Wooded Island and habitat history, restoration plans

This page is presented by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Parks Committee and its website, www.hydepark.org, with cooperation from Jackson Park Advisory Council. Written by Gary Ossewaarde, then HPKCC Parks Chair.

THIS IS AN ARCHIVE PAGE. FOR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION SINCE, SEE THE ARMY CORPS-GLFER (Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration) page and linked documents. See also and as linked from JacksonParkAdvisoryCouncil.org and http://www.hydepark.org/parks/jpac.html. And visit as linked from hydepark.org/parks/bird/html.

To 2011 review list of newly planted trees and shrubs

Birds and Birding home page, including in Jackson Park and with links to birding organizations
A bird register in Jackson Park 2003

Birds to watch for in Jackson Park 2003
Purple Martins and houses in Jackson and South Shore Cultural Center parks 2004-05
Osaka Garden in Wooded Island
Wooded Island Doug Anderson 2003 tour.
The Old Oak
Lagoon History/Rehab.
Bob-o-link Meadow.
Dogs and Wooded Island

Wooded Island Restoration Plan 2008 (by itself)

To Locator map for 2010-2011 plantings- see also 2011 plan update here, item 1. To 2011 review list of newly planted
Paul Clyne report on the importance of the Rose Garden fence and similar fences
(accepted into JPAC record)
Avian Considerations for Land Stewardship Programs during Migration (JPCSC-Chicago Audubon) (accepted into JPAC record)

Compare with the Washington Park Arboretum.
Parks support-organizations links. Conservation links - at end of the Green page.


In spring, 2012 surveys were conducted with Openlands and JPAC site stewards and many volunteer groups, inventorying, measuring, and putting into GIS the trees in Bobolink Meadow and Wooded Island. This will greatly aid planning for trees naturally and unnaturally dying and for a healthy habitat for the long run.

Here is the link for the newly completed interactive webpage.


Follow the instructions above the legend to utilize the map features.

2011 plan (see Locator map pdf)

This plan was supported by the Wooded Island Working Group (walk through November 26, 2010) and Jackson Park Advisory Council (December 13, 2010).

Update on Wooded Island Restoration
From: "Yermakov, Zhanna" <Zhanna.Yermakov@ChicagoParkDistrict.com>

Dear Members of the Wooded Island Working Group:

We would like to send an update on the work that is being planned for this Fall and Spring 2011.
In the last three years, we have focused the majority of the work to the exterior of the island, including removing invasive weed trees and doing a lot of planting. Thus far, we have planted over 100 trees and 300 shrubs. This fall, we have started to work on the interior of the island, including our continued effort to replace weed trees with native overstory and mid level trees and native shrubs. During this process, some neighboring plants may be temporarily trampled, but they will rebound next spring. For example, the native pokeweed is a herbaceous plant and grows back next year; roses and raspberries are easily reguvenated and also grow back aggressively the following year. None of the native shrubs that have been planted in the past have been removed as part of the weed tree replacements.

As always, we plant native shrubs and trees in the areas where we work. Below is a sample planting plan for the areas where we have worked this year. These areas will be planted starting this fall and will continue into the Spring 2011. This Fall we were able to locate much larger trees and shrubs and will be planting 4” diameter oaks and elms, 6-7 foot tall mid level trees and 24”-3 foot shrubs, for a total of 39 trees and 36 shrubs.

The interior of the island has a lot of herbaceous weeds. In 2011, we will start replacing these weeds with a large variety of native grasses and forbs, which will provide seed for birds and nectar for pollinators. We will start on the north end and make our way south.

We are now entering the fourth year of our 3-year plan because we have taken a slower, more conservative approach to our restoration plan , and hope to continue working with you in improving the long-term health of this important habitat.

11N/12S outer - 4 oaks and 5 midlevel trees
11N/12S inner – 2 oaks by path, one right across from 12, 50 shrubs
13S outer – hops area, 6 oaks/20 shrubs
13N outer – 2 oaks, 15 buttonbush at water’s edge in low open area
14S outer – 2 oaks, one across from path to rose garden and one in opening across from post 14
12N to 14N inner – 6 oaks/9 midlevel trees in clumps of 3
41S outer – 21 shrubs, 3 clumps of 7, snowberry, coralberry, etc.
40S outer – 1 oak behind bench in the opening and cluster of 3 Hawthorns by path
39S outer – 7 buttonbush along cove edge, 1 oak on the start of the peninsula near the root ball, east side
39N outer – 1 oak between redbud and hawthorn
38S outer – 1 oak north of redbud
38N outer – 3 Hawthorns, clustered
37S outer – 7 witch hazel clustered
20 large hawthorns to make the singles planted in spring 2010 into clusters of 3

26 oaks, 40 midlevel trees, 120 shrubs

Views on the March 9, 2011 Wooded Island walkthrough

By Gary M. Ossewaarde, Jackson Park Advisory Council Secretary

A walk through was held March 9, 2011 10 a.m. on Wooded Island (Paul Douglas Nature Sanctuary) that included Zhanna Yermakov and Jason Steger of CPD, reps. of Jackson Park Advisory Council and its committees, members from Wooded Island Working Group, and several representing birding groups that/who may or may not be part of WIWG.

