Preserving Illinois forests, one landowner at a time

Men in hardhats stand near a felled tree in a forest
Chris Evans, foreground, explains forest management concepts to Illinois landowners

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS – No matter how many times I do this, I always get nervous. I am demonstrating the proper use of a chainsaw to fell a tree and I want it to go well. After choosing the right tree, a medium-sized box elder, I walk through the steps out loud so that everyone in the class can hear me: One must assess any hazards, determine which way the tree is leaning and whether it might be rotten in the middle, find a safe escape route for when the tree starts falling. I develop a plan of how I am going to cut this tree and where it is going to go and decide if I am comfortable with the plan.  

I move everyone back to a safe distance, put on my safety gear and get to work cutting the tree. Everything goes smoothly and the tree falls safely to the ground with a series of loud cracks as the smaller branches break under its weight. 

Felling this tree is the last event in our first field day of the newly developed Beginning Forest Landowner Program in southern Illinois. 

I developed this course with colleagues in the University of Illinois Extension Forestry Program and other southern Illinois conservation groups. It’s a new approach to forestry education. It takes the students on a deeper dive into forest management through a year-long curriculum that, in addition to the more traditional classroom instruction, incorporates hands-on field trainings, mentoring, networking events and peer-to-peer learning. The long-term goal of the program is to give landowners the experience, skills and connections needed to better manage their forests.

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