Chicago Police abandon South Side gun range

March 12, 2012

Michell Eloy

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(WBEZ/Michell Eloy)
A bald eagle perches on a telephone pole near the area proposed for the gun range.

The Chicago Police Department says it's abandoning plans for a controversial outdoor gun range on the far Southeast Side of Chicago. Police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said Monday the department withdrew its bid for the long-planned range.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department recently asked police to apply for a special permit after WBEZ first reported that bald eagles were nesting next to the site the police department wanted.

Though no longer an endangered species, bald eagles are still protected by the Migratory Bird Act and the Federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The latter prohibits people from the disturbing the birds in a way that could affect their breeding, feeding or nesting without government consent.

Stratton said the decision to abandon the plan was “based on input from community organizations.”

Peggy Salazar with the Southeast Environmental Task Force said the announcement was a victory for nature lovers.

“For us to get other groups to align with us and to have them acknowledge that this was an important issue, this definitely is a victory for conservationists,” Salazar said.

“We fought very hard to save the remnant wetlands and the wildlife that needs it for our community so that our community can thrive and have something to be proud of,” said Carolyn Marsh of the Chicago Audubon Society.

Plans for the range took a big step forward earlier this year when the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District approved a 39-year property lease for the range, to have been located near the Little Calumet River and Hegwish Marsh.

Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden said an outdoor shooting range in or near the city is still necessary.

“I wish the birds would have picked a different spot,” Camden said.

Environmentalists argued before the eagle spotting that the area should be conserved, because of its proximity to environmentally sensitive land used by endangered birds.

The site was identified by former Mayor Richard Daley's Administration in 2010 as the only site within city limits suitable for the estimated $2.5 million range, because it’s surrounded on three sides by landfill space, it’s not easily accessible and it’s about a mile away from residential areas.

The range was also endorsed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel earlier this year.

Stratton did not say whether the police department plans to look elsewhere to build an outdoor range.

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