- Associated Press - Sunday, June 4, 2017

CHICAGO (AP) - Scientists, foresters, naturalists and environmental organizations in the Upper Midwest have started efforts to rehabilitate what remains of bur and white oak tree savanna ecosystems and woodlands.

The push has gained enough momentum in Illinois that it’s expanding from forest preserves and state parks toward private lands, the Chicago Tribune (https://trib.in/2r8w5uu) reported.

“This is in a sense our rainforest, our national heritage,” said Craig Maier, coordinator of the Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium.

Bill Gradle of the Illinois Forestry Development Council said most of the state’s 4.1 million acres of forest land is privately owned.

Degradation of oaks is the top priority of Illinois’ forestry action plan. A new program beginning this year is aimed at helping landowners pay for restorations and helping residents learn the techniques for returning their land to the native savannas and woodlands so oaks can thrive again.

“People are getting concerned,” Gradle said. “Oaks are just taking a beating.”

The publicly funded initiative doesn’t exclusively target savannas, but it will send $2 million over the next four years to private landowners, funding brush management, prescribed burns, weed control, and removal of unwanted trees and shrubs.

Oak savannas made up at least 27 million acres stretching from Ohio to Missouri at one point. Less than 1/100th of 1 percent is estimated as remaining.

Illinois Forestry Association executive director Stephanie Brown said the program is a step in the right direction but covers just over 35 counties. Illinois’ budget woes have put a halt to a cost-sharing forestry development program that gave property owners a tax break if they reached certain benchmarks for land management.

“It’s the only game in town right now as the way to share the cost of conservation with landowners,” Brown said.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com

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