Special delivery of trees will help restore Libertyville-area preserve
The 125 trees delivered Friday to Libertyville Township's newest nature preserve are small, but they will play a big role in restoring the landscape to what settlers might have encountered hundreds of years ago.
Made up mostly of five types of oaks, the cache of trees will be planted in coming weeks as an integral part of an ongoing effort to convert farm fields along Casey Road near Almond Road to a native state.
In this case, the palette is about 12 acres that is part of a multiphase plan to convert 303 acres of township property to a restored landscape of native prairies, wetlands and savannas, recently dedicated as the Donnelley Prairies and Oaks Preserve.
"This is the next phase. These fields last year were farmed," explained Damon Cederberg, the township's open space field coordinator.
Two species of hickory also were part of the special order.
Getting to this point involved a partnership of many groups, including the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, which provided a grant of $11,450.
Morton is administering the grants for the U.S. Forest Service and Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It's leading an effort to preserve, protect and enhance oak ecosystems throughout northern Illinois.
The Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation also contributed $125,000 toward the township's restoration plan. Because it is an Illinois Nature Preserve, there are guidelines about what can be planted.
"The trees that have been ordered have specific genetic requirements," said Sarah Surroz, executive director of Conserve Lake County. "The DNA from these trees is local to this area."
Ensuring what was being planted is what originally existed here involved soil testing, examination of old aerial photographs and detailed land surveyor notes from the 1800s.
The research showed that oaks dominated the landscape.
"That's what we know is native to the area. We're planting the right trees at the right site," Cederberg said.
To get to this point, what became a wall of field rocks was removed and the fields planted with several species of native sedge grasses to stabilize the soil.
Oak ecosystems are on the decline, with only 17 percent of native oak ecosystem still around, according to Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative.
Morton is leading the Oak Ecosystem Recovery Plan implementation and working with land managers and owners across northern Illinois, she added.
"We want to be sure that these native ecosystems are here when we are gone for the next generation to experience our native heritage," she said.
Tree locations at the Donnelley Prairies and Oaks Preserve have been selected and prepped for volunteers who will be planting Oct. 14 and 21.