Most agreed that the primary use of most of Wooded Island is as one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the Midwest, although some insisted this is not exclusive. Studies were cited showing that the most ecologically significant and productive part of Wooded Island is the former Rose Garden.

Although there are major policy issues and negative perceptions regarding affects of past and planned habitat work, all of which will be visited and addressed on an ongoing basis, the issue addressed today was the fence around the former Rose Garden.

Points of consensus or continued non-resolution appeared to me to be the following:

• The fence is shown or widely believed to serve the primary purpose of Wooded Island as a bird and wildlife sanctuary by 1) providing birds with protection and a preferred perching and congregating space and
2) discouraging or limiting uses by and presence of people and dogs.
3) There was no feeling that this particular fence is of significant historic or aesthetic value.
• Little purpose was seen served by discontinuing the fence, and its removal would be expensive, or if gratis would involve much labor and time and introduce concerns over open bidding etc.
• The Park District has identified parts of the fence as severely damaged and posing safety and appearance problems, which is CPD’s duty to rectify. These sections are already on Park District Work Order lists, although likely quite far down in priority. There was widespread agreement that highly damaged parts of the fence, particularly by the east gate, should or can be addressed, preferably by repair and replacement. There was disagreement or no decision on the immediacy of such attention and on whether the gate should be fixed, replaced, or removed.
• Funds are not presently identified, even the c. $20,000 in money or kind needed for repairs. An offer by a qualified member of the Advisory Council to do work gratis or for cost of material only (with no material to be removed and resold) was discussed, but consensus was that there should be open bidding. There was not agreement or general commitment regarding any plan for immediate fundraising.
• Suggested consensus was that the fence should remain as serving the primary purpose of Wooded Island but that repairs may be undertaken, possibly supplemented with vegetation or other means of serving bird needs and discouraging general entry to the Rose Garden during fence section repairs or replacement.

Template and assessment for Wooded Island restoration, Notes of Site Visit September 17, 2008. See following sections on how this was achieved. Removals and plantings will continue checkerboard style through several seasons.

Attendees: Ross Petersen, JPAC; Dick Riner, Bird Conservation Network; Rebecca Blazer, Friends of the Park; David Wachtel, ARAMARK; Becky Schillo, CPD; Jerome Scott, CPD; Zhanna Yermakov, CPD.

The purpose of the site visit was to discuss and see the progress that has been made in 2008 and plan the fall 2008 planting. Depending on plant availability, some plants might be planted in spring 2009.

Summary of removals:

  1. All of the sections planned for invasive removal for 2007-2008 have been completed; some sections for 2008-2009 have been started.
  2. CPD Forestry has cleared the sections of storm damage that were planned for 2008.
  3. CPD Forestry staff is also removing larger invasive trees in the 2007-2008 sections and some in the 2008-2009 sections. Buckthorn and tree-of-heaven of all sizes is being removed. Selected larger mulberries are being removed, but not at the expense of losing canopy or compromising structure.
  4. Non-native, non-aggressive shrubs will not be removed to maintain vegetation cover.
  5. Where necessary and as time allows, dead branches will be removed off the trees.
  6. If a non-native tree is impeding growth of a more favorable tree, it will be removed. Example: oak struggling under mulberry.

Summary of planting:

  1. Wooded Island is currently defined and will be managed to maintain three different habitats. The Inner Loop of the wooded island is defined by the prairie on the south end, and a savannah on the north end; the transition between these two habits, or the edge, will have a more dense vegetation cover; the Outer Loop of the Island is a woodland. All these habitats are currently more defined by the structure of the vegetation within the habitat, than by the species present.
  2. The group agreed on the following planting strategy:
    a. Plant and maintain a good shrub layer.
    b. Create a diversity of plant flowering times. "
    c. Create a four-layer vegetation structure: herbaceous, short-stature shrubs, mid-level trees and shrubs, canopy trees.
    d. Savanna

    i. Trees will be planted to attain 50% average canopy tree maturity; natural regeneration of oaks will likely increase future canopy cover; habitat will be managed as savanna, not to exceed 70% canopy cover.
    ii. Shrubs will be planted in clumps on 3' centers on average, on average 100 feet apart from each other.
    iii. Perennial grass and flower seed will be added to the ground layer, as necessary.
    iv. If a mature, undesired tree is present, a shade-tolerant tree will be planted next to it to plan for future tree replacement.
    v. There is an area just west of the prairie that is currently turf; this area will be planted as a savanna.

