Brush Cutting

Daniel and Scott burn brush Cassi Saari, February 2015

Daniel and Scott Burn Brush, by Cassi Saari, February 2015

In this very physical activity, you can let loose your inner lumber jack and cut away Somme’s biggest enemy – invasive brush! By removing malignant shrubs and trees, and then spreading the seeds of quality natural plants, we bring back the many rare and endangered plants and animals that call the Sommes home. Anyone can be a brush slayer, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

What to Expect and What to Wear

Help us remove buckthorn and “pole trees” by cutting them with handsaws and loppers. Then toss them into a bonfire. Clothing and safety are very important in this work. Dress like you’re painting a house, wear natural fibers such as cotton or wool, and wear sturdy shoes you can get muddy. Stay upwind of the fire so it will not burn holes in your clothing. We cut brush in almost all weather. (This means your days of being stuck inside all winter are over!) Come dressed for the weather, and ready to take off layers as work and the fire warm you up! If it’s cold out and you want to wear synthetic clothing, wear something cheap and less flammable to cover it.

We will provide gloves and tools and show you how to work safely. Someone usually brings snacks and water, but you may want to bring your own.

Brush cutting is a physically demanding activity, and it can get pretty hot and smoky near the fire. While this is a big part of the fun, you are encouraged to work at your own pace and listen to your body!

About Brush Cutting

Kelly Cutting Down a Tree, Ally Mich, April 2015

Kelly Cutting Down a Tree, Ally Mich, April 2015

Brush cutting is the process of removing unnatural shrubs and trees that are doing damage, so that the entire ecosystem can thrive. It may seem counter-intuitive to cut down trees to save nature. But that’s what all this region’s conservation agencies say we must do, and it works! Rare plants and animals bounce back where we remove excessive-shade-making, plant-killing brush.

European buckthorn is an invasive shrub that didn’t evolve along side the plants and wildlife of Illinois. It is very aggressive and takes over an area rapidly: blocking out the sun and killing the entire ecosystem. Where buckthorn is thickest, the ground underneath is totally bare; only dirt can be seen. Without sun, no plants can grow underneath. Buckthorn even hurts 300-year-old oak trees by blocking the sun, killing the lower branches, and preventing their reproduction. It’s evil!

Many of Somme’s trees did evolve in Illinois, but they grew in the context of natural fire. Historically, fire caused by lightning strikes or set by native people was crucial for our richest forests, the oak woodlands. The natural fires favored the thick-barked oaks and thinned out maples and basswoods. For many decades after European settlement of Illinois, natural fire was suppressed, and invading tree species took over. Even trees that are indigenous to our region can cause problems similar to buckthorn. They can produce more shade than the oak-associated plants and animals can tolerate – and cause the ecosystem to collapse. That’s what we work to set right! You can be a habitat hero and save the endangered, rare, and essential species of the Somme preserves.

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Learn about seed collecting and processing here.

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