I never thought I would cut down a tree, and I certainly never thought I would feel good about it. I used to be very sad when we passed the forest preserve and I saw tree stumps. Now I realize the benefits of cutting down certain trees. Common Buckthorn is a highly invasive tree that is from Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia. I had no idea that these trees were taking over our forests until I volunteered in a forest restoration event.
When we signed up I expected we would be pulling some weeds and learning some facts. I was quite mistaken. There were many forest
groups there but the one actually holding the restoration event was the Student Conservation Association. We also met people that work for the forest preserves.
A leader taught us how to identify buckthorn. We learned to look for bark that looks almost like a pretzel, with white specks on a smooth brown surface. Buckthorn also has small, black berries and leaves that are oval shaped with a serrated edge. Common buckthorn (Image from Google)
I was extremely nervous about cutting down the wrong trees. I could imagine a long, drawn-out, “Nooooo!” as a leader witnessed us cut down a precious, native tree. I also thought that we were going to be cutting fairly small plants.
We were examining a medium sized tree that resembled a Buckthorn (to our disbelief) when a lady told us that we could cut it down. When cutting down a big tree the leader explained we would yell out a warning before it falls. One way I knew for sure it was a buckthorn was that the wood under the bark was orange when we started sawing.
Towards the end of the day I was completely used to cutting down trees. The atmosphere was perfect for my first forest volunteer work. There was no pressure and I really had no reason to worry. When in doubt we asked a leader to identify a tree for us.
It felt good being part of a team that was so devoted to caring for the forests. We all worked together to cut down a pretty decent number of invasives. I didn’t foresee how much I was going to learn and how it would change my view of nature. Whether diseased, invasive or dangerous, some trees can’t be kept.
Of course never start cutting down trees in a forest without signing up for one of these events. Also, no worries about the forests turning into fields of stumps. Invasive trees are cut down to let native trees grow and trees are also planted regularly to ensure our forests will never be bare.
It wasn’t until I went on a walk with my grandparents that I realized exactly how serious invasives spreading can be. Right off one of our favorite trails I noticed that there were big areas of buckthorn. That’s when everything I learned collided with my own life and places that are special to me. I hope a group decides to hold an event to take out the buckthorn I saw. The sad thought of seeing only one type of tree in a forest I grew up in helped me really appreciate these events and all of the volunteers.