    e. Woodland
    i. Trees will be planted to attain FULL canopy closure at tree maturity.
    ii. In areas that are open, full-sun trees will be planted.
    iii. In areas in shade, shade-tolerant trees will be planted to help create a growing mid-story, and to eventually replace older trees currently in the canopy.
    iv. Trees will be planted as a combination of canopy and mid-structure (i.e. redbud, ironwood, hawthorne, crabapple).
    v. Shrubs will be planted in clumps on 4' centers on average, 10-20 ft apart."
    vi. Short-stature shrubs will be planted by the edge of the path and taller ones in the middle to allow easier viewing of the birds.
    vii. Shrubs wil be planted by the edge of the water (i.e. buttonbush, dogwoods) to create more overhangs.
    viii. Perennial grass and flower seed will bed added to the ground layer, as necessary.

Below is a plant palette for trees and shrubs for Wooded Island. This is a suggested list of species to choose from for the planting, depending on the habitat and plant availability. The focus is to plant in such a way as to create the most vegetation structure and increase the length of flowering time, using as diverse plant palette as possible. In terms of trees species, the majority will be mid-level trees (hawthornes, ironwoods, etc), oaks, hickories, and possibly American elm (but only the cultivar, which is not prone to disease).


Aesculus glabra (Ohio Buckeye)
Asimina triloba (Paw Paw) mid level
Betula nigra (River Birch) water's edge
Carpinus caroliniana (Blue Beech) mid level
Carya cordiformis (Bitternut Hickory)
Carya microcarpa
(Pignut Hickory)
Carya ovata (Shagbark Hickory)
Carya tomentosa (Mockernut)
Celtis occidentalis (Hackberry)
Cercis canadensis (Redbd) mid level
Comus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwod) mid level
Crataegus phaenopyrum (Washington Hawthorne) mid level
Crataegus mollis (Downy Hawthorne) mid level
Fraxinus quadrangulata (Blue Ash)
Juglans cinerea (Butternut)
Juglans nigra (Black Walnut)
Juniperus virginiana (Easter(n?) red cedar)

Malus ioensis (Prairie Crab) mid level
Morus rubra (Red Mulberry) mid level
Ostrya virginiana (Ironwood) mid level
Populus deltoides (Cottonwood) water's edge
Prunus americana (American Plum) mid level
Prunus serotina (Black Cherry)
Ptelea trifoliata (Wafer Ash) mid level
Quercus alba (White Oak)
Quercus macrocarpa (Bur Oak)
Quercus muehlenbergii (Chinquapin Oak)
Quercus rubra (Red Oak)
Quercus velutina (Black Oak)
Sassafrass albidum (Sassafras)
Tsuga canadensis (Eastern Hemlock)
Ulmus Americana (American Elm - cultivar)


Amelanchier arboarea (Serviceberry)
Amelanchier interior (Serviceberry)
Amelanchier laevis (Allegheny Shadblow)
Aronia arbautifolia (Red Chokeberry)
Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey Tea)
Celastrus scandens (Bittersweet)
Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)
Cornus racemosa (Gray Dogwood)
Cornus rugosa (Round-heaved Dogwood)
Cornus seicea (Red-osier Dogwood)
Corylus americana (Filbert)
Diervilla Ionicera (Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle)
Eunoymus atropurpureus (Wahoo)
Hamamelis virginiana (Witchhazel)
Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth Hydrangea)
Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak-leaved Hydrangea)
Hypericum kalmianum (Kalm's St. John's Wort)
Hypericum prolificum (Shrubby St. John's Wort
Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
Lindera benzoin (Spicebush)
Lonicera prolifera (Yellow Twig Honeysuckle)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper)
Physocarpus opulifolius (Ninebark)
Phus aromatica (Fragrant Sumac)
Pibes americanum (Black Current)
Ribes missouriense (Wild Gooseberry)
Rosa blanda (Early Wild Rose)
Rosa carolina (Pasture Rose)
Rosa setigera (Illinois Rose)
Rubus odoratus (Purple Flowering Raspberry)
Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry)
Sambucus pubens (Red Elderberry)
Spiraea alba (Meadowsweet)
Spiraea tomentosa (Hardhack)
Staphylea trifolia (Bladdernut)
Symphoricarpos albus (Snowberry)
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry)
Viburnum acerifolium (Maple Leaf Viburnum)
Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum)
Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry)
Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw)
Viburnum rafinesquianum (Downy Arrowood)
Viburnum trilobum (American Cranberry)
Xanthoxylum americanum (Prickly Ash)

