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Feb  2018

09

School forest restoration about to begin

The Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District, along with its six project partners, is excited to announce that work on the Scenic Heights School Forest restoration is about to begin!

Why restore the school forest?

This project will restore a healthy ecosystem in the school forest, one that promotes clean water in nearby Purgatory Creek, and provides habitat for wildlife. 

200 Years ago our landscape looked much different. It was a diverse ecosystem of tallgrass prairies and oak savannas. Deep-rooted grasses held the soil in place while wildflowers, shrubs and sparse trees provided habitat for many animal and insect species. When European settlers suppressed fire, cleared vegetation and introduced agriculture and livestock, the soil became degraded and many native plants disappeared. Now, invasive species like garlic mustard and buckthorn have outcompeted native plants, and erosion is common. 

By restoring the forest we can re-establish a healthy ecosystem at Scenic Heights. Healthy soils and plant communities promote clean water, and rain and runoff that moves through the forest feeds into nearby wetlands and Purgatory Creek.

when is the restoration starting?

Work on the project is scheduled to begin Friday, February 16th, 2018.

What is going to happen?

The first step is to remove invasive plants and sick or undesirable trees. Beginning Feb 16, professionals will be marking trees and shrubs that will be removed. If you see a large red x on a tree, it is one that will be removed. Clearing of the trees and shrubs will begin Friday, February 28th.

Who is doing the work:
Crews of 4-6 workers from Wetland Habitat Restorations will be on-site. This company was chosen because they are committed to using great care and sensitivity to protect existing native trees and plants, and prevent the spread of invasive species during restoration. 

Equipment:
Crews will be using chainsaws. They will have a wood chipper and a truck to collect chipped material. A skid-steer with a reciprocating saw (forestry mower) will be used in select areas. A light tractor with a claw will pick up piles of brush and bigger logs. 

The what and why of tree removal:
One of the most common questions and concerns about restoration is around tree removal. Why would we want to remove trees? This is an excellent question. There are three main reasons for removing trees:

  • The tree is diseased. Sick trees can spread disease to healthy trees, causing die-offs. Removing things protects healthy trees.
  • The tree is invasive. Invasive trees and shrubs are non-natives that are aggressive and take over. A common example is buckthorn. Buckthorn can form dense stands, choking out other seedlings and plants.
  • Other plants and trees need a little help. Some native trees are also aggressive. Once they are established in an area, it is hard for other trees to take root. If these trees are dense, little light can reach the forest floor, and native plants can't grow and hold the soil in place. By removing these trees, it allows other beneficial plants and trees a chance to grow and create diversity. One section of the school forest is also a prairie. Some trees have started to encroach on it, and removing them will help the prairie plants flourish.
 

Amur Maple, Siberian Elm, some Box Elder, and any sick trees will be removed:
Amur Maple and Siberian Elm are both invasive species in Minnesota. Box Elder is a native but undesirable tree with weak wood that is easily damaged in wind and ice storms. Reach more about each of these plants: Amur Maple, Siberian Elm, Box Elder. The invasive shrub buckthorn will also be removed (read more on buckthorn).

White Oak, Burr Oak, American Plum, Black Cherry, and Aspen trees will be protected:
Care will be taken to ensure that these native trees are protected and nurtured, and have opportunity to establish new seedlings.

The forest is going to look different:
As trees and thick invasive shrubs are removed the forest will open up. The result is that the early stages of restoration can look quite drastic and even stark. Over time, new diverse tree and plant species will fill in creating a lush forest environment. The final restored forest will likely be more open, with healthy diverse vegetation. We hope you'll join us in being patient with the forest as grows and evolves. Watching the stages of restoration can even be fun and interesting. We'll continue to take and post photos through time to highlight those changes.

Can I still visit the forest?

To protect both the workers and the community, trails will be closed for periods during removal. Please take care of yourself and the forest by respecting any closure postings you see.

We are working with the school's schedule so that they can continue to offer their excellent outdoor winter and spring programming with Three Rivers Park District to Scenic Heights Elementary, Groveland Elementary and Clear Springs Elementary (this is a well-used and well-loved forest!).

Who should I contact if I have questions?

We welcome your questions and interest. If you have a question about any part of the project, please contact Michelle Jordan, Community Outreach Coordinator at the watershed district. She do her best to address your concerns, and connect you to the resources and people you need.

952-607-6481, mjordan@rpbcwd.org

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