Buffer Success Stories from Landowners, Farmers, Conservation Groups and Community Leaders
Trees Forever works with landowners, farmers, conservation groups and community leaders to plant trees and native grasses in buffers along rivers, streams and waterways. These conservation efforts improve water quality, soil retention and wildlife habitat.
Here are some stories from some of our recent participants of Trees Forever’s Working Watersheds: Buffers & Beyond, Illinois Buffer Partnership and/or Pollinator Habitat Conservation programs.
Keeping the Farm Healthy
Randy and Linda Carr’s 300-acre farm near Eldora, Iowa, has been in the family just over 100 years. They moved there in 1979, built a home, grew corn and soybeans, and raised their children while adding a number of conservation practices along the way. In the 1980s, the Carrs were early adopters of terraces and have steadily decreased tillage. Their son, Mike, has been a good voice for conservation and helped the family add several native plantings in the last decade.
In 2007, a hillside was starting to erode, and they planted a mix of trees and shrubs including oaks, evergreens, American plum and choke cherry. Native grasses and flowers have been planted there and along the borders of farm fields. In 2012, they built a pond and surrounded it with native wetland and prairie plants. Especially impressive in this area is a battle against Reed Canary grass that the Carrs are slowly but surely winning by intensively managing for natives. Mike hand collects seed and grows out prairie seedlings to supplement plantings, and spearheads mowing and burning to manage the native plants. In 2015, he participated in Stewards of the Beautiful Land offered in Hardin County, and learned about the opportunity to add additional pollinator habitat to the farm. In the spring of 2016 the Carrs planted a strip of land totaling 1.5 acres to a very diverse mix of early, mid, and late season blooming plants, including 11 grasses, 5 sedges, and 40 flowers. In July of 2017, the Carrs hosted a field day to share information on these projects.
Randy and Linda stated, “Though we may not see the results of all the conservation projects, hopefully they help keep the farm healthy and future generations of our family can stay on the farm.”
Teaming Up for a Hands-On Lesson!
For a number of years, Mitchell County (Iowa) Conservation has been working to stabilize a riverbank and reduce soil erosion in one the parks it manages along the Cedar River. Halvorson Park, just south of St. Ansgar, has experienced a lot of recent bank erosion. The cut bank was reshaped to a flatter 4:1 slope, rip rap was added, and J hooks installed to prevent future erosion. As a final step, they added soil on top of the rip rap and seeded the 300-foot riverbank with deep-rooted native prairie.
“Prairie plants are important for many reasons,” Trees Forever Program Manager Meredith Borchardt said. “When it comes to water quality, their dense deep roots absorb storm water, build up the soil’s structure and decrease soil erosion.”
Floodwaters changed the plan. Shortly after it was seeded in the fall of 2015, the Cedar River rose over its riverbanks and washed away the seed. Rather than reseed, Mitchell County Conservation decided to plant about 2,000 live plants. With this quantity of plants, students from St. Ansgar Schools put into practice the idea “many hands make light work” and literally dug in as part of a hands-on lesson about environmental stewardship. Small teams of three students covered 10-foot sections along the river, each planting about 60 potted plants in May 2017. The 39 species included a mix of sedges, grasses and flowers blooming throughout the growing season to support pollinators while also anchoring the soil. Now the children will be able to visit this park and know that their hard work helped water quality and wildlife! No wonder, this project was awarded as the 2017 Trees Forever Youth Volunteer Group!
Creating a Healthy Buffer by Diversifying
In a word, “sustainability” is what the Prescotts do; so it only makes sense that they would plant a buffer with a diverse variety of species to help ensure a more sustainable future for their woodland!
Linda and Patrick Prescott own and operate Prescott’s Farm, a 34-acre farm near Norris, Illinois, in rural Fulton County. Through sustainable farming practices, they raise more than 50 varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as provide chicken and duck eggs, and local honey. They sell their goodies through a CSA (community supported agriculture, where consumers buy directly from the farmer) and at the local farmer’s market in Canton.
In 2004 and 2012, they applied to the Illinois Buffer Partnership to diversify and enhance the riparian buffer along the creek at the back of their farm. When they began their project, the buffer only had five different species of trees in it. A diverse mix of trees improves the overall health of a forest and is the best way to ensure resiliency when faced with threats such as the emerald ash borer or whatever the next major disease or pest threat might be.
