The science behind Fermilab Arbor Day plantings

A tree planted during a previous Arbor Day celebration. Photo: Visual Media Services

As Fermilab has done traditionally, we will celebrate Arbor Day this year in the beginning of May. The adjusted schedule allows our tree planting to take place when the weather is warmer.

Arbor Day is a chance to get out of the house or office, plant a tree or two at Fermilab and share a picnic lunch to celebrate spring and the importance of trees in our ecosystem. It is also an opportunity to assist in the ongoing effort to manage the natural areas on our site in a responsible and ecologically sound manner.

During the last 20 years or so, the effort to restore tall grass prairie at Fermilab, initiated by Dr. Robert Betz in 1975, has evolved into a larger effort focused on whole-ecosystem management. This management philosophy recognizes that ecosystems are complex, interacting systems and that the dynamics of the individual parts of the ecosystem are often very complicated.

For the last 17 years, Arbor Day at Fermilab has concentrated on planting native species of trees and shrubs in the area south of Wilson Street and west of B Road, in the northwestern part of the site. This location was chosen based on the ecological principle of minimizing forest “edge” with surrounding grasslands to reduce fragmentation of the adjacent forest of the Big Woods and the Director’s Woods at Site 29.

When large, contiguous forests are fragmented by timbering, roads or agriculture, the smaller remaining fragments are much more vulnerable to invasion by predatory and parasitic species such as blue jays, crows and cowbirds as well as cats and raccoons. This degrades the forest habitat for sensitive deep-forest bird species in particular, such as ground or mid-level nesting birds. Other specialist species that can be affected include amphibians and beneficial insects. Reuniting the fragments by filling in creates more high-quality habitat characterized by deep forest and restores the balance once again.

— Rod Walton