Forest on the Fringe

Forest on the Fringe author Bill Haywood has been working in Indian Creek Nature Center’s woodlands recently.


In some areas, there are massive elms still standing and butternut trees still producing nuts-everything you could possibly want in a healthy Iowa woodland. But in other areas, invasive black locust and mulberry dominate the landscape. Bringing those sections back to health would involve massive ecosystem destruction, followed by expensive reconstruction. Bill has a better way. Through the woods, he has been dropping small, 3”-9” diameter trees.

Bill's clearing

This allows the mature-canopy trees, regardless of species, to continue stabilizing the existing ecology. Young desirable trees, including white oaks, butternuts, and shagbark hickories will be able to grow up in the pockets of sunlight he has created. Periodic fire will be used to keep the undesirable trees from reclaiming the sunlight. This long-term approach prevents erosion, relies on the intact components of the forest, and creates a healthy range of different age trees and amounts of sunlight throughout the woodlands.

Then the storms of last week hit, and overlaid on Bill’s careful work was the awesome path of wreckage left by a strong wind pattern. “Trail Destructo,” as my colleague Andrea Blaha calls it.

trail destructo

One of the butternuts was cracked in half and trails were covered by broken and twisted trees.

butternut tree down


At first I felt devastated. But then, I remembered the notes from the 1842 survey of this area. A significant windfall band that swept across the township was noted, not unlike what happened in Monday’s storms. While the damage to some of the existing trees is extensive, these wind events create pockets of open sunlight, allowing new growth and different species to develop in the woods. Downed trees are also great for fungus and replenishing the soil.

Scarlet cups, Ginger
Gabrielle Anderson’s scarlet cups in Hunting Red

scarlet cups, snipped