To 2011 review list of newly planted trees and shrubs


Since 2008, many invasive or overgrown plants, shrubs, trees have been removed and thousands of bird friendly native replacements planted by the park district and Aramark or by volunteers under direction of then JPAC Nature Committee chair Ross Petersen and of the Park District following the schedule and template. The park district acknowledges despite a dearth of funds that the effort has to be perpetual-- including because the work has to be phased in checkerboard fashion partly not to leave the birds et al in the lurch. There have of course been disagreements about whether work has left too bare (even temporarily) or overdone (including plantings) or that some did not survive-- new plantings remain marked so they can be replaced if necessary). but overall the work is considered by most to be professional and productive. One good sign is reappearance of burr oak sprouts. An ongoing task is removal of buckthorn sprouts as they will happen for a decade from seeds in the ground despite removal of almost all over the years in all parts of the island.
An important component of the work in the winter of 2010 was Care of Trees involving removal of selected downed trees and growth smothering both mature and sapling oaks. JPAC contributed $2,400 and COT c.$10,000 in work. More may be done in the winter of 2011.

In May 2008 a walk through of the parties and park district (including Yemma Yermakov, Ross Petersen, Doug Anderson, Paul Clyne) has confirmed the restoration program for Wooded Island, which will now proceed.

Work back on track as elements of Working Group agree on most.

Hyde Park Herald, May 28, 2008. By Crystal Fencke.

On Jackson Park's Wooded Island at 10 a.m. on last week's clear, crisp Wednesday morning , a group of individuals representing different--and, at times, competing--park interests all came together .

Starting behind the Museum of Science and Industry at the Clarence Darrow Memorial bridge, they strolled south down the path and pst the Osaka Japanese Garden. As they walked, they pointed at various marks of interest: up at 100-year-old trees, through clearings at vistas of the lagoon and up again spotting birds of note.

Jackson Park's Wooded Island Working Group, as it's known, has been collaborating for more than a year to find the best ways to restore and maintain the value of this South Side gem. Wednesday's meeting marked a historic burying of the hatchet in the park. considered one of the "150 greatest places in Illinois" by the American Institute of Architects, Wooded Island stands to benefit from this group of stewards looking out for the island's wide-ranging ecological and historical needs.

The groups represented last week in the working group were te Chicago Park District, Friends of the Parks (FOTP), the Jackson Park Advisory Council and the Chicago Audubon Society.

According to Rebecca Blazer, director of the Forest Preserve Initiative with FOTP, this joint effort is taking a three-pronged plan. from an ecological standpoint, they're looking at maintaining and restoring the island's bio-diversity.

From a historical perspective, the group is looking to preserve as closely as possible the integrity of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted's vision of the island. And the object is for Wooded Island to be even more enjoyable for the people who use it every day. "That's why it takes such a detailed approach," she said.

A point of immediate attention for the group is supporting the diversity of bird species on the island, as "the lake is the primary flyway for migrating birds," said Blazer. In the spring, "they need to refuel ... they depend on it as a stopover point," she said. Doug Anderson, of the Audubon Society, leads birding tours at the park. He said that in his 34 years of birding on the island, he has counted upwards of 200 species.

Spring is when the birds are most vulnerable, said Blazer. The birds have just flown of hundreds of miles from their winter sanctuaries in the southern climes of Mexico, Cuba and even as far away as Argentina. So it's important that they have a strong supply of seeds in order to fuel up. This is one reason that the group has become so vigilant about plant material on the island. In order to best replenish the birds after their spring migration, the plant material must be abundant.

The plan is to gradually clear out invasive species of plants, generally those which are not native to the island. When Olmsted designed the spot for the world Columbian exposition, he used some native and some non-native plantings. The current blueprint of the Wooded Island Working Group is to try to thin out the non-native species in order too bring in more native plants which will provide more nourishment for the birds in the spring.

Some of the plants that will experience removal are a type of honeysuckle, the tree of heaven (some call it the 'stink tree') and, over time, mulberry trees. Plants that will be introduced by th Chicago Park District starting this fall over a three-year period are the hazel, nannyberry, which bears a fruit somewhat like a blueberry, and the hackberry.

Cleaning of the park is an ongoing process. Jackson Park Advisory Council president, Ross Petersen, leads volunteer stewardship groups every 2nd and 4th Saturdays now through October. To join, all are welcome to meet at the Darrow bridge at 10 a.m. weather permitting. Call 486-0505 for more information.