In an effort to diversify, the Prescotts planted more the 40 species of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Unfortunately, there was a drought both years they planted, and quite a few species died. Linda says that knowing what she does now, she would’ve planted fewer larger trees and shrubs, instead of seedlings, fenced them for protection against the deer and rabbits, and looked at the long-term weather patterns.
In the spring of 2017, they planted an 18-acre field into pollinator habitat. She is planning to plant flowering shrubs along the field edge to provide additional nectar and pollen for her 4 beehives.
Restoring the Prairie
The restoration of the Bayles Lake Homeowner’s Association Prairie, locally known as Cardinal Prairie, began in 2014. The 8-acre property, on the southwest corner of Bayles Lake, was originally slated to become a subdivision known as Prairie Docks. The subdivision never transpired and with all of the naturally occurring prairie dock, Rod Cardinal wanted to restore the prairie. With the support of the Board of Directors and assistance of Trees Forever’s Pollinator Habitat Conservation program, the local Pheasants Forever chapter, and many others, the restoration began.
One of the biggest challenges is removing the invasive species, such as autumn olive and cottonwood. Due to the close proximity of nearby residences, frequent burning is not an option for management. Rod has been mowing and spot treating to control the invasive species. Along the ½ mile mowed walking trail, you will see a grove of bur oaks, big bluestem and the bright yellow flowers of prairie dock blowing with the breeze, thousands of butterflies and other insects, numerous deer tracks, AND if you’re quiet, you can hear the pheasants calling.
In this photo, Rod Cardinal stands among the ironweed and prairie dock. Behind Rod, you can see one of the several bluebird houses that he has installed throughout the prairie restoration. After 30 years, Rod retired from the University of Illinois’ Sports Medicine team, but still works with the men’s basketball team part-time.
Rod says that we all need to pay it forward when it comes to parks, green spaces, and surrounding environments. His hope is that this prairie will be a legacy to his grandchildren and future generations to come.
“We look forward to seeing these trees and shrubs grow and provide habitat along this section of creek. Thank you to Trees Forever,” said Kent.
Kent and Joy Short know full well the value of trees and shrubs, both from a monetary standpoint and from a conservation perspective. Kent was an early adopter of aronia berries; impressed with their potential yields and health benefits. He has been planting for several years on a hillside that is prone to erosion. The deep roots of the aronia bushes help to keep sediment out of a 2.5-acre pond on the farm. The last couple years he has been marketing the berries to a company that does value added processing.
Kent and Joy also know the value of trees for conservation. They recently embarked on a small restoration project removing honeysuckle, buckthorn, and other invasive species along a tributary to Rapid Creek that is susceptible to erosion. Getting “roots in the ground” with diverse species like willow, river birch, serviceberry and bald cypress was the focus of a 2017 Working Watersheds Buffers and Beyond grant they received to help them with the work.
Helping the Earth Heal
In 1999, the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, bought a small farm close to the ever-encroaching border of the Illinois capitol city. The farmland they purchased was adjacent to a creek with steep hills with pastureland, woods and some row crops. Testing showed unhealthy soil and invasive species had overtaken the woods and grass areas. According to Sister Sharon Zayac, the sisters wanted to restore the land and create an educational and spiritual retreat center that demonstrated responsible stewardship. The name, Jubilee Farm, grew from Pope John Paul’s call for the Great Jubilee in 2000 and the Biblical directive to let the land lie fallow.
Under the direction of Sister Sharon and project manager, Nate Hoyle, restoration began and focused on woodland management and prairie and wetland restoration. Nate began the project as a graduate student while at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) along with volunteers from the UIS Biology Club.
Jubilee Farm has partnered with Trees Forever on several restoration projects over the past several years. Those projects include: removal of invasive species, woodland management and planting native trees; burning the old pasture/prairie areas and overseeding with native grasses and forbs; and wetland restoration that includes planting pollinator-friendly native plants.
The restoration efforts have provided educational opportunities to people of all ages. Sister Sharon says it is exciting when she hears the UIS students say they see plants there that they previously have only seen in books.
While the process of renewal of the land is long-term and maintenance will be forever, Sister Sharon is most excited about seeing the “absolute miracle of creation” appear before her eyes! The Earth will hold the native seeds in the soil bank, and when conditions are right, they will come back. “The Earth knows how to heal herself.”