Winter 2002

News of the Wild

Wisconsin Legislation Benefits Nature
McHenry District Permits Deer Hunting
Farewell to "The Fox"
Owl Pellets Popular with Students
Saving Kame
Kane County Acquisitions
Northbrook Riffles to Improve Habitat
Northbrook Creates A Trail Through Time
44 Ducks Rescued from Oil Spill
Homer Glen Acts in the Interest of Nature
Something About Taxes
 
 

Wisconsin Legislation Benefits Nature

In August, Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum approved a dramatic expansion of the state's Stewardship Fund by $112 million over the next eight years. The Fund – now $60 million a year – helps state and local governments and conservation groups buy critical lands for parks, trails, and natural and wildlife areas. The new funds will likely be used to protect more than 50,000 acres of conservation land.

In addition, a provision banning oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes was approved by the legislature and signed by the governor.

Gov. McCallum also vetoed a budget provision to split the Department of Natural Resources by removing all forestry functions and creating a new Department of Forestry. Hunting, fishing and environmental groups all opposed this move because it would destroy integrated resource management (literally separating the trees from the forest) and would increase administrative costs required to run two state agencies. Citizens opposed the split by more
than 30:1.

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McHenry District Permits Deer Hunting

On September 20, 2001, the Board of the McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD) approved a plan for deer hunting at two sites: the Rush Creek and Brookdale Conservation Areas. In other counties, deer control on conservation land has been by paid marksmen.

Over the past nine years, the District’s resource management staff had been studying deer populations and their effect on the larger ecosystem. They counted 95 deer at the 600-acre Rush Creek preserve, a site that can sustainably support 17 deer, notes Kate Halma, MCCD communications director. Halma says that hunting on adjacent privately-owned lands may push deer into the haven of MCCD property.

“We required antler-less deer [almost always these are does] to be taken first,” she says, adding that such a policy is the only one that will help to achieve conservation goals. Midway through the first trial year, 16 hunters had filed applications with the District and attended the District’s required orientation meeting. (Hunters must also pass a state safety exam.)

Hunters took six deer from Rush Creek in the first weekend of the two state hunting seasons. “We’ll be gathering information from hunters and studying the effects of this program,” Halma says. Chicago WILDERNESS plans an expanded report in a future issue.

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Farewell to "The Fox"

He was one of the most notorious – and certainly the most elusive – conservation crusaders in the Chicago Wilderness region. Only when he died, in early October, did the world learn that James Phillips, 70, was the man known as "The Fox." Beginning in the late 1960s, Phillips undertook a series of environmental escapades, such as plugging up the waste pipes of factories that dumped pollutants into his beloved Fox River, and depositing 50 pounds of raw sewage in the corporate offices of another malefactor, and capping smokestacks with concrete. Assisted by a band of faithful lieutenants known as "The Kindred Spirits," Phillips managed to escape detection while his exploits, which made him a folk hero, were reported in Time and Newsweek.

A middle school science teacher and later a field inspector for the Kane County Department of Environment, Phillips also participated in the 1973 re-enactment of the Jolliet-Marquette canoe expedition from the Straits of Mackinac to the mouth of the Arkansas River on the Mississippi. In 1986, Phillips founded the Fox River Conservation Foundation. In late November, friends and family scattered his ashes into the Fox River and broke his canoe paddle in tribute.

"Society is my jury," The Fox once said. "The minute people think I'm out of line, that I'm writing the rules to suit me and not them, I'll be caught." He never was.

Look for a fuller tribute to The Fox in the next issue of Chicago WILDERNESS.

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Owl Pellets Popular with Students

Regurgitated waste products have become an increasingly popular sight in grade schools across Illinois, but not because of bad cafeteria food. A growing number of teachers are using the leftovers that owls regurgitate after a meal to teach their students.

"Illinois is one of our biggest clients," says Kim Gaussoin of Pellets Inc., the world's largest owl pellet supplier. "We sell pellets and support materials to approximately 850 schools throughout the state."

"It's like a puzzle for my students," says Deb Petersen, a 4th grade teacher at Hunting Ridge Elementary School in Palatine. "After they pick out all the different pieces from the pellet, they can’t wait to put the bones back together to see what kind of animal it was."

