Keeping It Green at Oakton

Your source for the most current sustainability news from Oakton Community College


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Restoration Workday! November 19

We welcome you to join us for our annual Restoration Workday! Come out and enjoy our beautiful campus and help to restore our natural areas.

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A Partnership in Preservation

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A recent Saturday morning began with birdsong, a cloudy sky, and a buzz of excitement at Oakton’s Des Plaines campus as a group of individuals gathered as part of an ecological field site visit organized by the Forest Preserves of Cook County.  Attendees included staff from the two organizations, stewards of regional restoration sites, and site volunteers who joined together in an effort to learn more about the partnership between the FPCC and Oakton Community College.

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For over 25 years, Oakton and the FPCC have been working closely with each other to understand, manage, and restore the natural areas within this 250 some acre plot along the Des Plaines River. It is near impossible to determine where Oakton land starts and Forest Preserve land begins, the only indicators being scattered stone markers along the borders. And that’s probably the way it should be. The lack of constructed barriers and fences allow the land to flow naturally from ecosystem to ecosystem, which include woodlands, prairies, and ephemeral ponds. FPCC purchased the land which is now Kloempken Prairie in the mid 40’s while Oakton’s land was purchased from the Catholic Church three decades later (though much of the area had been used for local agriculture as evidenced by the multiple drainage ditches).

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Creating Monarch Habitat at Oakton and in the Community

3000 miles. That’s quite a commute. Even more impressive then is the fact that this distance is traveled by millions of monarch butterflies, tiny creatures with ~4 inch wingspan. This great migration has been a beautiful phenomenon for generations…but numbers are declining. Monarch populations are threatened by habitat loss and pesticide use, among other reasons. One of the biggest issues for monarchs is their specialized diet during the larval stage. Monarch caterpillars rely solely on milkweed plants where female butterflies lay their eggs. Without them, their life cycle cannot be completed. Oakton Community College is helping to protect Monarch butterflies by creating usable habitat on campus and in the community.

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Earth Week 2015 at Oakton Community College–Events and Activities!

Oakton Community College is gearing up for its annual Earth Week celebrations! From April 20-25, we invite students, employees, and community members to join in a variety of educational experiences centered on environmental awareness and sustainable practices.

A number of our own Oakton faculty and staff will be presenting lectures and leading volunteer workdays. We have also invited a few representatives from community businesses and organizations to share their knowledge. All workshops and activities are free and open to the public (most will be held at the Des Plaines campus)!

There will be plenty of hands-on experiences including: a bird walk, campus nature walk, Lee Center building tours, environmental restoration (garlic mustard removal), water quality and invertebrate sampling in Lake Oakton and prepping our community gardens.

In addition, a number of presentations will be held. Topics include:

  • The Environmental Crisis in Light of Marx’s Critique of Capital
  • Environmental Philosophy and Deep Ecology
  • Municipal Water Cycle: What happens to water after we use it?
  • Natural Areas at Oakton
  • The Beauty of Plant Life: Images of native plant life cycles
  • Native Fauna and Fungi on Oakton’s Campus
  • Recycling Tips and Repurposing for Art
  • Air Pollution
  • Sustainability in a Business Setting
  • My Big, Fat, Green Renovation
  • Sustainable Food & Healthy Eating

Ecology Club will be on hand to sell milkweed and strawberry plants throughout the week and the Green Committee will provide snacks on both campuses. We will also be partnering with USAgain in a clothing, shoe and textile drive. Please visit www.oakton.edu for a full schedule and updated details as they become available!


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Cutting and Burning: Restoring Habitat on the Des Plaines Campus

Next time you pull into Oakton’s Des Plaines campus along Golf Road, take a look on either side of you just past the baseball fields.  To your right, you will likely see a blackened patch of earth and to the left–lots of grasses (and hopefully!) a glimpse of the river.  Had you driven by this past Saturday morning, you definitely would not have seen the river, but you may have noticed individuals wielding loppers and saws, cutting down trees and dragging them to burn piles, or witnessed (licensed!) individuals setting fire to a stretch of prairie grass. Believe it or not, this is restoration in progress.

 

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Over 100 people participated in Oakton Community College’s Fall Restoration workday on November 8th.  This annual event, sponsored and organized by our Ecology Club, is a great opportunity for students and community members to get some hands-on experience restoring and preserving the natural areas on campus.  As part of a larger prairie restoration project, volunteers of all ages (including youth scouts working right alongside college students) removed invasive buckthorn from a stretch of land next to Oakton’s baseball fields along the Des Plaines River.

 

Volunteers also planted about 20 native shrubs in a recessed portion of the area that will grow to create safe, usable habitat for frogs, snakes and other animals in the restored prairie.

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After a few hours of hard work cutting down and dragging out buckthorn trees, attendees were treated to a prescribed burn demonstration in a restored prairie section just across the street. Students learned about the importance of fire for healthy prairie ecosystems and were encouraged to come back in spring as grasses and other plants start to return.

 

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“I thought you were trying to SAVE the environment…why are you cutting down trees and burning prairie??” These are common questions for anyone new to a restoration project.  Here is a quick synopsis:

Take a look at the before and after shots below.  Non-native species (like buckthorn) were/are often brought over from other areas of the world either as decorative plants, shrubs used for good coverage, or a number of other reasons. Unfortunately, some species become invasive–meaning that they take advantage of their new surroundings by consuming, reproducing and spreading. These quick growing plants absorb nutrients from the soil and grow tall in a short amount of time. In doing so, they use valuable resources that other (native and often slower growing) species need. As plants like buckthorn grow, they block sunlight from reaching seedlings of oak trees, ash trees, and other native plants whose growth we wish to encourage. (That’s why you see yellow caution tape in some of the images–those are the plants we want to see more of on campus!) Because they are so quick to grow, it can often be hard to eradicate them from an area once they have taken hold. Workdays like this provide the man (and woman) power we need to take down a lot of the individual trees. Licensed individuals then come through and use a specialized herbicide on the plants that were cut down to ensure they do not grow back. It can take several years to clear an area of invasive species.

 

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There was a River hiding behind all of those invasive species!!

 

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In the case of prairies, fire is an important part of maintaining a healthy ecosystem. In natural prairies, fire would occur periodically–wiping out invasive grasses that could not withstand the temperatures and ensuring proper development of native seeds–some of which require those high temperatures to germinate. Because native prairie grasses have deep root bases growing from a point underground, even though the grassy stems above ground are burnt, the plant itself remains intact–ready to grow and thrive as the spring comes.  In restored prairies, such as this stretch, prescribed burns are a way of controlling invasive species thereby giving the prairie grasses we have planted in the past enough nutrients and space to grow and reproduce.

It takes a lot more effort to restore stretches of natural land than it does to disrupt or destroy them. As the seasons change and you watch these areas grow, take a second to think about all of the work that goes into maintaining and restoring the beautiful habitats–and maybe you can join us next time!!

 

 


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Restoration Work Day at Des Plaines Campus

If you are interested in spending some time outside in nature, making friends, and maybe getting a little dirty–we invite you to join the Oakton Community College Ecology Club for their annual Fall Restoration Project here at the Des Plaines campus.  Community members are invited–you do not need to be a current student in order to attend. Contact ecooakton@gmail.com to reserve your spot.

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