunteers, Wayne and Bob, and we have made a good start. We began by focusing on garlic mustard, an invasive and allelopathic biennial, in two large areas where native plant diversity is excellent and garlic mustard is not yet well established. We took the bushels of pulled garlic mustard plants and dumped them in two locations, hoping to make progress against the forest’s biggest threat: goutweed.

Goutweed is a perennial member of the parsley family (Apiaceae, formerly Umbelliferae).

Goutweed was imported from its native Europe and commonly is planted as an ornamental ground cover. Apparently it was used in the landscape around the McCormick residence at St. James Farm. Unfortunately it spread into the adjacent forest, and significant colonies of the plant have supplanted the native forest flora in places. Repeated applications of herbicides by District staff may have slowed it down, but do not kill it. Stronger herbicides that would kill it also would threaten the trees.

I selected goutweed colonies in two locations as garlic mustard dump sites. I wanted to see if masses of pulled plants might smother the goutweed, hoping also that allelochemicals might leach out and inhibit goutweed growth. The goutweed has proven to be resilient.

Goutweed leaves pushed up through the piles of garlic mustard in the first location, which had not received an herbicide spray earlier in the spring.

The second dump was in goutweed that had been hit by herbicide. It is too soon to say whether the results are any better.

At some point I want to take measurements to see how fast the goutweed colonies are expanding, and whether these efforts slow that growth.

Now that the garlic mustard pulling is done for the year, we have shifted to another location and are cutting common buckthorn and Amur honeysuckle. That part of the forest still has a good diversity of native woodland plants hanging on beneath the invasive shrubs.

Here is part of the area we have cleared. Increased light levels should allow native plants to expand their populations.

We are creating a brush pile of the cuttings that later will be burned.

There are no goutweed patches in that part of the forest. Burning brush piles would kill the goutweed beneath them.

I was inspired to take on the stewardship job by the diversity of life in McCormick Woods. Some recent photos:

Shooting stars have popped up here and there where they were released by the removal of invasive brush.

Giant swallowtails appear occasionally at St. James Farm.

A recent addition to the preserve species list was this Zabulon skipper.

SJFNHS: Slipping into December

by Carl Strang

St. James Farm Forest Preserve has become quieter in recent weeks.

Most migrants, including this swamp sparrow, have moved on south.

Most migrants, including this swamp sparrow, have moved on south.

The frantic rutting season is winding down as does begin to gestate their new embryo fawns.

This young buck has lost any neck swelling he may have had when pumped up by hormones.

This young buck has lost any neck swelling he may have had when pumped up by hormones.

Grazing has his full attention now, though I see that he is about to bite off something with a broader leaf, so “forbsing” would be a more correct term here.

Grazing has his full attention now, though I see that he is about to bite off something with a broader leaf, so “forbsing” would be a more correct term here.

Visibility has increased greatly in the forest after a four-day period in which the honeysuckles and buckthorns dropped nearly all their leaves at the end of November. I have begun to take advantage of this and explore the areas between the trails.

One discovery was this old concrete foundation of a small building close to the preserve’s Winfield Road boundary.

One discovery was this old concrete foundation of a small building close to the preserve’s Winfield Road boundary.

Adjacent to that foundation is an unnaturally steep, eroding slope. It probably was created during the construction or widening of Winfield Road, cutting into the morainal hill.

Adjacent to that foundation is an unnaturally steep, eroding slope. It probably was created during the construction or widening of Winfield Road, cutting into the morainal hill.

As is the case around most former building sites on the preserve, this one is surrounded by a patch of goutweed, an undesirable invasive plant.

As is the case around most former building sites on the preserve, this one is surrounded by a patch of goutweed, an undesirable invasive plant.

I am looking forward to further off-trail exploration as my natural history survey of this preserve continues.

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