Owl pellets, as these compact little packages are so discreetly called, contain the fur, bones, feathers and other materials that owls can't digest. Following a feast of vole, shrew, mouse, or other local delicacy, an owl's stomach will form a pellet containing these un-digestible elements, which the owl will regurgitate later to make room for its next meal. And since owls frequently swallow their prey whole, these pellets often contain all the skeletal components of the bird’s quarry, leaving a biological mystery just waiting to be solved.

"We read and write poems about owls, and we discuss the geography of their habitat around the country," adds Petersen. "Dissecting owl pellets is a fun way to teach social studies and language arts as well as science."

Unfortunately, one of the educational opportunities unique to Illinois is one that teachers and students would rather not lay claim to. Due to loss of habitat and food supply, Illinois is the only state where barn owls (Tyto alba) – one of the major sources of pellets for educational use –have been classified as an endangered species.

But a hard lesson about habitat loss has inspired some students to try and make a difference. Last year, students from the Rogers Elementary School in Marquette Heights raised more than $1,600 selling tee shirts and CDs to help fund the purchase, construction, and placing of nesting boxes for barn owls around Illinois. This past spring, teacher Patty Massaglia and her 4th and 5th grade students donated their check to the Illinois Conservation Foundation and will soon have a barn owl nesting box posted outside their school. Some experts fear that loss of nesting and hunting habitat has led to the barn owl’s downfall in Illinois. Erecting nesting boxes may be one way to help this species.

"A lot of the kids decide that they want to be park rangers when they grow up," Petersen says. “And even though there are some kids who are squeamish at first, they end up thinking it’s pretty cool. The most difficult thing for my students is to get their parents to hang their work on the refrigerator – a reconstructed skeleton of the owl’s prey glued onto a piece of cardboard.”

–Gian Galassi

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Saving Kame

The Illinois Prairie Path volunteer group has begun a campaign to preserve an undeveloped 8.3-acre parcel of land in unincorporated DuPage County that includes the Glacial Ridge natural area, a remnant of one of the largest kames in DuPage County. Deposited 10-15,000 years ago when the last glacier moved through northern Illinois, the kame is a unique geological and vegetative feature bordering the Illinois Prairie Path (IPP), a 61-mile-long biking, hiking, jogging, equestrian, and nature trail in Cook, DuPage, and Kane Counties. If this parcel is developed, a new street will have to be built across the trail at Whittier Avenue in Glen Ellyn, creating a hazard for trail users on this very busy section of the path.

The “Special 8” parcel also harbors an unusual assemblage of oak woodland vegetation on gravel soils. Pat Armstrong of Prairie Sun Consultants and Marlin Bowles of the Morton Arboretum have surveyed the parcel and identified more than 100 native plant species, including a population of pale vetchling, a threatened species in Illinois. "These eight acres may represent the last unprotected piece of original vegetation in the county," states Armstrong. "Finding these rare native plants living together in their habitat (although disturbed by vehicle trails) was like being transported back in time to a place unseen for over 100 years."

More information about the IPP and the "Special 8" campaign can be found at http://www.ipp.org or by calling (630) 752-0120.

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Kane County Acquisitions

Since its 1999 bond referendum, the Forest Preserve District of Kane County has spent nearly $35 million to acquire roughly 2,000 acres in 12 preserves, bringing its total holdings to nearly 10,000 acres.

Two new acquisitions are in Rutland Township in the far northern part of the county. Sitting on the rolling kettles, drumlins, and kames of the Marengo Moraine, a new 300-acre acquisition is on the flood plain of the Kishwaukee River that was created by the moraine’s overflow. It connects the Meagher Preserve with Freeman Kame. Linking these two has created a mile-long expanse of more than 450 acres.

The majority of this new $4 million holding was purchased from a landowner who leased it to a hunt club and a farmer. In the midst of the fields lies an extremely high quality fen and a significant sedge community where state biologists have found such rare plants as rush aster, bog and hoary willow, and cottongrass.

