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Conservation Easements Conservation easements are individually tailored agreements through which landowners voluntarily limit the use and development of their property to permanently preserve its natural or scenic features. These features – called conservation values...Read More
Protect · Educate · Engage
If every seedling produced by the Illinois state tree nurseries were to survive, Illinois would no longer be called the Prairie State. So maybe I should not feel so bad after viewing the results of a 2012 tree planting.
Industries are built up around growing the perfect turf grass, high yielding commodity grains, and designer nursery plants, though when it comes to growing plants that support birds, bees, and butterflies, we are often on our own. This reality, combined with the tricks nature can play (and there are many), can ruin the best intentions.
Going by memory past a dozen or so homes on a dead end road, I parked as the sun was just above the horizon. The neighborhood was tired and questioned my presence even without a person in sight. If anyone was awake they are definitely wondering who I am and what I am doing, but no would call the police. They handle their own problems here. Trekking along the old access road over logs and debris left by the last flood, I could not imagine how I drove down this same path just a few years ago.
How tall would the trees be? Were they taken care of? Did the river impact their survival? Am I in the right place? The walk seemed much longer than when I drove. Rounding the final bend the memories rushed back.
It was mid-June. High water and wet conditions prevented the usual early spring planting. I pulled into the site well after dark. Candace had a fire started and her tent set up. Brad was joining us first thing in the morning. The 1989 Beast truck rumbling juxtaposed to the river’s edge stillness, illuminated by the Milky Way felt like a dream taking a turn, switching the smell of anxious diesel fumes to subtle campfire smoke and acoustic music on a radio in the distance. It was the night before the big game, this is what we were put on earth to accomplish. At sunrise we offload the tractor and plant 5,400 river bottom hardwood trees.
One can imagine the feeling when I rounded the same bend almost four years later to see an empty, snow covered, mowed field. “Damn it!” I whispered under my breath walking out into the open field looking for clues under the snow. A redwing blackbird in the distance tried to cheer me up with its spring song. I kept walking, looking for signs of mowed off trees in the blanketed soft ground.
Would killing the invasive reed canary grass, as we recommended, have made things better? Spraying it at the exact time to get a good kill could have been difficult and would have had to be done on foot if the road was impassable. 2012 had a wet spring that turned to drought. I remember a rain shortly after planting, but do not recall if that was the last rain before October. If trees had survived, did the person mowing know to look for them? An oak leaf in the snow! Did they know that coppicing bareroot seedlings (cutting at the ground, mowing in this case) after 3 or 4 growing seasons is a good way get straight, fast growing trees from deer browsed oak bushes? Maybe another flood wiped them out a year later. I’ll bet the deer came down each row and ate the tops, uprooting each stem, laughing at our effort.
The advice of Joe Slater, a now retired wildlife biologist for the US Fish & Wildlife Service, resounded in the cold air. “River bottoms are a harsh environment. We plant hardwoods here because this is where they belong. If they die, get washed away, crowded out, or drowned, we replant and adjust our management for what we can control. If it happens again we replant. Conditions for survival may occur only once every few years. We have to be ready for success.”
How much time do we spend caring for a newly planted lawn in the first season and every year after? Farmers prepare the fields, plant in windows between springtime rains, control weeds, check for insect damage, and manage accordingly. What successful flower bed goes unweeded, unfertilized, and unwatered? When we plant a field of trees, what changes? If John Chapman had stayed in one place to manage his apple orchards would our culture around tree planting be different. The last time I planted an apple tree without a fence and armed guards it was destroyed by deer in two days.
I will make a call next week and speak with the landowner. Maybe there is something we can do. This land has been manipulated by humans for 150 years. Rejuvenating natural processes is going to take more than one day’s effort in late spring and a token mowing. When you hire someone, RBWT or other, to plant trees and 2 or 3 years of maintenance is included as part of the bid, no one is trying to milk your bank account. They are readying you for success.
I have fondness for every season, but when the transition to the next occurs I am always excited. Friday’s (February 19) warm temperatures and high winds really got me going. Coming back from a meeting in Muscatine, Iowa, I gave Jacob Smith our intern a call. “Meet me at the Milan Bottoms in 30 minutes. It is time for an education.” Yearning for Spring we went for a walk into the still dormant wilderness. Young oak trees still had last year’s leaves. Ice still covered most of the Mississippi backwaters. Beavers had not started back to work, but someone forgot to tell the waterfowl it is still February.
Canada geese rarely get me excited anymore. Every golf course, storm water retention pond, and riverside park features a flock or two. Walking back to the road, conversation with Jacob, kept getting interrupted by the honking of geese flying over. Their silhouettes were outlined by the nearly full moon lighting our walk. We stopped, breathed in the warm, humid air and listened. For 5 minutes we listened to waves of geese, one after the other, gliding in to the Bottoms to rest for the night on their journey north.