Good news/bad news, based on a June 2007 article in the Tribune: The bird counts had plummeted in most natural areas in Illinois in late 2006 and in 2007, thought to be largely due to West Nile. However, counts went up in the one area restored though extensive removal of buckthorn and other invasives.
Bird number severe decline in 2006 may be due to similar forces, and storm death of many trees, more than to partial removals on Wooded Island.
In 2007, bird numbers are slowly rebounding on Wooded Island. A Chicago Audubon article was supportive of the Park District policy of selective removal of invasives.

A major summit of all the interested parties, including scientists such as Doug Stotz of Field Museum and facilitated by Friends of the Parks resulted in a road path to progress on Wooded Island forest management and new planting. However, the park district natural areas people want time to develop a comprehensive plan over the early fall 2007, that it will it will vet with the expert institutions and organizations and birding groups. Meanwhile, work in the natural areas will be confined to Bob-o-link Meadow despite invasives gaining in strength on the Island. See the following features.


Hyde Park Herald coverage, August 22, 2007. by Georgia Geis

Birders, Park no longer at odds

A heated debate between two of Jackson Park's most devoted groups has finally been resolved, with birders on longer protesting Chicago Park District plans to remove some of the invasive growth in the park.

Last January, Hyde Park resident and longtime birder Doug anderson, outraged by a decline in bird numbers at Jackson Park's Wooded Island, declared that, after 33 years, he had led his last bird tour. Anderson blamed the Chicago Park District's October 2006 clearing of he area, as well as storm damage, for the lack of birds.

Eight months later, Anderson has gained a better opinion of the Park District's restoration efforts, and he still gives occasional bird watching tours. "The bird number are not as bad as I had thought," said Anderson regarding the number of birds spotted at the Wooded Island, which he believes is still dramatically diminished at almost half of most yeas. Anderson said bird watchers can still catch glimpses of Robins, European Starlings and Cardinals at the island, though Woodpecker and Bluebird sightings have become very rare.

Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) vice president Ross Petersen said he thought the situation was blown out of proportion. Petersen said that non-native invasive trees and plants must be cleared out of the beloved bird habitat. "If you leave the Mulberry, it will destroy all the other species," said Petersen.

This summer, Friends of the Parks hosted two meetings between members of the park district, JPAC, bird watchers, including Anderson, and Doug Stotz, a bird expert from the Field Museum. "We all went home happy after these meetings," said Erma tranter, head of Friends of the Parks.

Adam Schwerner, director of natural resources for the park district, said the area can not be left alone. Like all "natural areas" in the city, Schwerner said, it must be managed by removing fast-growing, invasive species. schwerner said some people encouraged him to move forward quickly and start restoration clearing, but he wanted to wait until everyone could discus the plans.

Petersen said the park district was doing the right thing clearing invasive species, which include White Mulberries, Alder, Buckthorns, and Ailanthus, or "Trees of Heaven." Without biological controls in the area, this vegetation literally takes over, killing native plants and making the area dense and almost impenetrable.

Petersen point out the areas of wooded Island that used to boast beautiful vistas of the surrounding lagoons. These "windows," he said, have been almost entirely filled in with invasive trees.

Schwerner said that opening of the vistas is something park patrons can look forward to in the coming years. The work in Jackson Park will be very gradual to minimize the impact on bird populations. Anderson said he agrees with the park district plan as long as they live up to their promise to replace the invasive trees with more healthy native trees like Washington hawthorns, Elderberry and Red Barbs, including varieties of the very slow growing oaks.

Stotz, a leading bird expert who got his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Chicago in 1990, agrees that the clearing must be very gradual and should not be done during the spring and fall bird migration. "This is not going to happen overnight," said Stotz.

Petersen points out that the center of Wooded Island is an oak savanna first envisioned by the founder of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted, in 1891. In the true savanna, the enormous oak trees were spread far apart, with their branches stretching out high over the floor, providing shade yet adequate sunlight for the shorter brush and grasses below.

"The park district has done a good job of recognizing the significance of places like Wooded Island," said Petersen. "I hope we are back on track and can put this controversy behind us."

[Picture captions: "An invasive species, ailanthus altissima, commonly known as "Tree of Heaven," spoils th beautiful vista of the lagoon in Jackson Park. The plants have also wreaked havoc with the surrounding ecosystem."
"An oak tree lies uprooted after two severe storms in 2003 and 2006."
"An example of the canopy oak trees provide."
Ross Petersen shows toppled oak trees that will be removed by the Chicago Park District due to their massive size."]