South of this, on the lower lying glacial outwash plain, is the new 396-acre Pingree Grove Marsh. Seen from Route 20, it appears to be a nondescript strip of land, but conservationists knew its ecological value, and when the scion of the holding family died, his heirs sold it for $3.9 million.

Situated on the Tyler Creek head-waters, the site contains marsh, fen, sedge meadows, and woods. Although farmed for many years, only 40 percent of the land was suitable for agriculture. With 60 percent used for pasture, a degraded oak hickory woods hung on, as well as a sedge meadow and an emergent marsh.

What makes Pingree Marsh such a stellar acquisition is the assemblage of birds that gather in the wetlands: sandhill cranes, great blue herons, black-crowned night-herons, common moorhens, yellow-headed blackbirds, and American bitterns. Bird monitors have noticed a growing number of sandhill cranes returning to Kane County, and some are nesting at Pingree.

— Elizabeth Riotto

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Northbrook Riffles to Improve Habitat

The Village of Northbrook is constructing a series of riffles and pools in the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River that will improve water quality, habitat, and aesthetics. This innovative project was designed by scientists at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and is part of a broader effort by Northbrook to make improvements to a 2,000-foot stretch of the West Fork within the village’s central business district. “The $2 million project by the village is designed to address serious bank erosion and failing outfalls along the river,” said Jim Reynolds, village public works director.

According to University of Illinois scientist Bruce Rhoads, “the pools and riffles aerate the stream, provide better habitat for fish and insects that live in the stream environment, and provide an aesthetically pleasing visual amenity and sounds.” Other stream improvements include removal of nonnative trees and brush, replacing them with deep-rooted native plants to support the streambank, stabilizing the toe of the stream with attractive boulders, and installing stormwater treatment devices in adjacent parking lots that filter runoff before it enters the stream.

Funding for the pools and riffles and for the stormwater filtering devices was provided in part by Illinois EPA 319 grant funds that are being administered through the North Branch Watershed Project, a cooperative project managed by Friends of the Chicago River and the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission.

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Northbrook Creates A Trail Through Time

Last year, when the opportunity arose to acquire the last available open space tract in Northbrook, residents approved the purchase by 75 percent in a bond referendum. This year, thanks to a $2 million State of Illinois Open Lands Grant, the Northbrook Park District has begun the process of restoring 16 acres of the newly acquired 66-acre Anetsberger property to its native plant communities.

The Anetsberger site is bordered by the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River and includes a nine-hole golf course, a small fishing pond, and agricultural fields. Soil surveys indicate that wetlands and mesic prairie once flourished in the fallow fields, and hydrological surveys are underway to locate drain tiles. This past spring, staff herbicided reed canary grass and burned the fields.

The Trail Through Time, a tribute to the natural and cultural history of the land, is an educational component of the Anetsberger master plan. The trail will begin at a wetland boardwalk where visitors can observe ongoing water quality studies. Through interpretative signage, they can learn about frogs and other wetland residents. The Trail will also include a council ring for visitors to gather and tell stories and a re-creation of an Indian encampment illustrating how the land supported the people who lived there. Julie Hansen of the Northbrook Park District hopes to work with local schools to raise beetles that feed on invasive purple loosestrife as part of the park’s management plan.

The Anetsberger property is also adjacent to the Northbrook Park District’s first foray into natural landscaping, Meadowhill South Park. This park includes a wet prairie, and since 1995 it has been burned several times. According to Hansen, “It’s been an amazing education for the Village, the children and the neighbors. But, we’ve also been lucky to have the Somme Woods forest preserve in our community. The many years of successful restoration work done there have raised people’s consciousness.”

To get involved in Northbrook Park District restoration projects, contact Hansen at (847) 291-2995.

— Alison Carney Brown

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44 Ducks Rescued from Oil Spill

In late August, 44 mallard ducks were found floundering in oil at a Carol Stream apartment complex and taken to the Willowbrook Nature Center in DuPage County for rehabilitation.

“They couldn’t fly because they were so loaded down with oil,” says Sandy Woltman, a wildlife specialist at the center who responded to the call. “Their first instinct is to get the oil off, so they keep preening and that causes gastrointestinal problems,” Woltman adds. “We want to flush it out of their system and rehydrate them – basically stabilize them.”

