Instructors show concern for Thompson Woods

Walking through Thompson Woods offers areas of forest teeming with life, but some parts of the campus’ forest are nothing but dirt and remains of where trees once stood.

These areas of the woods have been tampered with in order to manage them better, but some teachers have shown concern over an area of the campus they hold dear to their hearts and profession. The concern has caused these individuals to speak about these issues independent of their departments’ beliefs on the subject.

One teacher is Nancy Garwood, an adjunct professor of plant biology.

Garwood said some areas of the woods are horribly endangered. One of the largest problems the woods face is from the invasive plants located in the forest, she said.

She said the invasive plants are not part of the natural ecosystem and are largely ignored by insects and other animals. She said this neglect from the wildlife causes the whole ecosystem to be thrown off.

She said if left alone, invasive plants could take over the woods in about five years.

One of the problems Garwood cited is the removal of dead trees and branches. She said they are important to the environment because insects and other  creatures use them as homes. She said she understands some dead trees and branches need to be moved to make the paths safer; however, they should not be completely removed.

Charles Ruffner, an associate professor in the department of forestry and a member of the Forest Resource Management and Urban Forestry, said trees die every day and removal is necessary for upkeep.

Garwood said she doesn’t understand the decision to remove the tree stumps, because the stumps offer shelter for animals, and the removal process has left large areas without plants. She said most of the plants growing back in these dead zones are invasive plants. Another problem, Garwood said, is most of the trees being regrown in these zones are not indigenous to the area, and most are dying.

She said the center and south ends of the forest also worry her, because both sides have seen serious renovation and plant removal. Students have informed her some of the plants removed were living plants indigenous to the area, Garwood said.

Though there appears to be plans to work on these areas of the woods, Garwood said most of the faculty have been left in the dark regarding what has been done. She said Charles Ruffner, an associate professor in the department of forestry and a member of the Forest Resource Management and Urban Forestry, is in a position to manage the woods, but he doesn’t have the collective view of other teachers.

She said there has been a lot of feedback from local residents concerned about the woods.

Garwood said she is pleased Thompson Woods is at the university because it offers an area different from any other campus, and it has proved to be a unique resource when it comes to teaching. She said if managed correctly, Thompson Woods could be showcased toward other universities as a way to manage a forest area.

Richard Thomas, an associate professor of zoology, said he is also worried about the handling of the woods.

Thomas said the forest can return to its normal state if left alone, but the process could take decades. He said the invasive plants have been an issue throughout southern Illinois, including places such as Giant City State Park.

He said the forest will always require management, but it is just a question of how much the school should get involved. Management will always be a continuous battle, Thomas said.

George Waring, a professor emeritus of zoology, said he started as a professor in the mid-’60s and used the forest frequently for his classes. He said after the forest started to receive management, he used Campus Lake for his classes. Waring said both areas have changed, and he no longer uses on-campus areas for classes.

He said most decisions about the forest are being made without his knowledge or that of his co-workers.

Waring said the woods were primarily untouched, but he has seen more interference from the school over the years, especially after the storm in May 2009 destroyed portions of the woods. He said this was when many dead trees and stumps, not interfering with pathways, were taken down while also taking away the habitats of animals.

Waring said the woods used to have owls and raccoons living in the dead trees, but they have left since the trees’ removal.

Ruffner said, however, in December, Plant and Service Operations worked with student and staff volunteers to plant 150 trees in the woods as part of ongoing repair after the May 2009 storm.

Frank Anderson, an associate professor of zoology, said he is worried about some of the animal population when machines go through the forest. Birds can fly away and return, Anderson said, but it may take longer for grounded animals such as snails to return to the woods.

He said he hopes the forest gets enough funding to have ecology signs put up so students can learn about the different types of trees and plants.

With the management of the forest being debated, Anderson said the forest would grow back faster without the interference of the school and would also be more cost-efficient for the university.

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