Chicago Bears employees set out last week to tackle an opponent. However, it had nothing to do with the Green Bay Packers. Instead, the enemy on Friday was an invasive species, infamous for damaging plants.
Following up on a March announcement of a pilot project between the Bears and the Lake County Forest Preserves aimed at removing buckthorn from Lake Forest’s Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve, the plan went into action on a sunny morning in an event that was rescheduled from Earth Day due to rain.
Team employees and forest preserves volunteers joined forces at the team’s Halas Hall headquarters with a goal to remove buckthorn-infested plants and shrubs.
“Knowing that the Middlefork Savanna is close by and with Lake Forest Academy to the south, we do our best to be a good neighbor,” Bears senior adviser of operations and safety John Bostrom explained.
Bostrom and forest preserves director of community engagement and partnerships Rebekah Snyder greeted the employees and volunteers, and they soon followed stewardship ecologist Kelly Schultz who labeled buckthorn in the same way some Bears fans might describe Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“Buckthorn is a jerk,” Schultz said. “This is not just a weed, it is a really aggressive plant. It causes a lot of detrimental issues. Part of why it is so bad is that it spreads really quickly.”
She added buckthorn reproduces very quickly, changing the pH and moisture content of the soil, thus making it harder for native species to thrive.
“Literally it is changing the foundation of the other trees and the flowers that were here,” she said.
After Schultz provided some advice on how to cut down the buckthorn-invaded plants, the approximate 30-member group set off for the task at hand with pruners and hand saws, with the LCFPD volunteers offering some guidance.
One lesson quickly learned was the buckthorn-infested branches can fall quickly.
“Buckthorn loves to tangle. When you get a vine up there, you don’t know which way something is going to fall or where it is going to hit, so you always have to be on your toes,” explained volunteer Brian Campbell.
Among the Bears employees taking part was director of stadium and event operations Bryan Pett, who took a saw to trees.
“I don’t know if I had ever heard of buckthorn,” he said. “I thought it was more of a weed than it was a tree.”
With the team of approximately 30 people working on the grounds, a large swath of the buckthorn-invaded trees and shrubs were removed, and Bostrom said there aren’t any places to replant the area now.
“We want to keep it natural,” he said.
Bostrom added there could be similar events in the future following discussions with the LCFD and in addition to the environmental goals, team officials like to promote volunteerism for their employees.
“Our folks are having a good time and it is very productive work,” he said.
The volunteers were promised a tour of the Walter Payton Center, the team’s indoor practice facility, afterward.
For his part, Campbell said he hadn’t watched a football game in years, but was pleased he could contribute to the buckthorn eradication process.
“Knowing that we are making a better habitat for everything,” he said. “It is satisfying to know you are making a difference for the ecology in the area.”
Source: Berkshire mont