Group upset over tree removal at Lake of the Woods

Group upset over tree removal at Lake of the Woods

MAHOMET — A group of avid users of a large section of Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in Mahomet is upset about the way dozens of trees have been removed this year without any notification or discussion.

The group hopes to voice its displeasure at a meeting of the forest preserve board at 6 p.m. today at the Izaak Walton Cabin at Lake of the Woods.

"The clear-cutting and the disregard for mature, healthy trees has been going on for several years. But this massive destruction this year is just awful. This is the worst ever," said Linda Case of Mahomet, a frequent user of the Buffalo Trace Prairie at Lake of the Woods, located west of Illinois 47. "It's like listening to a Joni Mitchell song. I think this is what finally instigated people to act."

Jeff Riddle, who estimates that he has run more than 30,000 miles at the prairie area since moving to Mahomet in 1984, said he believes the forest preserve district should have done a better job of keeping its customers informed.

"I'm a facilities person. I'm a planner," said Riddle, also of Mahomet, who works at the University of Illinois' Housing Division. "For me the bottom line is why didn't you at least tell people about this, not that you're going to change your mind. But if you have a good plan and you believe in your plan, you should take whatever criticism comes. But if you believe in it, you'll still do it. But you might want to see what other people say.

"I think they just missed the opportunity to do some good public relations. I think they're finding out that they sort of blew it."

Jerry Pagac, the director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, said Wednesday that he thinks the agency should have kept the park's users in the loop about the tree-cutting.

"I have to admit that we fell down in that regard. For whatever reason we did not do that," he said. "We usually prepare a flier or something so that if somebody walks by they can understand what is going on."

That, Pagac said, is what the agency did several years ago when it cut down 50 or so Callery pear trees on the east side of Illinois 47.

It's the offspring of those trees that are being felled this year.

"That stuff is so incredibly invasive," Pagac said. "The seed is spread and everything germinates and the trees grow as close together as cornstalks. With other trees you never get a thicket like these produce. It is literally an impenetrable thicket when it gets going.

"What has happened is, we think that from those forest trees that were planted, their progeny is all over the place. So we're systematically trying to eradicate that tree from the preserve. It's a pretty daunting task."

The long-range plan for Buffalo Trace, he said, is to turn parts of it into native prairie.

"Our goal is to let people see what the grand prairie, our region here, was like at one time," he said.

But the heat and drought this summer is making things worse for the forest preserve district, Pagac said. Large piles of tree limbs and debris remain in the open fields, calling more attention to the tree-clearing.

"I can understand why people are scratching their heads, saying what are those people doing?" he said. "The timing couldn't be worse with this kind of heat. People out there on the trails want shade and here we are out there cutting trees. I understand their frustration.

"This is something we've been doing for several years and this is the first time we've gotten a reaction. We were wondering why is that. We think part of it is that in past years as we've taken trees down, we can burn them right away and get rid of them. But this year with the drought conditions we have we're not going to do any burning. That's made it much more noticeable."

Case said she believes some mature trees at Buffalo Trace should have been allowed to remain.

"Yes there were non-native trees and that was the issue. But our feeling was at least leave the mature trees," she said. "They had nests in them. There were Baltimore orioles out there and now they're gone. There were Eastern kingbirds in another tree up on a hill and now that tree is gone. So they've shown no respect at all that it's habitat for birds."

Riddle, who runs and walks in the park nearly every morning before 6 a.m., said he misses the trees along the running trails.

"There's a place we call Goat Mountain. And when you get up there, there used to be a few trees that gave you some shade," he said. "But now they're completely gone. It's a bit depressing."

Both Case and Riddle stressed that they love the park and appreciate the forest preserve district.

"We love that park and we definitely want to work with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. It's just that we feel we've been ignored and that people's concerns have basically been set aside and not addressed," Case said.

"I love the park. I love the trails. But please let us know first. If you believe in the plan don't be afraid to tell people about it," Riddle said.

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Orbiter wrote on July 26, 2012 at 8:07 am

It's hugely ironic that the Champaign County Forest Preserve District says "The long-range plan for Buffalo Trace... is to turn parts of it into native prairie."  Nice. That's only one plowing away from being a cornfield, and then one developer away from being a nice mall or subdivision.  Great work.

They need to change their name from "Forest Preserve District" to "Prairie Restoration District" to reflect their newfound mission.

Fromthearea wrote on July 26, 2012 at 8:07 am

Would it be so hard to have some faith in the people who maintain the parks as far as knowing what they're doing?  I'm one hundred percent positive the persons involved in making the decisions are educated in forestry and know what's best for the park.  I'm pretty sure it says on the sign for that part of the park that it's a prairie restoration, and invasive species trees don't belong in a prairie. 

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on July 26, 2012 at 8:07 am
Profile Picture

I agree with your sentiment.


But I also think it's important to communicate information; to make it available to people. 


