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Activists Fight For Old Burr Oak Trees In Geneva

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According to activists advocating for the preservation of a stand of ancient bur oak trees in unincorporated Geneva, the trees, some of which are thought to be 300 years old may be cut down next month.

This past Tuesday the cutting of some trees on the property caused activists to spring into action. Thinking crews were cutting down the ancient trees, Brian Maher went immediately to the site.

Maher has been fighting alongside his wife, June, and other concerned residents to preserve the ancient stand of bur oak trees located in unincorporated Geneva. On Tuesday, Maher took a stand by positioning himself on top of the cutting machinery to try to get workers to stop cutting. However, his attempt to halt the removal process of the ancient trees was met with intervention from Kane County deputies in the afternoon, leading Maher and fellow protesters to vacate the property.  June Maher reported that a significant number of trees were indeed felled on Tuesday but none of them were the giant bur oak trees in question.
Amongst the wooded area covering 10 acres, there are also other tree varieties such as ashes, hickories, and elms.

Midwest Industrial Funds, the owner of the property allegedly began clearing trees off the property Tuesday which caused the response by protesters. This forested land is situated within a larger 211-acre site, which Oak Brook-based Midwest Industrial Funds intends to transform into an industrial park. The boundaries of this site are defined by Route 38 to the north, Kautz Road to the east, and Fabyan Parkway to the south.

On social media, concerned residents discussed methods that could provide compromise which could allow MIF to continue their project while allowing the ancient trees to remain since only one of the proposed buildings interferes with the stand of trees’ continued lifecycle. Some reached out to the company while others took their concerns to the mayor of Geneva, Kevin Burns; although the land in question actually sits in unincorporated Geneva and not in Geneva proper -More commonly known as Geneva Township.

Midwest Industrial Funds owns several tracts of land with industrial specs either recently sold or currently for sale in relatively close proximity to the plot of land. They have petitioned the City Of Geneva for annexation but since that has not gone through yet, the company does not need to answer to any of the city’s regulations overseeing the preservation of trees for projects like this. Ironically, the city of Geneva has won the moniker of “tree-city USA” after winning an Arbor Day Foundation contest 23 years in a row for their robust tree planting initiative.

According to activists, the construction of one of the planned buildings (warehouse building number 5 to be exact) would result in the removal of approximately 30-75 bur oak trees. Some of the trees date presettlement of the country. The 300-year-old trees have stood the test of time witnessing the birth of the country, both world wars, man landing on the moon, the invention of massive amounts of technology, the internet just to mention a few milestones.

Activists state not only should the trees themselves be saved, but in addition to an ecological benefit, they also provide homes for endangered northern long-eared bats which are federally protected. As of November 29, 2022, they have been ruled endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The bats face extinction due to the range-wide impacts of white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease affecting cave-dwelling bats across the continent. Prior to this, In June 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit allowing work that affects wetlands and stormwater mitigation in the area and the permit specifically restricts the removal of trees larger than 3″ in diameter between October 1 and March 31 due to their importance as summer homes for the endangered bats. However, the permit expired two months ago, and it is uncertain whether it has been renewed. It is also unclear whether the trees felled on Tuesday were in violation of said permit if indeed it is valid. Additionally, Midwest Industrial Funds possesses a Kane County stormwater permit for the project, but this permit does not regulate the fate of the trees.

According to an update today by petition organizer, Rachael Kay Albee, it was stated the large, up to 300-year-old trees are not scheduled to be removed until October 1st. The false alarm on Tuesday garnered even more support for the plight of trees. Just this week the petition gained another thousand signatures, and 168 today alone. Protesters have vowed the fight is not over and will continue to try to save the trees.

Activists say, the trees are  “A remnant of historic Big Woods, once spanning miles wide from Elgin to Aurora along the Fox River, remains healthy and beautiful over 300 years later.”

About Bur Oaks:

Quercus macrocarpa, the bur oak or burr oak, is a species of oak tree native to eastern North America. It is in the white oak section, Quercus sect. Quercus, and is also called mossycup oak, mossycup white oak, blue oak, or scrub oak. The acorns are the largest of any North American oak.

Due to the slow growth of this tree, it is often said that “ this is a tree to plant for future generations.” While this tree will look smaller than other shade trees of a similar caliper, the payoff is large. Bur Oak is always a great choice in the landscape and is great for attracting wildlife.

  • The acorns are the largest of any North American oak and are an important wildlife food; American black bears sometimes tear off branches to get them. However, heavy nut crops are borne only every few years. In this evolutionary strategy, known as masting, the large seed crop every few years overwhelms the ability of seed predators to eat the acorns, thus ensuring the survival of some seeds. Other wildlife, such as deer and porcupine, eat the leaves, twigs and bark. Cattle are heavy browsers in some areas. The bur oak is the only known foodplant of Bucculatrix recognita caterpillars.
  • The wood of Quercus macrocarpa is commercially valuable; it is durable, used for flooring, fence posts, cabinets, and barrels. The acorns can be eaten boiled and raw. Native Americans have used the astringent bark to treat wounds, sores, rashes, and diarrhea
  • Quercus macrocarpa is cultivated by plant nurseries for use in gardens, in parks, and on urban sidewalks. Among the white oaks, it is one of the most tolerant of urban conditions and is one of the fastest-growing of the group. It has been planted in many climates, ranging northwards to Anchorage, Alaska, and as far south as Mission, Texas. It withstands chinook conditions in Calgary, Alberta. It is drought tolerant.
  • Large bur oaks, older than 12 years, are fire-tolerant because of their thick bark. One of the bur oak’s most common habitats, especially in Midwestern United States, is the oak savanna, where fires often occur in early spring or late fall. Without fires, bur oak is often succeeded by other tree and shrub species that are more shade-tolerant.
  • It takes 35 years for most burr oaks to reach maturity at which time they begin to produce acorns.

Change.org is home to a petition attempting to save the old oaks. It currently has 3,219 signatures out of a 5000 signature goal. To sign the petition, use this link

To view the website set up by Brian and June Maher, Save Geneva Oaks go here.

Unfortunately, a representative from Midwest Industrial Funds did not return our calls or request for comments.


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