WBEZ | ecological restoration http://www.wbez.org/tags/ecological-restoration Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en A lakefront landing strip for migrating birds http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/lakefront-landing-strip-migrating-birds-106429 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Burnham%20Wildlife%20Corridor%20Map_2.jpg" style="width: 610px;" title="(Courtesy Chicago Park District)" /></p><p>They may have evolved to make the trip, but migratory birds are still tired after flying for thousands of miles. As a major stopover for roughly 300 species of birds, Chicago&rsquo;s lakeshore can be a good place to rest.</p><p>Building off similar work east along the waterfront, the Chicago Park District will restore native habitat for migratory songbirds along a 2.2 mile strip of land sandwiched by railroad tracks and Lake Shore Drive between 31st and 47th Streets.</p><p>The Park District is calling the 103-acre parcel the Burnham Wildlife Corridor. It includes land east of Lake Shore Drive, where restoration is already underway.</p><p>Shirlee and Douglas Hoffman, both retirees, live on 32<sup>nd</sup>&nbsp;Street, just steps from the proposed site.&nbsp;The Hoffmans said they have seen more kestrels, hawks and warblers than ever before since work began on the corridor several years ago.</p><p>&ldquo;We can really notice the difference so far,&rdquo; Shirlee Hoffman said. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re hoping that this will continue that work.&rdquo;</p><p>Most of the new 41.5-acre stretch will be woodland, seeded with oak species <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/reuniting-nature-nations-backyards-105473">known for fostering hundreds of species of caterpillars</a> &mdash;&nbsp;a key component of migrating songbirds&rsquo; diet. In August, Park District officials hope to organize a massive volunteer event to plant 125,000 trees in one day.</p><p>Before then the Park District will have to clear out invasive buckthorn and cottonwood that has taken over this narrow outpost. Years of runoff from the neighboring highway and railroad tracks have only worsened an already lackluster soil profile. But oaks are hardy, park officials said, and should take root once restoration work clears the way.</p><p>This isn&rsquo;t a restoration project per se &mdash; <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-how-has-chicago%E2%80%99s-coastline-changed-over-decades-104328">the land originally came from lake fill</a>, so it&rsquo;s more accurate to look at the Burnham Corridor as habitat enhancement. If it is successfully rehabilitated, this skinny strip of neglected land could become a welcome layover for the more than five million birds that pass through Chicago each migratory season.</p><p>&ldquo;Even though it might not be a fully thriving ecosystem,&rdquo; said Mike Redmer with the U.S. Fish &amp; Wildlife Service, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s providing a place for them to crash. Anything you can give these migrating birds along the lakefront is going to help.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/71YVxFOU6s8" width="560"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 02 Apr 2013 13:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/lakefront-landing-strip-migrating-birds-106429 New Orland Grasslands trail stirs environmental concerns http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/new-orland-grasslands-trail-stirs-environmental-concerns-106058 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/usachicago/4890741791/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/orland%20grassland%20by%20John%20W.%20Iwanski.jpg" title="Orland Grasslands (Flickr/John W. Iwanski)" /></a></p><p>The Forest Preserve District of Cook County released plans Monday for <a href="http://www.orlandgrasslandbiketrail.com/">a trail and bike path in Orland Grasslands</a>, but some environmentalists say the project could jeopardize the recovery of a fragile ecosystem by fragmenting land used by migratory birds.</p><p>Though site volunteers said they felt their concerns were largely acknowledged by the District&rsquo;s design team, they remain apprehensive about the trail&rsquo;s southeast segment, which bows around the west side of a large pond that fronts onto La Grange Road.</p><p>&ldquo;Every single inch matters,&rdquo; said Pat Hayes, Orland Grasslands&rsquo; site steward. &ldquo;What we&rsquo;re dealing with is not just a pretty place. This is sustenance for ecosystems and species that have nowhere else to go.&rdquo;</p><p>A letter from the Bird Conservation Network cited several bird species known to nest in the Grasslands &mdash; Henslow&rsquo;s Sparrow, Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow and Bobolink &mdash; that could be affected, as well as shorebird species known to stopover on the site during their migration. Though small, a path separating the pond from the Grasslands&rsquo; interior could deter birds and turtles from critical mud flats along the water&rsquo;s edge.