Tri-County Regional Planning Commission has secured federal dollars to restore hundreds of acres of the region’s forests, open woodlands, and savannas. If you are a private or public landowner and would like to participate in forest management contact us to discuss partnerships and possibilities.
Early observers of the Mossville Bluffs Watershed described the river, prairies and savannas along the Upper Peoria Lake as beautiful. They described the river as a beautiful clear flowing river lined with lush and diverse vegetation along the bluffs and ravines. This beauty was different than the beauty experienced along the bluffs today, but was observable throughout the seasons as a rich tapestry of native grasses, wildflowers, sedges and other plants, which held in place the bluff’s highly erodible, glacially derived soils.
"Peoria....is regularly laid out on a beautiful prairie, on the western bank of the Illinois River."
According to vegetation studies conducted in the year 1820, the Illinois River Bluffs once consisted of open woodland/savanna habitat with an average tree density of 32 trees/ha. Dominant trees were white oak, black oak, and hickory species. The bluffs were blanketed with grasses, shrubs, and flowering herbaceous plants that thrived in the open sun conditions.
Today tree densities can range from 280 – 470 trees/ha., an amount much greater than that of the 1800’s. Sugar maple trees now over populate the forest and dominate these slopes, replacing the oaks and hickories. This transition from open woodland/savanna habitat to dense-canopy forests has impacted the forest floor. Deep rooted grasses and flowering plants that once blanketed the forest floor are not allowed to grow in the dark forests of today. This soil is vulnerable, bare, and susceptible to erosion. Today, soils that have harbored life in the Mossville Bluffs for over 10,000 years are washed away in a single spring rain.
Why this dramatic change in the last 200 years? A necessary disturbance for the persistence and continual rejuvenation of the open woodland and savanna along the bluffs has been all but eradicated upon European settlement. Fire once played an integral role in maintaining the vegetation on the bluffs. Wildfires cleared the landscape in drought conditions and Native Americans burned the forest to maintain a vital food crop and open the lands for hunting. The bluffs responded to a discontinuation of fire with an explosion in tree and shrub populations once checked by this disturbance.
The photo on the left depicts an area without forest management. Invasive species have taken over, creating a dark, closed canopy that cannot support underlying vegetation. Forest management, as depicted in the right-hand photo, opens up the canopy and allows for the growth of groundcover that is necessary for slope stability.
TCRPC partnered with state and federal agencies to secure funding to conduct forest management on hundreds of acres of bluff in the Oakbrook Subdivision of north Peoria; private residential properties of the Mossville Bluffs Watershed; Peoria Park District's Singing Woods Nature Preserve, Robinson Park ,and Camp Wokanda; and Fon Du Lac Park District's Spring Creek preserve. As a result, partners have improved the floral and faunal diversity of these ecosystems and have improved localized water quality by naturalizing the water cycle at these sites.
Manage forested areas to open the canopy and allow the growth of ground cover necessary for slope stability. Forest management techniques include:
Cut or girdle 80% of undesired tree species (i.e. sugar maples) that are under 8 inches diameter at breast height.
Maintenance: Remove undesirable saplings by pulling or conducting professional prescription burns about every three years. Areas that are not maintained generally return to "pre-management" conditions by year five.
Completely remove all non-native invasive plant species. Common species include autumn olive, honey suckle, multifora rose, and garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is a major nuisance in Illinois forests. Garlic mustard should be pulled in early spring before seeds are produced (greens in February) and bagged to prevent the spread of seeds.
Case studies in Peoria Park District bluffs have indicated that no seeding is necessary to grow grasses and flowering plants on virgin soils. Even after 80 years seeds and root systems are still viable and ready to grow! Fill material will need seeding.
DO NOT DUMP YARD WASTE IN FORESTED AREAS. Yard waste prevents the growth of deep rooted vegetation that anchors your soils. Contrary to popular belief, dumping yard waste in ravines does not slow erosion, but only hides the problem from site.
Forested habitats on the bluffs are a valuable natural resource for Illinois citizens. Any landowner wishing to conduct forest management should undergo training through Peoria Park District seminars or by volunteering in Forest Park Nature Center’s ecological restoration initiatives. Landowners may also hire an ecological contractor to conduct open woodland management. Prescription burns should only be conducted by a certified professional with all appropriate burn permits in place.
456 Fulton Street
Peoria, IL 61602