Protecting Chicago’s Trees and Its Wilderness

November 11, 2012

TreeKeepers on the move

Twenty-one years ago, Openlands started a project to engage Chicagoans in a effort to better care for what is sometimes known as the urban forest. The program was called TreeKeepers, and in two intervening decades, Openlands has trained more than 1300 volunteers to become TreeKeepers–people focused on community forestry who are planting, maintaining and monitoring trees throughout the greater Chicago region.

I’m proud to say that I’m TreeKeeper #417.

To become a TreeKeeper, volunteers are required to attend seven three-hour Saturday classes, where they learn the biology, physiology and benefits of trees, soil science, tree identification (still one of my weak points), mulching, pruning and planting. The teachers are professional experts from City of Chicago Bureau of Forestry, the Chicago Park District, Morton Arboretum, Bartlett Tree Experts, The Care of Trees and other companies and municipal departments.

Once trained, Openlands’ TreeKeepers stay involved through our monthly calendar of workdays or by starting projects in their own neighborhoods. In 2010 alone, TreeKeeper volunteers dedicated more than 15,000 volunteer hours to protecting our urban forests.

Given the success of TreeKeepers in Chicago, I was pleased to see that the program might be moving out from the city limits. According to Glenda Daniel, Associate Director at Openlands, the City of Evanston might be next. She tells me that a number of Evanstonians, have come to the city to take the course, including Wendy Pollock, who is involved The Truth About Trees, an upcoming three-part PBS special about the natural history of trees, the deep connections between humans and trees, and the critical role trees play for all life on Earth.

This group has been working with Citzens Greener Evanston to help bring TreeKeepers to the city. If you live in Evanston and you’re interested in this effort, there will be a meeting this Tuesday, November 14 at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2424 McCormick Boulevard in Evanston from 7 to 9pm.

If you’re not a resident of Evanston, never fear. Daniel tells me there the TreeKeeper movement is spreading, and that there is

a new commitment by Openlands to be part of a broader Regional Forest Initiative with Morton Arboretum, Chicago Wilderness and others.  Openlands’ interest is in growing a bigger active constitutency for the urban forest throughout the region.  This will include support for local TreeKeeper chapters, but we’ll also be planning to hold courses in the suburbs that mirror the one we hold in the city.  Morton Arboretum will be hosting Openlands for a TreeKeepers course next spring (and possibly also in the fall), and the following year we plan to develop a course somewhere on the North Shore.  We will be recruiting pro bono faculty from the region’s premier tree care firms (like Bartlett Tree Experts, Davey and its newly merged partner, The Care of Trees), the Forest Service office in Evanston, and various municipal foresters.   

For now, if you think you want TreeKeepers in your town, contact Glenda Daniel at Openlands. Meanwhile, she and Lydia Scott from Morton Arboretum will be holding a webinar on December 5 aimed at municipal foresters and talking about the advantages of working with and how to work with trained volunteers.

Chicago Wilderness Conference

It seems that lately I’ve been promoting one terrific environmental conference after another. This week is no exception, as the the Chicago Wilderness Congress 2012: Shaping the Future of Regional Conservation arrives at The Forum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 725 W. Roosevelt Road in Chicago on Tuesday, November 15.

If you’re not familiar with Chicago Wilderness, you should be. It is a regional alliance of more than 260 organizations working together to restore local nature and improve the quality of life for all living things, by protecting our lands and waters. The alliance is geographically and organizationally diverse, strengthening their ability to take conservation action at a regional scale.

The Chicago Wilderness Congress gives those members an opportunity to address how this diverse alliance can continue shaping the future of this region as a national and international leader in collaborative conservation.

There’s a lot to cover in all of the tracks of this Congress. They include

I’m happy to welcome Arnold Randall, Chair of Chicago Wilderness, and the General Superintendent for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to talk about this impressive event.

Take action on Starved Rock State Park!

The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club has set up a Take Action page that allows folks to easily send an email to Barb Lieberoff at Illinois EPA about the proposed frac sand mine discharge into Starved Rock State Park.  Here is the link.

The IEPA is proposing to issue a general NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elmination System) permit which will allow Mississippi Sand, LLC to discharge wastewater from their proposed frac sand mine into Horseshoe Creek. Discharges from the proposed mine site on the eastern edge of Starved Rock State Park would enter the creek, which flows into the park before emptying into the Illinois River near Lone Point.

You can read more at the link above, but the point is that Horseshoe Creek has a better chance of being protected if the Illinois EPA requires Mississippi Sand obtain an individual NPDES permit.

You can write directly to the EPA at these addresses:

Barb Lieberoff
Illinois EPA – Division of Water Pollution Control
Permit Section
1021 North Grand Avenue East
Post Office Box 19276
Springfield, Illinois 62794-9276


Seriously, send me photos of your volunteer junipers!

Speaking of trees, last week I talked about my article in he latest issue of Chicagoland Gardening Magazine called My Favorite Plant. It’s about a juniper that self-seeded in my yard a few years ago. I let it grow, and now it’s…well, you can see the photo on the left. As I state in the article, the reason it’s my favorite is because it chose me, not the other way around.

Turns out that it’s probably the relative common Juniperus virginiana. Now I want to see how many other people have had the same thing happen to them. If you unexpectedly had a juniper show up in your landscape, send me a photo, preferably with you in it, too. It doesn’t count if you planted the shrub–it needs to have arrived on its own. As I receive the photos, I’ll create a “rogues’ gallery” of junipers on my website. Send your pix to

Still a chance to get a live evergreen for the holidays

And I want to give one more plug to Glacier Oaks Nursery in Harvard, which is featuring living Christmas trees that can be planted in your landscape in the spring. Propagator Mary T. McClelland, who was on the show last week, says they have White Pines and White Cedars, which are natives, as well as Blue and Green Spruce. They’re small enough to load into a car and you decorate them like a cut tree, keeping them well watered. After the holidays, move them into an unheated garage or enclosed porch until spring. Or you can heel them in the ground with hefty mulch layer around them.

The best part is that Glacier Oaks Nursery donates 25% of each evergreen to support the Land Conservancy of McHenry County. You can get more information on the offer here. But be aware that the evergreens will be wrapped and ready for pick up on November 16 & 17 from 10am – 2pm at The Land Conservancy office in Woodstock. Click here to get a map of the area.

Follow up on my native plants rescue

I reported last week that I had gone to Northerly Island on Saturday to pick up some natives for my community garden, Green on McLean. You might be aware that an ecological restoration of the island is beginning this fall. In anticipation of that, the Chicago Park District, with the help of Greencorps Chicago, invited folks to come to a “Plant Rescue.”

I ended up with a car full of Little Bluestem, New England Aster, Gray Headed Coneflower, and a few other goodies.

As you can see on the left, they ended up on the corner of the parkway just in front of Green on McLean. I have every expectation that they will grow happily next year. Stay tuned.