Since the ducks were no longer waterproof, they were kept under a lamp to control their body temperature. Workers and volunteers bathed the ducks in dish soap, used rags, cotton, and gauze to completely rid the animals of the oil, and then spent 30 minutes rinsing each duck. “You have to rinse them initially until the water is beading off of them,” Woltman says. Each duck took about an hour to clean.

They were monitored for the next week and a half, then banded and released into forest preserves around DuPage County. It is difficult to predict how many ducks will survive once they are back in the wild.

A special agent with the Fish and Wildlife Service investigating the cause of the oil spill found that an oil-based paint had been washed down the sewer.

— Ann Hanson

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Homer Glen Acts in the Interest of Nature

Six months after incorporation, the Village of Homer Glen is working to fulfill its mission statement, part of which reads, “We will strive to maintain open space, preserve our unique rural character, and safeguard our natural resources.” The village board is encouraging developers to protect trees by incorporating them into their site planning and by protecting them during construction. “We’ve been very encouraged by the amount of cooperation,” says Village Trustee Margaret Sabo, who points out the benefits to developers. “If they can save what’s there, then they can save money on buying trees later.”

The Village also declared September 29 to be “Homer Glen Lands Day” in conjunction with National Public Lands Day, which occurred on September 21.

In 1998 Homer Township became the third township in Illinois to pass an open space referendum, and today the township owns 220 acres of open space land. On October 22, the township held a public hearing on the uses of three specific parcels of that land and adopted a Homer Township Open Space Program Mission Statement, submitted by Trustee Pam Meyers. The statement allows for passive recreational uses of open space, which includes ballparks, according to Meyers. But, she adds, open space shouldn’t be used for active recreational uses like an irrigated and lighted ballpark with 500-car paved parking lot.

“I believe that the people of our township are really very environmetally conscious,” says Meyers. “There has been a loud and clear message from the people in the community. People are attracted to the open space and rural characteristics of Homer Township.”

—Shanna M. McGarry

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Something About Taxes

The Wildlife Preservation Fund is a voluntary, tax-deductible contribution check-off option on the 1040 Illinois state income tax return. Over the past 17 years donations to the fund have totaled nearly $3.6 million. The funds have been used to support more than 650 projects involving development and management of habitat, species restoration initiatives, data collection, scientific analysis, conservation education, and technical assistance. “The projects funded by the Wildlife Preservation Fund are examples of how the public’s support for wildlife can pay big dividends today and for generations to come,” said Brent Manning, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, in Outdoor Illinois.

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Rearing Galerucella Beetles at Home

In the 1950s pet poodles were a craze. Later it was gerbils. Next: beetles?

Photo: Courtesy INHS

In the new millennium, your neighbor may be raising and releasing thousands of Galerucella beetles to help save local wetlands from invasive purple loosestrife.

Last spring, for the first time, Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) staff trained 16 homeowners to raise purple loosestrife beetles. Collectively, the homeowners released an estimated 200,000 beetles into their privately owned wetlands. Individual homeowners each put between four and 48 plants into production, 256 in total, and soon, as one participant put it, “Oh man, we got all these beetles!”

Stacy Miller, interpretive program coordinator at Volo Bog State Natural Area, championed the program and even had to turn people away. “We call it the bubble-up theory,” quips Susan Post, research biologist with INHS. “Many of the homeowners in this program have children who participated in a (Chicago Wilderness funded) beetle rearing project in their schools. They told their parents what they had learned.”

Homeowners are taught how to identify purple loosestrife, dig up the roots, and transplant them into a pot. Once the roots are potted, the plants are covered with a mesh bag cage provided by INHS. When the plant grows big enough, INHS sends 25-30 beetles, previously held in a cold-storage system, to put on each plant. Within six-to-eight weeks the next generation is produced. “We also teach participants how to monitor their site from year to year after they release beetles,” explains Dr. David Voegtlin, an entomologist with the INHS Center for Economic Entomology. “They come to understand the process of biological control. It’s a slow but powerful process.”