This report makes the point that information wasn't  communicated. That's one of the nuances that makes this piece so interesting to read.  Who'd'a thunk a piece about cutting trees was interesting to read?  (Answer George Washington)


Kudos to Tom Kacich. This is local reporting that concerns & affects people.

ronaldo wrote on July 26, 2012 at 9:07 am

I agree 100% with fromthearea as well, but I'm not so sure that removing an invasive species warrants any public input.  I'd even go so far as to say that it would be a total waste of public money to do so.

And when Ms. Case quoted Joni Mitchell in *pardon the pun* making her case, I knew exactly the type that the CCFPD is dealing with.

fordtruck wrote on July 26, 2012 at 9:07 am

"at least leave the mature trees"

It may be hard to believe, but this does not address the problem with invasive species.

Have those folks complaining lived in a vacuum for the last decade to not know the damage invasive species are causing where they are introduced? Not all change is evil, nor is it intended just to inconvenience you. Sometimes it's necessary, regardless of your feelings about the birds or the lack of shade along your run.

common_sense_isn't wrote on July 26, 2012 at 9:07 am

What exactly is the point of "voicing their displeasure" after the fact?  It's not like they're going to bring the trees back, and it just sounds a lot like whining at that point

alumni90 wrote on July 26, 2012 at 9:07 am

Wow.......really?  "the Forrest Preserve should have done a better job of keeping its customers informed?"  "without notification?"  Isn't it a County Park?  Do you really expect everyone in the County to be notified of any tree removal; or, just a select few....with your permission, of course....

LocalTownie wrote on July 26, 2012 at 10:07 am

Can't we just be happy we HAVE parks, and that they are OPEN and being maintained? I know I am and I'm glad they are taking the time to keep out species that don't belong - which if you think about it does require removal of mature trees. Mature trees spread seeds which lead to more new trees for the district to remove and more tax dollars to pay those employees to do the work. Get rid of them all now and there will be less of a problem later.

I think if people are interested in changes happening at the park they like to visit then they should stop in the park office and inquire.

rsp wrote on July 26, 2012 at 10:07 am

It's been a while since I was out there so I don't recall anyplace "central" where long-range plans can be posted but they do have a website. Perhaps if it's kept up to date people will know to look there. 

mankind wrote on July 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Somebody has to say it -- I think the critics here are failing to see the forest for the trees. 

abeck wrote on July 26, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I think it is outlandish and ignorant that people are upset over this. There are "Prairie Restoration" signs in various locations all over the buffalo trace area. Secondly, they have been doing seasonal controlled burns of the prairie grasses out there for years. So whoever says that this is a recent activity is oblivious to the ongoing goal of the park district. Also, it seems that a few writers of the previous comments are unaware that the trees they are cutting down are exotic and INVASIVE TO THE NATIVE FLORA. Without action, many native trees and wildlife would be put in danger because of the rapid reproduction and expansion of the exotic trees.

jmw wrote on July 27, 2012 at 12:07 am

The obvious one.....If a tree falls in (on) the prairie....Will someone complain? Guess we know the answer to that! I think the CCFPD does a good job. Be glad you have one as progressive as this one. Those that prefer to run in the shade may try the one south of Mahomet that is reclaimed strip pit property. Just saying you have a few choices in the area.  

Sid Saltfork wrote on July 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm

They had their meeting; and their feelings were massaged.  They understand things now; and are okay with it.  There will be a visitation tonight at sundown for the trees.  Please bring your brownies, and musical instruments for a sing-along.  There will be a stump hugging finale.  No campfires allowed!!!

rsp wrote on July 28, 2012 at 3:07 am

And here I had everything for s'mores. 

IlliniTim 1983 wrote on July 27, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Whoever has a problem with this tree removal is clearly both higly uneducated on the subject, and ignorant. These invasive trees mess up the long term goals of the forest preserve district, trust the CCFPD leadership, 'Joni Mitchell Fan' and everyone else- they have yours and the district's best long term interests in mind.

Philip Hult wrote on July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am

I applaud CCFPD's cutting of invasive trees and shrubs from Buffalo Trace Prairie and restoring this portion of Lake of the Woods to native tallgrass prairie and wildflowers. I have observed BTP over the past 25 years weedy shrub species like autumn olive, Japanese honeysuckle and trees like Callery pears and mulberries have become impenetrable thickets in what used to be open grassland and savannah. The pear trees were supposedly infertile but have been dropping thousands upon thousands of seeds in a stealthy but steady invasion of BTP. Grassland birds are among the most endangered birds in Illinois and their numbers are still in decline. One tree in the middle of 20 acres can make that area uninhabitable for grassland birds because they see that as a platform for predators such as hawks to attack their nests.
There is no shortage of trees and shrubs remaining for the tree nesting species at LOW but if the CCFPD crew did not remove these invasive trees from the prairie, 50 years from now people would be asking what happened to the prairie we used to have, that we experienced in our school classes. Illinois has lost most of its prairie. Thanks to the CCFPD, they are keeping a small part of our Illinois heritage alive.

