Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Volunteers restore woodland at Dixon Springs Agricultural Center

Twenty-six volunteers attend a woodland restoration event hosted by the University of Illinois, College of ACES - Forest Resource Center and the River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) to remove invasive burning bush or fire shrub from the forest around the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center. 

Dixon Springs Agricultural Center (DSAC), established in 1934 on 5,100 acres of un-glaciated land, is special place nestled within the Shawnee National Forest (NF) - dedicated to agronomic research that connects land managers in Southern Illinois to research priorities of the University of Illinois College of ACES and Veterinary Medicine.  The DSAC facility sits directly adjacent to the Shawnee NF within an area of Illinois designated as a Conservation Opportunity Area (COA) by the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan.  There are three COA’s in the southernmost 11 counties of Illinois.  These COA’s are areas where there are important wildlife and habitat resources, coupled with the potential networks and organizations to conserve these resources.  One of the most important aspects of conserving wildlife and habitat resources is the management of invasive species.

Burning bush has been prohibited from sale in three states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire) because of its invasive potential.  Invasion of burning bush, like other woody invasive species, may out-compete native forest understory plants and cause decreased biodiversity in forests.  Invasive burning bush can be found in Southern Illinois, in forested land surrounding homes or neighborhoods with ornamental plantings.  It is estimated that burning bush has been in landscaping around the DSAC buildings for fifty years, and now hundreds of plants can be found in the forest understory.  Recognizing the problem, Jim Kirkland, director of the Forest Resource Center, decided to plan a Woodland Restoration Event in coordination with the River to River CWMA to preserve the natural resources around the DSAC. 

On Saturday, November 2nd, 2013, volunteers gathered in the DSAC dormitory basement to learn how to identify burning bush and three other woody invasive species – bush honeysuckle, autumn olive, and multiflora rose.  Individuals represented all skill levels in land management, and were taught all the techniques necessary for invasive species control.  Several groups were represented, including the Southeastern Illinois Prescribed Burn Association (SIPBA), Illinois Forestry Association, University of Illinois Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists, Southern Illinois University Department of Forestry and Society of American Foresters Student Chapter, and Smith Tree Farm LLC.  Volunteers with chainsaws, hand saws, and loppers cut the woody plants at 6 inches or less from the ground surface.  Then certified pesticide applicators applied a 25% solution of glyphosate in water, mixed with blue dye so that it was easy to track the cut surfaces that had been treated.  Cut surfaces were treated within 10 minutes or less to ensure the root system takes up the herbicide.  Since seeds were present, the plants were left in the location where they were cut.  Dragging the plants to another location would have spread the seeds and contributed to the invasive problem in the future.  It is estimated that volunteers were able to control invasive species on approximately 2 acres of DSAC land, mostly focusing on the edges of the woodland, since that is where mature plants were producing the most seed.  

Following the Woodland Restoration Event, volunteers were treated to a meal of hearty bean stew with cornbread and desert, compliments of the Forest Resource Center.  Several volunteers stayed on in the afternoon to hear a presentation for Southeastern Prescribed Burn Association (SIPBA) members by Dr. Charles Ruffner from Southern Illinois University, on identifying the right weather conditions for conducting prescribed burns for land management.

Although much restoration work was accomplished, yearly follow-up events will be necessary to fully restore the woodland.  Thank you to all the volunteers that participated!  If you would like information about similar upcoming events, please contact Karla Gage, River to River CWMA Coordinator at rtrcwma@gmail.com.
Please see this link for more event photos.