This land is a special place. It is part of nature’s process. I have described the Milan Bottoms as a stopover on the Mississippi River flyway at least a hundred times in the past decade. But somehow it feels different now, witnessed, or maybe I am just longing for Spring and the geese my personal harbinger.
We conserve and restore land with support from our members. Join today to show your support.Read More
Third Thursday of Each Month: Member Meetings
When: Thursday February 18th Doors open at 6:00 program begins at 6:30 and should last less than an hour.
Where: Singing Bird Nature Center in Black Hawk Park (approximately 4450 15th Street, Rock Island, Illinois)
Who is invited: Past, Present, Future Members and Friends
Program: An Investigation of Butterfly Species Diversity in Rock Island/Moline, Illinois
Kassandra Tyra (Augustana College Class of 2016)
Summary: Urbanization is dramatically impacting our ecosystems, and we are losing biodiversity at unprecedented rates. These losses are occurring across all levels, from genetic to organismal. This study aimed to discover the extent to which urbanization has impacted butterfly biodiversity in the urban forests of Rock Island/Moline, Illinois.
Following the presentation there will be question and answer.Read More
This is the Field Day portion of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) S130/190 Basic Wildland Firefighter Training. If you are interested in learning prescribed burning techniques and safety for prescribed prairies and woodlands burns this is the course for you.
Course Date: Friday April 15, 2016, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: Illinois City, Illinois (Directions provided upon registration) 2 miles west of Muscatine, Iowa
Deadline for Registration: April 1, 2016
Deadline for online course completion (it takes about 36 hours): April 7, 2016
The intended audience is:
Due to cold rain and potentially freezing road conditions the Wolf Moon Hike is postponed until Monday, February 1, 2016.
See you at Milan Bottoms (5405 78th Avenue W, Milan, Illinois)
Monday, February 1, 4:30 pm to 8:00 pmRead More
When: Thursday January 21st 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Singing Bird Lodge in Black Hawk Park (approximately 4450 15th Street, Rock Island, IL)
Who is invited: Past, Present, Future members and friends
What to bring: A covered dish. Beverages, cups and place settings will be provided
Program: Eric Anderson our newly hired Executive Director will give a short presentation on recent activities and the active role that River Bend is taking as a conservation land trust in land protection, environmental education, and natural area restoration. RBWT has turned a corner and is about to become an even bigger player in Quad Cities conservation and community development. We will be working with private landowners and public entities in a bigger way to grow, connect, and restore natural areas.
If the any of the following topics are of interest, you should attend and consider becoming a member of River Bend Wildland Trust.
Announcements: River Bend Wildland Stewards: (our volunteer group) Member Meeting schedule and activities for 2016 will be announced.Read More
On October 1, 2015, Eric Anderson was hired as the Executive Director for River Bend Wildland Trust (River Bend). Anderson, a respected conservation advocate and practitioner, is a believer in building community, and strong local economies with easy access to nature. Anderson has been a volunteer with River Bend and its predecessor organizations for over 12 years. He has served on the Board of River Bend since it was formed as a non-profit in 2013, under the mentorship of Interstate Resource Conservation & Development. Previously, Anderson spent two years working in the environmental consulting field with a mid-size Chicago firm which grew out of a forestry consulting business he operated from Viola, Illinois starting in 2007.
River Bend is unique among local conservation organizations in that it can make conservation goals permanent. If a landowner wants to make sure that the conservation values (e.g. wildlife habitat, wetlands, and relatively natural aesthetics) of their property are protected legally, forever, River Bend does this with conservation easements. “If you want to make sure your hunting property is there for your great-grandchildren and is not a subdivision, we can help.” said Anderson. “Our ability to do land protection will depend on the community’s support.” Details of that process and how to become a member are on the River Bend website www.rbwt.org.
River Bend members have been doing active stewardship for over two decades. Prescribed burning at Black Hawk State Historic Site, and establishing the prairie and planting trees at the Milan Bottoms Preserve are two examples their work. This background and Anderson’s experience doing forest management with private landowners are coming together.
River Bend will be offering fee-for-service ecosystem restoration for its members on private and public lands. “A permanent conservation easement is not for everyone, but there are a lot of folks in the area with forest management plans in need of implementation assistance. If they are River Bend members we will help them manage their properties.” said Anderson. Income from this work will cover the cost of stewardship staff. Profits will go to support the ongoing mission of the organization.
“I have a lot of ideas I want to implement with River Bend. We have always done a lot of education with elementary and high school groups. I want to extend that to collage and career bound individuals that are interested in nature, ecology, conservation, and non-profits. I am currently working with faculty and administrators at Augustana and Black Hawk Colleges to incorporate our activities into their course work. I plan to reach out to other area colleges and universities in the coming weeks.” said Anderson.Read More