Orbiter wrote on July 29, 2012 at 8:07 pm


I did not intend to criticize the actions of the CCFPD.  I was merely bemused by the discrepancy between their name and their activities. 

"Fromthearea" & "ronaldo" seem to think we should just trust government and accept what is being done without question (Orwell would be proud). And "LocalTownie" is advocating an optimistic approach.  But the majority of opinion here seems to be one of keeping out invasive species. And that is a fine, but I believe trivial, goal. 

Unfortunately nobody at all seems to view a zillion acres of soybean, millions of acres of malls and paved roads, near-complete deforestation to the north, and draining of swampy lowlands, or the prolific reproduction of Homo sapiens as anywhere near as threatening to the native environment of the central plains as a few pear trees that hitchhiked in with people.  Come ON people! The "invasive species" issue is totally bogus.  WE are the invasive species, soybean and maize cultivation is the reason we have no wild lands. Asian carp, aggressive lady bugs, and the litany of other biological invaders are causing MINOR damage, compared to what Homo sapiens has done.  And I'm not even talking about climate change.  I'm not even talking about the leveling of mountains to the east merely to gain access to the coal under them.  I'm not even talking about stripmining millions of acres of tar sands in Canada to get a few drops of oil. I'm not even talking about releasing billions of gallons of crude into oceanic habitats through drilling accidents or warfare.  I'm not even talking about the giant plastic patch in the Pacific ocean.  I'm not talking about the loss of the Amazon Rain Forest, so we can have orange juice and cane sugar-based ethanolic fuels. I'm not talking about the loss of the Elm trees, or the American Chestnut forests (both to invasive diseases).  And I'm certainly not talking about the extermination of the Native American peoples.

The Earth cannot sustain 7 billion humans.  The competition for resources is accelerating, and big business is trying to ensure people don't see it.  But they will.  And prayer to your God(s) won't solve a doggone thing. The next 50 years will not be pretty and history will judge us poorly--if anyone survives to write the history.

But again let me state my thesis: The pear trees are not the problem.  Humans are the problem.

bb wrote on July 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm

If Mahomet taxpayers actually had to pay up for a reasonable park district, they might have more options and control.  As it is, they get free parks to the north and south plus a nice golf course, courtesy of County Forest Preserve District taxpayers.  Pretty lucky.  That said, I do think the Forest Preserve could do more for the users of that area as far as posting info or trying to get them more involved with planning, etc.  Maybe this will result in some new interest in applying for the FPD board positions as they come up...



attended wrote on July 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm

I applaud CCFPD and GPF's incredible efforts at bringing this wonderful prairie 
parcel to Mahomet.  Still, I wonder if we need to be absolutely so purist as to 
not allow a tiny island of trees in the prairie.   Do we really know whether natural wildfires would have denuded every hilltop?  Do we have a plan to keep the 
invasive pheasants out? And why does the Buffalo Trace brochure mention only 
"wildfires" as keeping the prairie free of trees--didn't invasive Native 
Americans have something to do with that as well?

At the board meeting, I learned that the plan is for Buffalo Trace to look like 
Meadowbrook Park in Urbana.  As long we are all agreed that the 
intensive ongoing energy inputs required to get there will be repaid in a greater awareness and love of the prairie, then I, as a heavy user of both parks, will be fine with it too.  However, I wonder if things like the 40K bridge project to get heavy mowers through (after banning a long-time volunteer with a handmower from his efforts), resulting in muddy rutted roads that will probably need paving eventually, is fine without discussion, just because professionals say so?  
Professionals are still recommending the Callery Pear for home planting (see too.  I 
wonder if we need a new paradigm that looks at energy sustainability 
given facts on the ground and the carbon in our atmosphere.  We may need to 
consider the voices of others beyond just the professionals. 

Mike Case wrote on July 30, 2012 at 9:07 pm

The newspaper article did not quite capture the whole story.    It was never an issue with removal of the invasive Callery Pear trees.  The people who use the preserve every day are well aware of the need to control invasive species and that tree removal has been going on for years.  The event that sparked the very large turnout at the most recent CCFPD board meeting was a removal of trees (including some native species) on a massive scale never seen before.  It really made park users sit up and wonder what was going on.  It did not help that an email exchange with a park staffer stated that a "simple map would only raise more questions than it answered."  It turns out that there is a vision for a "Grand Prairie" without trees that not everyone is necessarily on board with.  A public discussion of the framing goals that determine whether the Buffalo Trace area should be mostly treeless prairie or rolling hills of fields and trees is very appropriate for publically owned lands.  In fact, the park staff has welcomed the discussion and promise more opportunities to engage.  There will certainly be differing points of view, but the discussion is worth having.

Live Your Dreams wrote on August 01, 2012 at 12:08 am

We love taking the kids out there. 


BelindaT wrote on August 01, 2012 at 2:08 am

I have to agree with an above post, trees are not the problem humans are.