Illinois Projects Shed Light on Forest Health

NWTF Regional Biologist John D. Burk oversees many habitat projects in Missouri and Illinois aimed at improving forest health and deer and turkey habitat. 

One project, recently completed, restored open woodlands to 393 acres on Saloam and Hidden Springs state parks in Illinois.

"Our goal in woodlands restoration in Illinois is to cut overstocked stands to open up the forest canopy," Burk said. "We also focus on removing invasive species. Bush honeysuckle, for example, completely chokes the mid-story so no sunlight reaches the forest floor, even after the canopy is opened up. When we started this project a couple years ago, there wasn't any vegetation growing on the ground, which means the forest wasn't very good for turkeys and other wildlife. Opening the forest and removing the honeysuckle has allowed the sun through to the forest floor." 

A variety of techniques are used to open up the forest. "We think the number of trees and then follow up with fire and herbicides," Burk said. "When all of those are used together, we can have a positive impact on the forest fairly quickly. It may take years, however, to see the fully restored open woodland we are shouting for with a project like this. Eventually, the woody sprouts are kept at bay and herbaceous plants —annual plants that provide food and cover to turkeys, particularly hens raising poults — become easier to maintain."

Projects like these need a fair amount of labor and funds. The NWTF shares expenses with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other partners. 

Burk said NWTF Super Fund money and habitat stamp grant money funded these projects. "We can do more when the expense is shared," he said. 

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