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/orland-grassland-trail_0311-610px.jpg" title="(Forest Preserve District of Cook County)" /></p><p>&ldquo;We understand their concerns and took this issue seriously,&rdquo; said the Forest Preserve District&rsquo;s Karen Vaughan. &ldquo;In this instance, there was no ideal alignment of the trail that would fully satisfy all everyone, so our challenge was to find the best possible balance. We think we&rsquo;ve done that with the current alignment.&rdquo;</p><p>Originally the trail&rsquo;s western leg along 104<sup>th</sup> Avenue also jogged inward along the interior edge of a large wetland. Revised plans from the District moved the trail closer to the site&rsquo;s perimeter at several points to minimize its impact on restored areas amid a tenuous recovery.</p><p>The District also agreed not to mow the trail after discussions with local environmentalists, who worried mowers would track in weeds and invasive species from other sites.</p><p>By tying in with <a href="http://www.orland-park.il.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/735">bike path networks</a> in the Southwest <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/day-orland-park-105394">suburban communities of Orland Park</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/tinley-park">Tinley Park</a>, the Orland Grasslands trail is meant to draw more visitors into the site. Pat Hayes said contrary to popular opinion, environmentalists are in full agreement with the District about that.</p><p>&ldquo;Nature needs people,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Public engagement could garner some new site volunteers, Hayes said, and generally improve the community&rsquo;s attitude toward natural areas. Signs and viewing points along the trail will direct visitors&rsquo; attention to the surrounding ecosystem.</p><p>The Orland Grasslands are <a href="http://fpdcc.com/preserves-and-trails/projects/orlandgrassland/">a vast preserve</a> spanning more than 1,000 acres, following <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-10-11/news/ct-met-orland-grassland-preserve-20121011_1_orland-grassland-forest-preserve-district-restoration-projects">an acquisition the District made last fall</a> in the midst of an ongoing restoration project aimed at rehabilitating prairie, wetland, oak savanna and oak woodlands ecosystems. Besides a small gravel parking lot in the northeast corner of the site, the trail will be the only developed access to the Grasslands&rsquo; interior.</p><p>The trail still needs to pass engineering and permitting hurdles, but a letter from the District&rsquo;s chief landscape architect indicates its design is unlikely to change significantly. The District expects to begin construction this fall.</p></p> Wed, 13 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/new-orland-grasslands-trail-stirs-environmental-concerns-106058 The mouse and the oak tree http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/mouse-and-oak-tree-105543 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/topmedic/6251983913/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Glacial-Park-by-Rolour-Garcia-via-Flickr.jpg" title="Glacial Park in McHenry County, where oak forests and grasslands share history but not a likelihood of oak reproduction. (Rolour Garcia via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>Before European settlement, Illinois was at the fountainhead of a great Midwestern <a href="http://oaksavannas.org/">oak savanna</a> that stretched west through Iowa and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Less than one percent of that remains today.</p><p>In 19<sup>th</sup> century McHenry County, like much of Northeastern Illinois, oaks dominated the forest canopy, making up 98 percent of trees in the area. Efforts to restore oak savannas in the suburban ring around Chicago are growing, but ecologists are encountering some unexpected issues.</p><p>&ldquo;Ecological restoration spent its first 20 years just trying to control invasive species, and that&rsquo;s still the biggest job we have to do,&rdquo; said Tom Simpson, a field station ecologist with the McHenry County Conservation District. &ldquo;But more restorationists are turning their attention to oaks.&rdquo;</p><p>Oaks are a keystone species in the region&rsquo;s savannas and woodlands &mdash; they structure the ecosystem, nourishing the food chain and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/reuniting-nature-nations-backyards-105473">encouraging insect diversity</a>. But they don&rsquo;t make many seedlings, even when other elements of the oak savanna are restored.