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Partnership Formed with Chicago Bears to Battle Buckthorn

March 9, 2022 08:02 AM

The Lake County Forest Preserves and the Chicago Bears have formed a partnership to battle common buckthorn, a non-native, invasive tree that harms plants and wildlife.

Removing this pesky shrub is a key objective in the Forest Preserves’ 100-year Vision for Lake County. A pilot project to help achieve this goal started in 2015. Its mission is to clear buckthorn from Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve in Lake Forest and the surrounding landscape, encouraging about 700 public and private landowners to do the same. The total area encompasses 2,900 acres, bordered by Interstate 94 and IL Routes 176, 43 and 60.

Halas Hall, the Bears’ headquarters, neighbors Middlefork Savanna. The two organizations have teamed up to remove the invasive species that has come to dominate the region’s tree canopy. “We are thrilled to collaborate with the Chicago Bears to help eradicate buckthorn from their property,” said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves. “We hope this inspires other landowners to do the same.”

“Working with the Lake County Forest Preserve to remove buckthorn is important for both the maintenance of our property at Halas Hall and the sustainability of the Middlefork Savanna area,” said John Bostrom, Chicago Bears senior advisor of operations & s­­afety. “We hope this partnership can help educate our fellow neighbors and fans in the area on the environmental impact this invasive species can have so they too can take action.”

Buckthorn is an invasive large shrub or small tree that grows up to 22 feet tall, often in dense thickets. European settlers introduced buckthorn to North America in the 1800s for use as agricultural fencelines and privacy hedgerows. It soon escaped into natural areas and spread quickly. Today, buckthorn can be found throughout the Midwest and across much of the northern half of the U.S., as well as in Canada.

Birds eat the plant’s fruit, which has little to no nutritional value and a laxative effect, causing widespread distribution of the seeds. As it grows densely, buckthorn deprives native plants of sunlight, from spring wildflowers to oak seedlings. It also stunts the growth of other organisms by releasing a chemical called emodin from every part of the plant. “Lake County is home to more endangered species than any other county in Illinois. Removing non-native, invasive species like buckthorn supports this diversity,” said Alex Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves. 

The Bears and the Forest Preserves are in the process of developing an action plan for how to best combat buckthorn on the Bears’ property. Additional details regarding a media event this spring will be shared at a later date. To learn how to remove and replace buckthorn, visit

Media Contact: Matt Ueltzen, Restoration Ecologist,, 847-276-6230

Learn More About Buckthorn