On the resumption of workdays April 2010 and their importance:

Care of Trees finished its extensive removal of large dead trees and choking growth around mature oaks in winter 2010, with assistance in funding by JPAC (more may be forthcoming for winter 2011) , and the Park District is doing more. Funds have been identified for more plantings, including burr oaks. Plans for 2011 and ongoing template are reproduced above and as linked at top. JPAC was saddened that long time steward and guardian Ross Petersen resigned-- and JPAC will pursue honoring at the Island Ross's work. Louise McCurry, JPAC President has assume interim stewardship while permanent stewards are sought. Norman Bell and Gail Parry are applying for stewardship of Bob-o-link Meadow (also acting there has been Sam Betcher.) Paul Grabowski has stewarded and conducted a reconstruction experiment at the 63rd St. beach.
JPAC is developing major plans for Wooded Island volunteer work, in conjunction with the Wooded Island Working Group.

Hyde Park Herald, March 24, 2010. By Sam Cholke.

Workdays at Jacksont Park restart for the spring on April 10. "We're going to preserve an oak savannah that has been there for thousands and thousands of years," said Ross Petersen, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council and who leads the workdays. "What we want to do is make sure there's an oak savannah 100 years out."

The public is invited to come out to help remove invasive specaies of pant life from the park from 10. a.m. to 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. The groups meet at the Darrow Bridge behind the Museum of Science and Industry. The Chicago Park District will provide all tools. Come dressed for rugged work.

Wooded Island in Jackson Park underwent a leap forward in preservation efforts over the fall and winter when foresters from Care of Trees and the Chicago Park District came to remove 24 invasive saplings. Spring workdays wil help finish the removal of mulberry and buckthorn sprouts and plant burr oak trees.

"This is essentially a construction project -- what we've finished is the demolition phase," Petersen said.


History and Background on a disagreement

by Gary Ossewaarde

Jackson Park and specifically Wooded Island has for decades been known as one of best places for birds and to see birds in the Midwest and perhaps the world. Especially in spring and fall, millions upon millions of birds pass by on the Lake Michigan Migratory Flyway, many stopping for rest, food, water and shelter. Other birds use the park year round. For over 30 years Doug Anderson has led morning tours two and more times a week.

History, habitat and landform

Jackson Park has been reworked several times as landform and habitat. As found by white settlers, it was a mix of sandbars, marshes, and lake Michigan embayment, several of the former hosting oak savannah. Little of the park was developed before 1890, even by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whose 1871 plan envisioned the park as peninsulas and lagoons, playing and picnic fields. Wooded Island (or rather peninsula) was a sandbar thought to be thousands of years old and the latest (probably for a long time) succession phase was as an oak savannah, surrounded by marsh and old beaches.

For the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, Olmsted designed-- as a centerpiece for the respite of fairgoers-- a large central island that was really the old oak savannah sandbar noted above, spread out and surrounded by a set of deepened lagoons that would connect to Lake Michigan via the Fair’s Court of Honor to the southeast and to the northwest to a grand canal going all the way to Washington Park’s lagoons (the canal part of the plan left unrealized except for preparatory hollowing). Even though he was overruled as to the solitude and the barring of exhibits on the island, he planted a vast array of land and water plants, by no means all native, and doubtless with little knowledge or maybe thought as to whether they might spread wildly and choke each other out. The main feature representative of civilization was a Japanese Ho O Den or phoenix temple and associated features and housing in the southwest corner of the island.

After the Fair and up to 1905, Olmsted's firm redesigned the Wooded Island and lagoons, adding many land and water plants, including a large number of willows, most of which reached the natural end of their lives late in the 20th century. Left intact on the island and other places such as south of the Columbia Basin during and after the Fair were several centuries-old stands of burr oaks and many other trees attractive to birds and wildlife. One major new feature was the Rose Garden in the center-south of Wooded Island.

The Rose Garden and much of the Island by the middle of the 20th century was progressively neglected and underwent several phases of abandonment to wild growth followed by clearing and either thin and thicker planting according to various templates. Looking at an aerial photograph of the Island from the late 1930s, the growth seems thinner than at any time before the start of the 21st century. However, experienced persons, including Doug Anderson, say the vegetation had grown very thick in the 1930s-50s and remained so until recently, except for sections virtually clear cut under various reconstruction plans carried out by the park district in the 1980s and later. Also starting in the 1970s, new and expanded Japanese gardens and structures with adjacent park setting lawns were installed in the northeast part of Wooded Island, the lagoons connections with the harbors were severed and whole parts of the lagoons filled in for a Nike missile base. (Community uproar aborted plans to build part of the base on Wooded Island.) After dismantling of the base in the 1970s, some of the base was turned into Bob-o-link woods and meadow, the latter an example of turning inability to grow anything high due to compaction of the base into an opportunity for an additional wildlife habitat that has been very productive for birds and other wildlife.