</p><p>At first most ecologists chalked the oak reproduction problem up to light availability. Oaks in many of the region&rsquo;s natural areas are <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/restoring-prairieland-calumets-industrial-corridor-104751">shaded out by invasive species like buckthorn</a>. Simpson&rsquo;s research over the past four years, however, showed light availability didn&rsquo;t tell the whole story.&nbsp;Despite producing plenty of acorns near grassy areas cleared of invasives, oaks weren&rsquo;t taking off.</p><p>Holding back the mighty oak could be lowly rodents. Simpson looked at squirrels, white-footed mice and meadow voles &mdash; major acorn-consumers &mdash; in McHenry County&rsquo;s Glacial Park. Unlike the other two species, squirrels are critical to the lifecycle of oaks because of their tendency to bury acorns. Squirrels avoid certain open, grassy landscapes where mice populations are high, which could explain why oak seedlings aren&rsquo;t expanding into prairies and grassy savannas as expected.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a question you wouldn&rsquo;t ask until you try to restore the ecosystem,&rdquo; Simpson said. Exactly why mice and voles have apparently edged out squirrels, a species they have shared the ecosystem with for thousands of years, is unclear. As ecologists like Simpson continue to research that question, he said, it underscores the challenges restorationists face.</p><p>&ldquo;Restoration brings us face-to-face with problems that we otherwise would never have seen,&quot; he said. &quot;But, it also gives us the opportunity to find a solution.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><em>Follow Chris Bentley on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a></em>.</span></p></p> Fri, 15 Feb 2013 05:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/mouse-and-oak-tree-105543 Reuniting with nature in the nation's backyards http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/reuniting-nature-nations-backyards-105473 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/reallyboring/6055188964/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/exurban%20sprawl%20by%20Eric%20Allix%20Rogers%20via%20flickr.jpg" style="height: 406px; width: 610px;" title="Exurban sprawl meets cornfield in Woodstock, Ill. Agriculture and suburban development are leading factors in the homogenization of local landscapes. (Eric Allix Rogers via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>In 2011 Doug Tallamy and his wife drove from Pennsylvania to Oregon. Every time they stopped for gas, he would wade into a typical residential neighborhood and snap a few photos of the plant life and landscaping. Mix those photos up, he said, and it&rsquo;s impossible to tell which stop in the 2800-mile trip you&rsquo;re looking at.</p><p>&ldquo;Nobody is using the plants that are important to their biome &mdash; they all are the same from here to California,&rdquo; he said from his home in Pennsylvania, which sits on 10 acres of white pine, milkweed and other native species that the University of Delaware professor coaxed back into a landscape once choked with invasives. In just a few years, he tripled the number of bird species on his land.</p><p>Restoring native plants has a ripple effect, because so many insects are dependent on specific species for food, and 96 percent of birds rear their young on insects. It takes at least 4,800 caterpillars, Tallamy said, to feed one clutch (5-8 babies) of Carolina chickadees. But biodiversity isn&rsquo;t just for the birds.</p><p>&ldquo;Biodiversity losses are a clear sign that our own life-support systems are failing,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Healthy ecosystems provide services like carbon sequestration, flood control and sustenance for the pollinating insects that nourish our agricultural system. And you don&rsquo;t need 10 acres to make a difference.</p><p>There are more than 45 million acres of lawn in the U.S.</p><p>While Tallamy does not want to abandon agriculture or manicured neighborhoods, he points out there is ample space to introduce a bit of wilderness into the nation&rsquo;s backyards.</p><p>Much of that land is in the suburbs, where urban sprawl has made the homogenous lawn a status symbol. But Chicago has plenty of land <a href="http://www.placemakingchicago.com/">to work with</a> &mdash; something to keep in mind as <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/green-belt-envisioned-south-side-103970">the city targets thousands of empty lots</a> that could support community gardening and farming operations. <a href="http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2011/08/18/native-plant-gardens">One Chicago condo-owner</a> introduced 175 native species of trees, shrubs and grasses to his 6,200 square feet 16 years ago, and has substantially cut back on landscape maintenance in the process.</p><p>In part that&rsquo;s because native plants are evolved to endure their local conditions. Tallamy&rsquo;s research found non-native ornamental species, common in many gardens, support 29 times less biodiversity than their native counterparts.