Purple loosestrife was brought to this country from Europe in the early 1800s. The attractive purple flowered plant thrives in wetlands and quickly outcompetes native plants displacing the wildlife that depends on them. Galerucella beetles feed exclusively on the leaves and stems of purple loosestrife, eventually killing the plant.

“We didn’t recognize what was happening in our cages,” shares participant Jack Mommsen. “After five weeks, all the loosestrife disappeared. The larvae ate it all. Then they turned into adults. We had about 2,000 beetles in each cage.” Mommsen lives in a Crystal Lake neighborhood that includes a 25-acre wetland infested with purple loosestrife. “We put some of the cages along the shore of the wetland and put signs up there and around the neighborhood so people would know what was going on,” Mommsen adds. “We hope more people get involved in the program. Only a month after we released the beetles, you could see that they were chewing on the leaves – it’s like they cut windows through the leaves.”

Since 1996, the INHS has released almost two million beetles at 210 sites in the state. “People with small landholdings can rear and release these beetles themselves,” encourages Post. “It’s definitely worth doing.” Classroom workshops on beetle rearing for teachers are scheduled on January 26 and February 2, 2002. Contact Susan Post at (217) 333-6659. Homeowner training will be held on April 13 at Volo Bog. Contact Stacy Miller at (815) 344-1294. For more information about biological control of purple loosestrife, visit the INHS Web site at http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/cbd/loosestrife/bcpl.html.

— Alison Carney Brown

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Big Plans for Rollins Savanna

On October 17, Lake County Forest Preserves officials celebrated the start of improvements and the opening of a
temporary 3.5-mile grass trail at Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve near Grayslake.

Rollins Savanna is Lake County’s second-largest forest preserve with 1,225 uninterrupted acres. Scattered groves of majestic oaks and wide-open prairies teem with wildflowers and native grasses and wildlife. Habitat restoration and construction of trails and other public access areas at Rollins Savanna, funded by a voter-approved bond referendum, is scheduled to begin this spring, with completion anticipated by fall 2002.

The 3.5-mile grass hiking trail is open for hiking now and for cross-country skiing this winter. Snowmobiles will parallel a small section of the trail as they pass through the preserve. The temporary trail encircles a large open area and provides excellent views of both upland and wetland wildlife habitat areas.

Restoration of the oak woodland, savanna, prairie and wetland communities will constitute the largest restoration effort ever undertaken by the Lake County Forest Preserves.

For more information about the Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve, call the Lake County Forest Preserves Planning Office at (847) 680-6301.

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Wet Search for Herps

On September 23rd, in rain that never stopped, 18 valiant souls scoured Nelson Lake Marsh, west of Batavia, for anything that hopped, slithered, or crawled. Led by volunteer leaders from the Chicago Wilderness Habitat Project and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County (FPDKC), the group discovered a baby snapping turtle and the find of the day (despite its being dead) – a northern water snake.

“For years we’ve heard of water snakes at Nelson Lake Marsh,” says Drew Ullberg, FPDKC restoration manager, “and in the worst weather we finally stumbled upon one.”

Nelson Lake Marsh is a 650-acre nature preserve that includes a Grade A fen and a large marsh. 290 plant species have been documented here, as well as 140 bird and 38 butterfly species. But little is known about the amphibians and reptiles. “It’s nice to have more eyes helping to look,” Ullberg adds.

The extra eyes belong to citizen scientists. The group found leopard, green, chorus and bull frogs, American toads, and a dead tiger salamander.

“We were looking for the Massasauga rattlesnake as well,” Ullberg notes. “It’s listed as endangered in Illinois, but there’s suitable habitat at this site and we hear anecdotal reports, but we haven’t documented one yet.”

The Habitat Project offers winter training sessions to learn how to monitor Chicago Wilderness wildlife. For more information call (847) 965-1150 or visit www.habitatproject.org.

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Grants Benefit Kids and Nature

This summer, the Illinois Conservation Foundation (ICF) awarded 14 grants totaling $52,750. These are the first awards from a new program designed to encourage projects and educational programs that preserve and enhance the natural resources of the state.

In the Chicago Wilderness region, for instance, the Cary Park District received $5,000 toward its Hillside Prairie Park Restoration. The park’s rare gravel hill prairie is flourishing, but “down-slope the soil is more mesic and inundated with exotic species,” explains David Raica, director of parks and planning. The eight-acre site, surrounded by homes, provides a good opportunity for neighbor involvement in restoration management. The park district hosts workdays for local youth, scout, and civic groups. “The benefits of passing on stewardship to the younger generation far exceeds the time spent now,” Raica added. “It is our hope that more open land will be preserved as people come to understand the value of nature.”

Elsewhere, on a 1.9-acre unused corner grows another ICF-funded project: the Evanston Township High School (ETHS) Environmental Education Demonstration Project. Biology teacher Craig Smith’s advanced placement environmental science students proposed that the corner land be restored as a wetland with an upland prairie buffer when they found low topography, wetness and hydric soils on the site. Teachers are already running transects and soil studies on the demonstration site and horticulture classes are germinating donated seeds.

For more information on the grant program and applications for the next round of grants, contact the Illinois Conservation Foundation at (312) 814-7237 or visit http://www.ilcf.org.

— Alison Carney Brown

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800 Planners Work on Land Use for the Region

In late October, more than 800 people gathered on a Saturday morning to help develop a new land use plan for the greater Chicago region. The regional forum was sponsored by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission as part of a three-year initiative that will result in a “Regional Vision” and provide the basis for the development of the Comprehensive Regional Plan for the next 30 years and beyond. Participants, with a diversity of voices, came from all over the region.

In the morning’s forum, participants sought to identify the top 11 challenges facing the region (from a list of 57 generated at previous workshops). The top challenge, it turned out, was how to place jobs and housing closer together. Third on the list was protecting the environment. Issues identified for future discussion and action were: access to education; balanced economy and environment; balanced growth; education funding; environmental protection; health care; affordable housing; intergovernmental cooperation; jobs and housing; livable communities; and public safety.

In the afternoon, participants divided into groups focusing on five issue areas – economic development, community development, environment and natural resources, transportation and infrastructure, and quality of life. All groups came to one conclusion: none of the issues are isolated. Community development could not be discussed without considering transportation challenges, and the environment and natural resources are interdependent with economic development.

The next step in the process will be a series of six monthly issue discussions throughout the region. These discussions are an opportunity to shape the future of the region, and everyone is invited. To get more information or to download a copy of “A Report on Subregional Workshops,” describing the 12 public Common Ground workshops held in 2001, visit http://www.nipc.cog.il.us/cground

— Steve Frankel

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Sewer Repair Produces Surprises

Photo: Courtesy PACE Suburban Bus Service

A downtown Elgin sewer in urgent need of repair led to the temporary damming of a 130 x 60 foot channel of the Fox River and the relocation of a surprising variety of aquatic species. “I used to see the Fox as a murky brown, tired, and abused old river that nothing good could live in,” observes David Szaflarski, environmental affairs coordinator at PACE Suburban Bus Service. “Was I wrong.”

A failed sewer line that lay below the river at the PACE Elgin Transportation Center bus terminal had to be replaced. So the Army Corps of Engineers directed PACE to work with the Kane-DuPage County Soil & Conservation District, the State of Illinois, and the Department of Natural Resources to relocate all the riverbed critters. When water was drained from the channel, relocation experts found a variety of freshwater mussels and snails, as well as flat head minnow, blue gill, Johnny darter, black and brown bullheads, crayfish, channel catfish, freshwater drum, white crappie, white sucker, and Northern hog sucker. There were whopping finds as well: a 3.5 pound largemouth bass, a 1 pound walleye and a 3.5 pound common carp.

“We were surprised to find that many fish and that much variety, especially the walleye and white crappie,” notes John Cortell, aquatic biologist with Marine Biochemists, in charge of the relocation project. “These species are commonly found in the Fox, but to find such a healthy fish population in such a small sample site in an urbanized area is surprising. The water must be good quality to sustain those fish populations.”

All mussels, crayfish, snails, and fish were all released within 100 yards of the cofferdam.

— Alison Carney Brown

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West Nile Virus Early-Detection System

In May 2001 the Lincoln Park Zoo and the city of Chicago developed an early-detection system for West Nile virus and the zoo hosted a meeting of organizations from across the country to coordinate a national surveillance plan.

So when the U.S. Geological Survey reported on September 5 that two dead crows found in Chicago suburbs tested positive for the West Nile Virus (WNV), the Zoo was ready. West Nile virus has been moving across the country since it was first discovered in New York in 1999. Infected birds spread the disease to mosquitoes feeding on them, and the insect can then infect animals and humans. While the effect of WNV on native species is still being researched, the virus poses little threat to humans. Less than one percent of people infected by a mosquito bite become severely ill and less than one percent of mosquitoes in areas where the virus has spread are actually infected.

WNV spreads across the country rapidly during bird migration season. In 2001 alone, infected species were found in 11 new states. To date in Illinois, 12 crows, two blue jays, eight insects and one horse have been confirmed with the disease by the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Illinois citizens can assist in the surveillance of WNV by reporting sick or dead crows, blue jays, and raptors to their local health departments. Local agencies collect the birds for lab analysis and report results to the Illinois Department of Health.

— Meghan Murphy

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Illinois Grants to Help Nature

Last fall, Illinois Governor George Ryan announced more than $7 million in grants to 34 local private-public partnerships for natural resource protection projects under the Illinois Conservation 2000 program.

“Local citizens and private property owners working together are the keys to the success of Conservation 2000,” Ryan says. Partnerships match state funding with $9.8 million in cash, in-kind and other contributions, boosting the value of the projects to nearly $17 million. “With this funding, more than 18,660 acres of habitat will be improved and more than 1,300 acres will be protected either through conservation easements or acquisition,” Ryan added. “In addition, more than one million trees will be planted to reforest about 2,250 acres.”

Among the C2000 grant recipients in the Chicago Wilderness region, The Nature Conservancy received $49,105 for habitat and restoration at Indian Boundary Prairies. At Gensburg Markham Prairie South, approximately 12 acres of mesic and sedge meadow/wet prairie plant communities will be restored.

The Fox Valley Land Foundation received $50,496 to acquire a conservation easement on a 3.5-acre tract of land south of Barrington Hills adjacent to both Helm Woods Nature Preserve and a Carpentersville site harboring the federally-endangered white fringed orchid.

The Openlands Project received $45,500 to develop a Kishwaukee River Strategic Plan for Habitat Conservation and Restoration. The I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor Civic Center Authority received $81,600 for the Santa Fe Prairie Vegetative and Hydrological Restoration.

The McHenry County Defenders received $18,650 toward the Kishwaukee Sustainable Development Guide – a booklet that will be produced and distributed to 27 public agencies to help raise awareness of the high quality natural resources of the Kishwaukee watershed.

The Wetlands Initiative received $44,776 toward enhancing the aquatic habitat of the lower Des Plaines River. Benthic mesh will be installed in an old borrow pit connected to the river in Waterfall Glen Nature Preserve of DuPage County. Fish populations will be monitored for the next two years and a final report published at the conclusion of the study.

Northeastern Illinois University received $20,000 for the project to gauge restoration success using insects. Insect surveys will be conducted within five prairie remnants and the Midewin Grasslands. Aerial nets, sweep nets, vacuum collecting devices, black lights, and funnel-type light traps will be used to collect the insects.

Abbott Laboratories and BP Amoco Chemical also received C2000 grants for restoration projects on corporate campuses. Abbott Labs received $15,056 for the Prairie Parklands Partnership project studying how riparian restoration aids endangered orchids and reduces site erosion. Workers will clear woody brush and selected trees, herbicide stumps, stabilize any barren ground with short-lived native vegetation, hand pollinate orchids, and distribute a portion of orchid seed. BP Amoco Chemical in Will County received $8,500 for its prairie restoration and outreach project.

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Critical Trends in Illinois Ecosystems

Seven million acres, covering almost one-fifth of the state, have been identified as Resource Rich by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in Critical Trends in Illinois Ecosystems, a report published earlier this year. Five of the 30 Resource Rich Areas are in Chicago Wilderness’ Fox and Des Plaines watershed: Thorn Creek, Des Plaines River, DuPage River, Chain O’Lakes-Fox River, Illinois Beach and Prairie Parklands.

The Fox River basin, the report notes, is one of the most urban watersheds in the state, yet it has a rich flora including 102 plant species listed as state endangered or threatened and two listed as federally threatened. The watershed has 63 miles of Biologically Significant Streams and 2,204 acres of Biologically Significant Lakes.

Critical Trends Assessment Program (CTAP) scientists conducted detailed biological inventories of 150 randomly selected sites for each of four habitat types – forests, streams, wetlands and grasslands. Volunteers trained as “citizen scientists” by the Illinois EcoWatch Network carried out less detailed biological surveys at several hundred forest and stream sites.

Pete Jackson, EcoWatch program coordinator, said that more than seven hundred volunteers were active in the Chicago Wilderness region. He credited the volunteer teams with “providing valuable data that will inform land management in the years ahead.”

Of the 1,340 total shrub stems recorded by ForestWatch volunteers in the Fox and Des Plaines Rivers watersheds, 74 percent were invasive.

In general, statewide CTAP findings call for avoiding habitat fragmentation; intensive vegetation management where degradation is severe; restoring native vegetation along streams; and setting prescribed fires to maintain ecosystems and diversity.

Copies of “Critical Trends in Illinois Ecosystems” are available by contacting the DNR Publications Clearinghouse at (217) 524-0500 or by visiting http://www.dnr.state.il.us/orep/ctap2.

 

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FIELD NOTES

Jellies on a Roll

While conducting a routine aquatic surveillance at Sherman Park on the city’s south side this past summer, my colleague, Wilfredo Matamoros, and I were surprised to discover the presence of the freshwater jellyfish. All of a sudden we saw hundreds of freshwater jellyfish (Craspedacusta sowerbii) floating majestically like candy wrappers caught in an up-draft. This was the first such occurrence of its kind in Chicago, and the fifth recorded sighting in the state of Illinois.

Sherman Park was designed as part of a collaboration between Daniel Burnham and Fredrick Olmstead, Jr. They integrated water into the 60-acre landscape by creating an 11-acre lagoon fed by urban runoff and city water. The park is surrounded on all sides by residential and commercial development.

The freshwater jellyfish, like its marine cousin, is bell shaped and resembles an umbrella. The medusa (free floating stage) is the size of a quarter when fully grown. Fifty to 500 tentacles that vary in size hang freely from its circular edge. Tentacles stabilize the medusa in the water column, and they are equipped with stinging cells that are used to capture prey. The jellyfish usually feeds on small invertebrates that inhabit the aquatic environment. The jellyfish propels itself forward by expelling water from its domed body cavity and floats gracefully atop its victims. Possessing 60-100 or more eyespots, freshwater jellyfish can migrate up and down in the water column in response to light or other environmental factors.

Freshwater jellyfish have a complicated life cycle that includes both sexual and asexual reproduction. The life cycle begins when sexually mature adult jellyfish (male and female medusas) release their sperm and eggs into the surrounding waters. The fertilized eggs develop into free swimming larvae, which eventually settle on the bottom to form an attached polyp. The polyps feed on microscopic organisms and can subsequently develop into one of three different life forms: a crawling larvae called a frustule, a new medusa, or a second attached polyp. Polyps that bud but keep their attachment form a colony.

During the winter the polyps contract and become “resting bodies” that are capable of surviving cold temperatures. These resting bodies – called podocysts – are one of the ways that researchers believe jellyfish are transported between waterbodies. The podocysts may “hitch a ride” with waterfowl, aquatic plants, or aquatic animals. When conditions are right the podocysts develop into new polyps.

The actual occurrence of the medusa stage is sporadic and unpredictable. Scientists did not realize until 1924 that these various stages belonged to the same organism.

You’ll find more information at http://www.shade.grove.iup.edu/~tpeard/JELLYFISH.HTMLX

— Christopher Ryan, Integrated Lakes Managemen