Productivity and reconstructions

Experts from conservation groups prepared indices of bird productivity in Jackson Park in 1990s, showing the wonders of this spot and serving in development of a template for planting that is widely approved to this day. At the end of the old century, a series of reconstructions and replantings were undertaken in the island and the lagoons, including recreation of eroded former islands and shore and an effort to restore circulation and aeration in the lagoons, neither completely done nor completely successful. In fact, most of the planting (which did not entirely follow the template) were not maintained or were crowded out or actually killed by invading plants. Many thought and continue to think that Wooded Island and the then-remaining sub islets were overly cleared and the new plantings were at the least insufficient in attracting and serving bird populations. Many new plantings died from fluctuating lagoon levels, drought, and lack of attention and replanting. In 2003, a storm micro burst felled many large trees including oaks throughout the park, including Wooded Island. In October 2006 another storm felled over 70 trees, leaving the canopy considerably more sparse. Top


Many, including members of the park council and park district staff, felt that the various layers or stories (all necessary to a healthy habitat) were out of balance—a thick under story increasingly composed of runaway invasive plants and brush that some said contributed to safety concerns and cut off historic vistas, but not enough mid story and top canopy. Disagreement developed over whether and which non-native and so-called invasive plants are really productive to birds and should remain (see below). The council and park district began a more aggressive program of removing invasives and overgrowth in parts of the island, but could not keep up--and when they did, the noticeable difference caused objections, especially when they caused or coincided with drops in bird numbers.

Some, including especially birders have called the removals of fall 2006 a clearing and excessive and attribute a severe decline in bird counts they made to th clearing. They issued, especially in early 2007, postings, letters, and other protests appealing for a moratorium on removals, faster and better planting that includes some said to be bird-useful species that raised doubts on the other side, and to not use the short-life contact herbicides to kill garlic mustard and brush trees such buckthorn and white mulberry.

Council leaders say that relatively little has changed or been eliminated on the island and that the perhaps over aggressive removal was in only 5 percent of the island. The park district is firm on the need, including with volunteer workdays, to remove invasives and other overgrowth and apply the herbicide as well as to plant a biodiverse, bird and wildlife friendly habitat. But the District wants the plan to be one that all parties can agree on.

See about the favorable outcome but moratorium on Wooded Island at the top of the page.


Some realities (see also letter below)

Efforts at sound management of original or reconstructed habitats have been stymied in recent years by what trained naturalist experts consider mistaken ideas.

Why naturalists, the park district and Jackson Park Council favor removal of "invasives."

No one proposes to remove all non-native species or even cleanse out all invasives (if that could even be done). So which?

  • Those that are "allelopathic"--tha is, put out chemical poisons that kill competing plants. These include the trees ailanthus (Tree of Heaven), buckthorn, white mulberry... and ground some ground covers such as garlic mustard. None of these are shown to be in great demand by or or use to birds, the mulberry fruiting between the migration seasons.
  • Brush and ground covers that spread rapidly, out competing natives and/or creating too much shade so native and other productive plants cannot establish themselves.

Heavy removals on Wooded Island are done in checkerboard fashion. Only about 5 percent of the island recently has undergone extensive removals. More removal on the island as a whole was done by storms and subsequent removal of dead limbs (some of which should remain for birds) and "widow makers" than by invasive clearing.

Planting, especially of ground cover and low shrubs, is the most urgent need, already begun in winter 2007 and to continue as plant stock being grown gets ready and timely. Late in 2007, the park district is expected to begin replacing trees lost to storm damage. Replanting of the lagoon-edge plants put in during the early 21st century is uncertain because controls to the fluctuation an circulation of the lagoons put in at that time have apparently failed. Regrowth on the island will take time.

Application of fast-decay herbicides will continue. This is necessary to keep up. From time to time, brush has to be cleared from paths and around benches for security reasons. Side paths are widened and covered with wood chips.

Volunteer teams are absolutely necessary to maintaining the natural areas. The site stewards (team leaders) of the various natural areas meet with each other and experts regularly. Friends of the Parks will be having a symposium series in April on natural areas management. If you would like to help with the jackson Park program, call Ross Petersen, 773 486-0505. For Burnham Sanctuary (north of 47th) call George Davis, 773 268-4856.


Some letters. Those judged by this editor (GMO) to look toward reasonable, implementable ideas are printed at length.

