Major, City Council, Friends and Neighbors .
My name is Stephen Saupe. I am a botanist who teaches in the joint biology department at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. I have held this position since 1981. I am currently chair of the department and Curator of our Herbarium. I received my doctoral degree in Botany at the University of Illinois and was recently invited to serve as one of two consulting scientists on the Environment and Development Team for the proposed plat of the O'Gorman property adjacent to Oak Hill School.
As a scientist on the Environment and Development Team, my job was to "work in an advisory capacity regarding the development of the property and to review and comment on the preliminary plat". During this process I often thought of the Lorax in Dr. Suess' wonderful story. You'll remember that the Lorax was the caretaker of the Truffula trees. "I am the Lorax. And I speak for trees", he said to Once-ler who was chopping them down to make Thneeds. As the Environment and Development Team discussed and made recommendations so that the proposed development of the O'Gorman property would proceed in in an environmentally-sensitive manner, I felt like a little like the Lorax. So tonight, I'm here, like the Lorax, to speak for the trees.
More specifically - I speak for the Oak Hill woods.
I speak for a 20-acre parcel of old growth woods that is land-locked between housing developments and a school.
I speak for an ecosystem that the MN Department of Natural Resources classifies as an Oak Woods. This means that it is a forested area with mature trees, mostly red oaks and maples, that make up more than 80% of the canopy. This site exists within the Deciduous Forest/Woodland Zone of Minnesota that runs from the extreme SE corner of the state to the extreme NW in a relatively narrow band that more or less follows the course of the Mississippi River. In our area, these forests typically occupy dry to dry-mesic sites such as occurs in the O'Gorman property. The soils on the site are reasonably sandy, likely deposited many years ago by the Mississippi.
I speak for one of the finest examples of Oak Woods remaining in the City. According to the St. Cloud Natural Areas Inventory completed by Short, Elliot and Hendrickson in 1996, this is a high priority site. As you know according to the Environmentally Sensitive Areas ordinance, High Priority Sites like this one are little disturbed by human activity, are uncommon statewide and are very rare or unique locally.
In fact, I speak for a site of such high quality that it is considered a Natural Heritage Area - a designation given to lands recognized by the Minnesota County Biological Survey as having state-wide significance and of unusually high quality.
Let's take an imaginary walk through this site. As you approach the property from the west, from the restored prairie at Oak Hill School, the elevation increases slightly and you will encounter lots of smooth sumac, prickly ash and hazel. Scattered beneath these shrubs are an occasional prairie remnant such as puccoon and my favorite, porcupine grass, with its long-awned, self-planting seeds. You soon reach a small ridge that is the highest elevation in the area, about 1125 feet above sea level. Red oaks are common. Continuing east, the elevation declines slightly, about 100 feet total, and you observe a variety of other trees include red maple, birch, some basswood, and black cherry.
I don't know the vegetational history of this area, but my speculation is that prior to European settlement, it was wooded, and the western section may have been savanna, a prairie with scattered, fire-tolerant oak trees. I suspect that the eastern section never burned because the rougher terrain is slightly more protected from fire, the soils are slightly moister, and lastly, we find more fire-intolerant species like red maple.
The forest floor features plants like hog-peanut, Virginia creeper, honewort, wild geranium, and sweet cicely. I have walked and botanized in this area for several years. This summer, for the first time, I was surprised to find a large population of showy orchis in the SW corner of the property. This is a gorgeous though not uncommon orchid. But the message to me is that the potential for this site is high and who knows what other treasures lie awaiting our discovery.
Like the Lorax, I speak for the Oak Hill woods with it's mixture of red oaks and maples.
I speak for the showy orchis and sweet cicely.
I speak for the deer, raccoon, fox, squirrels and rabbits that make their home in the woods.
I especially speak for maintaining as large an area of undisturbed woods as possible. Recent research on forest fragmentation has showed us areas can only persist and remain ecologically healthy if they don't get too small. Although I can't pinpoint a precise cutoff for size, if only half of the site is preserved, if only ten acres are saved, it may not be enough to maintain a viable and healthy ecosystem. Twenty acres would certainly be much better.
Lastly, I speak for the value of the woods as a place of serenity and beauty. A place to experience nature in what may be one of most basic human desires that Harvard biologists EO Wilson called, "Biophilia."
Like the Lorax, I speak for the trees. When the last Truffula tree was cut, the Lorax disappeared but he left the Once-ler a message. A single word. "Unless".
The Once-ler figured out what it meant. Too late. Before it's too late for us, let's heed the wisdom of the Once-ler who said that unless - "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."