Oblate Ecological Efforts Praised by Illinois Nature Preserves Commission

Oblate Ecological Initiative

Thanks to Fr. Séamus Finn, OMI and Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Ctr.

EDITOR‘S NOTE: Fr Séamus Finn, Director of OMIUSA JPIC and OIP, shared an email from Ms. Debbie Newman of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission praising the Oblate efforts in forest preservation around Godfrey, IL and the work of noted cave explorer and mapper, Fr. Paul Wightman, OMI. Fr. Finn’s enthusiastic introduction is just below, followed by Ms Newman’s email with links to various publications from the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources.

(L-R) Eric Wright, intern for the ILNP, and Nchimunya Haakdakata who was an Oblate, novice placing sign at the Missionary Oblates Woods Nature Preserve

From Fr. Séamus P. Finn, OMI:

What a terrific story that OMI USP through our property in Godfrey has been a part of for nearly 30 years. This story that needs to be told, replicated and celebrated.

Fr. Séamus Finn, OMI

Brings to mind the talk that Pope Francis delivered on Thursday to a group of visiting priests this week.

Pope to secular missionary priests: ‘Be in the world, for the world “

  … Pope Francis began by underlining “the value of secularity in the life and ministry of priests.” “Secularity (secolarità),” he stressed, “is not synonymous with secularism (laicità)…

Secularity, he said, is rather “a dimension of the Church,” having to do with its mission to “serve and bear witness to the Kingdom of God in this world.

Special thanks to Sr Maxine Pohlman SSND who keeps this relationship alive for all of us.

The email below clearly lays out the value of the Missionary Oblates Woods Preserve in the big picture and the work we do there. It brings to mind the foresight and guiding hand of (the late) Fr. Bob Moosbrugger, OMI, who was integral to this project in the beginning. Enjoy!

  • Fr. Séamus P. Finn, OMI, Director, OMIUSA JPIC, OIP

From Ms. Debbie S. Newman

Greetings Landowners, Partners and Volunteers! 

Happy New Year to each and every one of you!  I hope you had a good holiday season.  I hope 2024 will be a great year for you. 

Working with volunteers in the preserve are Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, (far right) and next to her is Natural Areas Preservation Specialist, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, and author of the email below, Debbie S, Newman.

First I want to thank each of you for your past and continuing commitment and efforts in protecting and stewarding southwestern Illinois’ most rare habitats/natural communities, plants, animals and cultural/historical resources.  My work is to facilitate conservation, but without all of you, we truly would not be anywhere with our goals to protect and maintain natural heritage of this region, let alone contributing to statewide and national conservation.  Yes, our region does have place in the cog of conservation in the U.S.  Let’s take for example, Fogelpole Cave, which is the 51st largest in the U.S.  Or the Kaskaskia River Corridor and its large contiguos forest block (largest in IL) that has what is considered to be one of the highest concentrations in the Midwest of several floodplain forest songbirds, but notably of Cerulean Warblers considered for federal listing and currently state-threatened.   Or the hill prairies…well, yes a few other states have some hill prairie, but Illinois…and esp. SW IL from Prairie du Rocher to Grafton….are one of the densest concentrations of hill prairie communities in the U.S., in large part due to our long stretches of South and west-facing bluffs along the Mississippi River.   Monroe and St. Clair County are home to caves that host several federally-endangered bat species, and some invertebrates found only in one IL cave, or the IL Cave amphipod in 5 IL caves and nowhere else in the world! 

Sign at entrance to the nature preserve named for Oblate Father, Paul Wightman, which is home to Foglepole Cave.

2023 as most of you know, we celebrated the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission’s 60th Anniversary….INPC started as the first land protection program of its kind in the nation, modeled after by 17 other states, and given global recognition many years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.   Our celebrations were scaled back this year compared to the 40th and 50th because we’re still trying to rebuild our long-time loss of staff and operate under limited capacities.  None-the-less, for any of you who haven’t seen them, please check out our StoryMaps…60 preserved lands featured around Illinois. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/ee45bc1a5f7543f3af6a8b98f083cf08    Also Illinois Outdoor Journal celebrated with some stories: https://outdoor.wildlifeillinois.org/

The beauty and tranquility of the Oblate preserve is evident

For the first time in 13 years, all of our Natural Areas Preservation Specialist field jobs (like mine) are filled! Plus we’ve managed to add one headcount so now we have 10 NAPS in Illinois…albeit still overseeing 800+ preserves, reserves and landmarks!  We also filled a deputy director job that has been vacant for I believe 16 years.  We’re not back to our original 17 staff but now stand at 14.   Hopefully soon our new online research/special use permit will launch to expedite timely requests at sites.