</p><p>Take Illinois&rsquo; state tree, the white oak. Its genus, <em>Quercus</em>, is one the most productive known &mdash; just in the eastern U.S., more than 500 species of caterpillars develop on oaks. Illinois <a href="http://web.extension.illinois.edu/forestry/il_forest_facts.html">ranks 49th</a> among states in the amount of land left in its original vegetation.</p><p>&ldquo;If you have a chickadee that eats caterpillars, but you only have species of caterpillar in your yard, and that species crashes, your chickadees are out of luck,&rdquo; Tallamy said. But if you have 35 species, you have restored some resilience to the system.</p><p>Tallamy&rsquo;s focus on lawns has solicited skepticism from some landscapers. He recalled one nurseryman who left him nonplussed by asking, &ldquo;Are you trying to put us out of business?&rdquo; But with 29 million homes in the U.S., Tallamy said, restoring native species is a business opportunity for any landscaper willing to change his or her inventory. And the cost of not doing so could be even greater.</p><p>&ldquo;If there were dollar figures on the ecosystem services produced by the plants in our landscape,&rdquo; Tallamy said, &ldquo;everybody would be doing it.&rdquo;</p></p> Tue, 12 Feb 2013 07:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/reuniting-nature-nations-backyards-105473 Calumet restoration efforts get influx of cash from feds http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/calumet-restoration-efforts-get-influx-cash-feds-105422 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/virtualphotographers/5129850054/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/calumet.jpg" style="height: 456px; width: 610px;" title="In the Calumet region, Chicago's industrial and ecological histories are deeply intertwined. (virtualphotographers via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>The Forest Preserve District of Cook County announced Wednesday a $520,000 restoration project that will help knit together sensitive ecosystems in the Calumet region, where <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/grand-calumet-river%E2%80%99s-road-recovery-105164">a contaminated river</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/restoring-prairieland-calumets-industrial-corridor-104751">an abundance of invasive species</a> have long threatened <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/question-answered-what-part-chicago-has-most-biodiversity-103725">biodiversity in the Chicago region</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;What is great about this project,&rdquo; said Forest Preserve District Resource Ecologist Dan Spencer, &ldquo;is it takes elements of projects that other agencies have done in the past and puts them into a cohesive whole.&rdquo;</p><p>The targeted sites &mdash; Sand Ridge Nature Preserve,&nbsp;Jurgensen Woods and Green Lake Savanna &mdash; are all within three miles of one another. In addition to clearing out invasive species, the restoration will focus on education. Audubon and Fuller Park Community Development will encourage local conservationists to engage with the site, although details are still being worked out.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve wanted to work at Jurgensen woods for a while but never had the funds to do it,&rdquo; Spencer said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the bulk of the money, which come from the Obama Administration&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.glri.us/">Great Lakes Restoration Initiative</a>. Cook County is contributing $160,000, while Audubon will kick in $10,000.</p><p>The four sites span more than 1,000 acres of vulnerable &ldquo;dune and swale&rdquo; ecosystems, composed of interwoven strings of wetlands and dry, sandy ridges.</p><p>When ancient glaciers covering much of the Midwest receded hundreds of thousands of years ago, they dumped their water into Lake Michigan&rsquo;s ancestor, Lake Chicago. The Calumet region&rsquo;s sandy ridges are the geological remains of ancient beaches.</p><p>Work will start in the spring, Spencer said, and the funds must be spent by October of 2014.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/GreenLakeSavBrush2012.jpg" style="height: 471px; width: 610px;" title="Green Lake Savanna" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/JurgensenWds%282%292012.jpg" style="height: 471px; width: 610px;" title="Jurgensen Woods" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SRNP_Total_CalumetProject13.jpg" style="height: 471px; width: 610px;" title="Sand Ridge Nature Preserve" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/SRNC_TotalCalumet13.jpg" style="height: 789px; width: 610px;" title="Sand Ridge Nature Center" /></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 08 Feb 2013 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/calumet-restoration-efforts-get-influx-cash-feds-105422