Trained forestry professionals and technical staff are responsible for providing information and assistance to private forest landowners, to cities and communities managing urban forests, and for continued tree nursery operations. As awareness of forest stewardship and incentive programs grow, the demand for a professional state support system will be greater than ever. The critical issue at hand is that the state of Illinois lacks a sufficient number of qualified personnel to meet the forest management needs of its citizens.
The need for more educational programs that explain the mechanics of oak regeneration, prescribed burning, habitat fragmentation amelioration, water quality improvement, and incentive program enrollment cannot be met without the personnel to teach them. The Division of Forest Resources continues to highlight the essential role of state professional foresters in Illinois and to raise awareness of forestry in urban and rural communities across the state. Increasing the number of forestry professionals and technical personnel must be the first step in reestablishing a win-win relationship that ensures the vitality and productivity of Illinois forests.
Changing Forest Landscape: Fragmentation―the breaking up of large habitat or land areas into smaller parcels―occurs naturally from disturbances such as wildfire, wind, and flooding, or as the result of human activities such as conversion to agriculture or urban development/sprawl. The process of fragmentation is accelerated when more and more people seek to purchase tracts of forested land. Greater numbers of people owning ever smaller tracts of land leads to a condition called parcelization. Where this is occurring, programs geared toward encouraging voluntary coordinated management across ownerships could increase the positive impacts of forest management. Property tax and zoning policies that encourage good forest stewardship need to be developed and property tax relief and incentives should be pursued in critical areas to keep more forest “in forest.” The importance of a viable forest products industry to maintaining forestry as a preferred land use and reducing fragment size cannot be overstressed.
Decline of Oak Dominance: Oak/hickory forests are the predominant forest type on the Illinois landscape. The broad range of tree species and the structural variation within these forests contributes to their importance as a reservoir for biological diversity. Many of the oak dominated forest types are presently in decline due to a legacy of management that emphasized little disturbance and no or highly selective removal of valuable timber. With a largely mature oak resource, the future of oak in Illinois is uncertain. Maintaining a healthy oak resource will be dependent on successful seedling regeneration and sapling development, processes presently not functioning adequately across most forest acreage. Reintroduction of fire into Illinois forests is increasingly gaining recognition as a key component of maintaining desired ecosystems. However, additional disturbances are also necessary under many circumstances. Any meaningful statewide strategies geared toward addressing declining tree species diversity must put implementation of canopy, subcanopy and understory disturbances front and center.
Decreased Forest Health: Multiple factors affect forest health, particularly exotic invasive plants, insects and pathogens. Preliminary data of FIA plots shows that exotic invasive plants are widely distributed across Illinois. Exotic insects and pathogens can oftentimes cause greater mortality than native insects and pathogens because plants do not have any natural defense mechanisms to protect themselves from attack. Three of of the biggest potentially harmful exotic insects include gypsy moth, Asian longhorned beetle, and emerald ash borer. Invasive species management is a concern among Natural Heritage, Wildlife and Forestry interests. On many sites, invasive plant species management will go hand in hand with other management practices. Preventing further invasions will require continued early detection and intervention efforts including information dissemination to public employees, private enterprises and the public. An integrated approach to exotic species control tailored to local conditions is warranted.