As of 3 years ago, we now have a statewide Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves organization, in addition to the hundreds of local and regional partners who support, volunteer and advocate for the IL Nature Preserves System.

The preserve runs all along the cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River

As far as our region, I have received funding from our internal stewardship pot of money this year for a handful of sites…will be letting you know soon about that.  I did 29 new or updated burn plans in November and if yours is one, I’ll be sending you a signed copy in the next few days.  The last couple of years I got a record number of burns done.  However this year is a little more challenging since currently there is no Natural Heritage Biologist, Forester, Fisheries Biologist or Wildlife biologist for part of SW IL.  I traditionally rely on them for some assistance.  Two of those jobs have been posted so hopefully we’ll have help soon. 

I am also working on updating and creating new management plans for a number of sites.  Stay tuned for that.  

Visitors are enthralled by the preserve’s spectacular views of the Mississippi River

I appreciate each of you who are involved volunteering or in a volunteer group at a number of sites.  I’m hoping to expand the number of groups by at least one, later this year.  Currently we have volunteer groups at Missionary Oblates’ Woods Nature Preserve, Bohm Woods complex of public and private Nature Preserves, Knobeloch Woods NP, Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve, Stemler Cave Woods NP complex, Eagle Cliff Prairie NP, Fults NP and Annex site, and partners such as Clifftop, Karst Conservancy, The Nature Institute, Principia College, and National Great Rivers Research and Education Center performing volunteer workdays at Pautler NP, White Rock NP and LWR, Paul Wightman Subterranean NP, Storment Hauss NP, Mississippi Sanctuary NP, John M. Olin NP, and Pallisades NP and Principia NHL.  We also have Illinois’ Plants of Concern now doing rare plant monitoring in our region. This, in addition to the many hours a number of landowners put in on stewarding their own properties when possible.   If you, or if you have friends/family looking for a place to volunteer (keeping a new years resolution for getting exercise in 2024! lol), please let me know and I can put you in touch with the site stewards.

Also, partners Clifftop and Illinois Audubon Society purchased important natural areas in our region this year and are partnering with us to protect them.

From a few years ago, we see Debbie Newman showing a group of Oblate Novices how to identify and remove invasive Honey Suckle from the forest floor

We have many challenges facing us; numerous and newly emerging non-native species, climate change weather extremes..esp moisture…altering natural systems, trash and pollution, threats from variety of sources…illegal trespass, unathorized activity in protected sites, and many others, and of course having enough manpower to adequately manage sites.  One newer threat in the last several years, which is affecting almost 100% of our protected sites—including those miles from any agricultural fields—is herbicide vapor drift.  If you would like to learn more about this Friends of IL Nature Preserves is co-hosting a free webinar Jan 18th at https://mailchi.mp/8ba5cacf6a34/free-webinar-herbicide-drift-into-natural-areas?e=641740ab25.  In addition, Prairie Rivers Network provided a comprehensive report to the Commission and a link to the report can be found here https://dnr.illinois.gov/inpc.html.  Also, I’m hoping to pull together an Exotic species ID workshop this summer, since we have so many new plants invading our region in the last 5 years. 

To wrap this up: Our planet is experiencing severe challenges on many many fronts.  We all are playing a role in helping to address climate change, loss of biodiversity, habitat fragmentation, degradation and loss, water quality and more.   Of course there is much more to do.   There are many avenues of hope for 2024!  The 30×30 Initiative to try to protect 30% of the world’s natural lands by 2030 is a lofty but critical goal…you landowners are part of this with what is already protected!  Illinois has committed in principle to this, but has yet to take action.  The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has been introduced twice in Congress but not yet passed despite huge bi-partisan support.  This would supply desperately-needed funds to states to do meaningful, longterm stewardship and protection of lands and would literally change our results on the landscape.  It will be reintroduced.  I’ve been working for awhile on a larger hill prairie initiative; more to come on that in the future. 

So I’d like to thank you again for your role in all of this work.  And hopefully remind you you’re part of something bigger than just your particular piece of land.  Together, (teamwork!) we can ensure a positive future for our environment here in SW IL. ??

Debbie S. Newman,

Natural Areas Preservation Specialist, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission