Pump Up the Prairie #6
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Wolf Road Prairie

Our goal for the December 17th Pump Up the Prairie workday was to "blow open" the southeast corner of the area known as Block #410 and the old platted 1920's subdivision street directly to the south. This is the area west of the corner we worked on during National Public Lands Day on September 24, 2011. The targeted corner had become a blockage of nearly impenetrable buckthorn in only a matter of a few years since the last aggressive management occurred here.

As we arrived at the work zone, a light snowfall was covering the prairie. The stand of buckthorn loomed ahead - ugly, dense, thorny and spreading rapidly into perimeters of high quality prairie.

Jack Pizzo revved up his brushwacker and launched himself into the thicket. A short time later, John Kolar started up his brushwacker and joined the fray. Buckthorn had met its match for the day.

Cutting and hauling buckthorn is not easy or pleasant work. Volunteers deal with nasty thorns that can penetrate even heavy gloves as they gather downed branches and feed them into the fire.

The brush burn pile for the workday was manned by Bill Ransom, FPDCC, burn boss for the workday. Kristin Pink, FPDCC workday manager, oversaw the activities. Also on hand from the District were Mary Love, Curtis Alexander and Gilbert Rosario who gathered brush and assisted with keeping the brush pile burning. Ken Evans also attended and stayed to help for the beginning of the workday.

The land area being cleared was about half an acre in size, but estimates suggest that anywhere from dozens to hundreds of multiple buckthorn stems occupied a typical square meter in the work zone. Multiply this by the size of the work area and it is likely that thousands upon thousands of buckthorn stems were populating this prairie ground.
Jack used a brushwacker which shredded the cut stumps. John used a brushwacker with a smooth blade. The question arose, "Which technique works better?" Jack responded that "cutting buckthorn resulting in a smooth cut encourages the setting of buds and resprouts. Cutting buckthorn resulting in a shredded cut damages buckthorn and makes it harder for it to set buds and resprout. Both methods require follow-up herbicide treatment."

Dr. Darrel Murray arrived at the workday to introduce a selection of native seed he had gathered during the growing season. He scattered the seed over the snow in areas recommended for introduction by Steve Byers, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

As the workday drew to a close, we paused to survey the results. It was amazing to look up from cutting and hauling to see just how much clearing was accomplished in less than three hours. The visual impact was astounding. Views to the north and south were unobstructed and the prairie landscape looked splendid. A kestrel was seen hovering overhead north of the work area. Perhaps the activity and noise were scattering mice in his direction for a tasty lunch.

But much work still needed to be done. Kristin Pink led the herbicide team including SCGA volunteers John Kolar and Greg Jerzyk. They began the arduous task of applying herbicide to the cut stumps as the brush pile burned down.

Thanks to Greg who brought hot coffee, snacks and home-made cheesecake to the workday to keep everyone energized.

Thanks to Dave Waycie for taking photos of the workday, recording the achievements of the day and recognizing those who were part of the work team.

Thanks to the hardy volunteers who were part of this breakthrough Pump Up the Prairie workday.

Interested in volunteering at one of the finest prairie remnants in Cook County, Illinois and beyond? For more information contact:

Steve Byers, INPC at steven.byers@illinois.gov
Maggie Cole, IDNR at Maggie.cole@illinois.gov
Kristin Pink,FPDCC at kristin.pink@cookcountyil.gov
Jack Pizzo, Pizzo & Associates, Ltd. at jack@pizzo.info
Valerie Spale, SCGA at stpsspale@aol.com

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