One letter by a Hyde Parker bird watcher sees no point in “species cleansing.” She says the island is largely little-visited, unsafe and remote anyway; why risk what’s there to try to turn it into a “4-star native species preserve” as another letter writer favored. She said the money should be spent on removal of trash and litter. Another accuses the council and district of trying to create a mythical or at best one-moment past for the Island. This writer says the removal was too great, it is impossible to stop time especially with climate change accelerating, and an “oak savannah” is not as productive to birds as what wants to grow there naturally—including a monoculture of wild onions.

Weighing in are others that said that beavers, which recently reappeared but moved on, should be encouraged to locate in the park, perhaps as a living museum, despite evidence that if they are present in any considerable number they tear down the trees.

Two letters in the February 7 2007 Herald urging patience and consideration of the reconstructive policy:

Elizabeth Wyman: Give Wooded Isle time

The removal of non-natives for native plants at Wooded Island holds some wisdom. In a plan that's been tried out North Park Village, a vigor of life was seen. It may not be immediate, but I have been told by the National Audubon Society that bringing in the native plants helped bring back more butterflies, bees, birds and other forms of native live. I is for the good of our park that this has been done. Let's face it, the Chicago Park District or organizations relying on volunteers can only do things in certain ways. Wooded Isle might not be all that pretty now, but in two years it will be spectacular.

Carolyn Ulrich, editor, Chicagoland Gardening magazine: Change in Wooded Isle wont happen overnight.

There appears to be some confusion about why non-native plants are removed from natural areas such as woods or prairie. Nostalgia for some romanticized past has nothing to do with it. Rather, the purpose is to restore th area to a state of health so that birds, bees, butterflies, other insect pollinators plus wildlife such as fish, amphibians and mammals can thrive.

Non-native plant species do not generally provide sufficient, or the right kind of food and shelter. Any healthy habitat requires an abundance of plants native to the area, and the more diversity the better.

Those who attended Pat Armstrong's Jan. 31 lecture on native plant landscaping at Augustana Lutheran Church (sponsored by the Hyde Park Garden Fair Committee) were amazed to learn that she has counted up to 86 different kinds of birds on her one-third acre corner lot in Naperville, which is planted with 330 different native Illinois flowering plants, trees and shrubs. She saw 53 different birds on the site last year, and her butterfly population is also impressively rich. Such bounty simply doesn't happen on a landscape dominated by lawn, non-native trees, and geraniums.

Just because a plant is green doesn't mean it is good. Kudzu (aka "the plant that ate the South") looks pretty, but we now know that introducing it from Japan in the 19th century was a terrible mistake. since its natural insect enemies do not live here, there has been nothing to stop its voracious scramble through the countryside where it now covers seven million acres, having choked out everything in its path.

As for Wooded Island, removing non-native plants is laudable in principle, but removing them in stages rather than all at once would no doubt have been a better approach.

What's important now is to ensure that the cleared area is replanted with native plants this spring. Also, we need to be aware that it takes time for any plant to mature. beneficial change may occur, but it won't happen overnight.


Adam Schwerner, Director of Natural Resources, Chicago Park District

Hyde Park Herald, February 28, 2007

Alarmed at the article entitled "Silent Spring" (Jan. 3), Hyde Park Herald readers should know that Wooded Island exhibits numerous essential features of a park that includes history, beauty and ability to provide habitat for animals. A balance needs to be reached between these sometimes competing priorities and it is the responsibility of the Chicago Park District to reach this balance.

During the latter part of last summer, the Chicago Park District met with community members, and contractors to create an action plan for the overgrown area that volunteer tours guide Doug Anderson refers to in the article. Anderson, who was invited to all the meetings, was apparently unable to attend. It was determined during these site visits that there was an excessive amount of unmanaged growth that had occurred in recent years. Most of the excessive vegetation was in the form of invasive species of plant that do not provide many of the region's birds, and most migratory bird species, with a diverse food supply.

Buckthorn, a prominent part of what was removed on the island, is a non-native large shrub/small tree that, when left to grow unchecked, will smother all other types of plants and create a curtain of foliage. Buckthorn is highly invasive and makes it difficult to maintain the integrity of the environment. This plant actually is unhealthy for birds, causing them digestive difficulties.

Because the 'natural' systems of our parks are systematically affected by human beings, those human beings must also be responsible for managing the problems. Part of this management responsibility is controlling non-native and invasive species that do not have natural enemies to control their pooulati8ons. The work that was done at Wooded Island this fall will restore t he island to a more historically appropriate planting and in the short term will provide bird species with a richer more varied environment within which to flourish.

Recently, we have had productive discussions with Doug Anderson and look forward to working with Mr. Anderson, the Jackson Park Advisory Council and the community regarding the continued restoration efforts on Wooded Island.