Call for Submissions!

Habitat 2030 is making an official call for submissions to our blog!

The blog is intended as a resource for connecting people who care about nature. It’s an exploration of issues surrounding human-natural ecosystems, and a forum for dialogue on conservation/sustainability issues in the Chicagoland region. (more…)

Line.and.Shade: We Are Sentimental Animals

line-and-shade-chicago-wilderness-priority-species

I have always been fascinated by scientific illustrations. The ability to so accurately and meticulously translate onto paper what we take for granted with our eyes is something I strive for. HeeYoung Kim and Kathleen Garness are two artists I admire for their ability to do just that. In my own work, I like to explore the idea of “self” and what it means to be “local.” My usual motif is portraiture combined with images from nature. Now having been a Chicago resident for five years, I like to feature both local people and local species.

My most recent piece features six of Chicago Wilderness’ priority species: Red-Headed Woodpecker, Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, Bobolink, Monarch Butterfly, Little Brown Bat, and Regal Fritillary. It is a screenprint on paper completed at Lillstreet Art Center. Inspiration thanks to the 2017 Wild Things Conference and a fantastic talk, “Flutter, Slither, and Buzz: Prioritizing Species Conservation in Chicago Wilderness ” by Allen Lawrance and Allison Sacerdote-Velat from Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. I hope to follow up with a complement piece featuring the remaining six priority species soon!

If you’d like to follow more of my work, you can check out my page on Instagram: Line.and.Shade.

Workday Report: Restoring Dolton Prairie

Habitat loss surrounding Dolton Prairie between 1939 and 2016

Habitat loss surrounding Dolton Prairie between 1939 and 2016.

Images like the above illustrate the extent of habitat destruction that has occurred in the Midwest US within the past 100 years. Dolton Prairie, also known as Dolton Avenue Prairie, is a remnant wet prairie just south of the border of Chicago in Calumet City, Cook County, IL. The Illinois Natural Areas Inventory has identified it as a Category I natural area, a “high quality natural community.”

The Dolton Prairie sign gets its first glamour shot with volunteers

The Dolton Prairie sign gets its first glamour shot with volunteers (all photos by Genevieve Nano)

The Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) only recently secured this tract of land, purchasing it from Ashland Chemical Company in 2010. But as early as 2002, Calumet is My Back Yard (CIMBY) had already begun work to restore the prairie. The west side of the site has suffered from some construction material dumping activities and is more disturbed, but the east side contains some great remnant wet prairie flora! Since restoration began in 2002, the Calumet Stewardship Initiative, FPCC, restoration contractors, and other groups have removed populations of invasive species. The main offenders have been wetland invasives such as glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus), common reed (Phragmites australis), cattails (Typha spp.), and reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea), as well as secondary woody growth like cottonwoods (Populus deltoides). A prescribed burn was recently conducted on February 6th, 2017.

Marilyn's first restoration workday!

Marilyn’s first restoration workday!

On Saturday, March 18th, 2017, Habitat 2030 volunteers descended upon the prairie to continue removal of glossy buckthorn around the perimeter of the site. We made a big dent in the glossy buckthorn population along the south edge of the prairie. The prairie itself was still in winter color, but little grasses and sedges were popping up in the areas that had been burned earlier in February. Return to Dolton in the spring and summer to see white-pink spiraea plumes and spikes of yellow loosestrife. Wear waterproof shoes!

Kevin and Will cut and carry glossy buckthorn from the prairie edge

Kevin and Will cut and carry glossy buckthorn from the prairie edge

How can you help Dolton Prairie? There is still more glossy and common buckthorn along the southern edge for removal along the south edge, but soon the only non-native brush remaining will be in the lower quality western end of the site. Some small invasive wetland plant populations remain, but successful treatment will likely require herbicide.

One fun stewardship activity is seed collection. It’s one of the best ways to learn how to identify plants – since they are not flowering at the time of collection, you have to (get to) learn the plant vegetatively and in fruit. At the workday, Dan Spencer, the regional ecologist for FPCC, spoke briefly about the new seed zones created for different areas of the Cook County forest preserves. Will you help collect diverse native seed to restore and preserve our regional biodiversity? Contact Genevieve Nano to get involved. Here is a listing of the scheduled workdays – sign up at fpdcc.com/volunteer:

  • April 15th, 2017
  • May 20th, 2017
  • June 17th, 2017
Learn More:

Workday Report: Habitat 2030 Meets Churchill Woods Protectors

Habitat 2030 & Churchill Woods Protectors collide!

Habitat 2030 & Churchill Woods Protectors collide!

On Saturday, March 11th, 2017, Habitat 2030 joined the Churchill Woods Protectors in DuPage County, Illinois to remove invasive brush from their woodlands. Surrounded by beautiful oaks and hickories, we removed invasive common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.). Several people completely new to habitat restoration showed up and learned the basics of invasive brush identification as well as how to use a bow saw and loppers. 

Andrew Van Gorp of Sustain DuPage and Churchill Woods Protectors talks site history and stewardship techniques

Andrew Van Gorp of Sustain DuPage and Churchill Woods Protectors talks site history and stewardship techniques

Unfortunately, unlike several other regional organizations, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County still does not allow volunteer land stewards to burn the invasive brush during workdays, so we did not have our typical brush fire to throw the brush into. This can actually be quite problematic, as the brush piles become either more numerous, or much larger than they would be otherwise, as the brush would typically disappear into ash and smoke while the fire burns and the pile’s “footprint” is kept small. Large and numerous brush piles sterilize large areas of land, taking years to heal, and likely killing any dormant native seeds that are sleeping in the soil. We hope that DuPage County will revise their policies to allow stewards to safely burn brush and small trees as other counties currently allow.

The grandfather (and grandmother) oak

The grandfather (and grandmother) oak

After our workday, we took a short hike down to the DuPage River to check out restored river riffles and and a huge oak tree! The north edge of the DuPage River where we hiked were in need of management, currently choked with more buckthorn and very few wildflowers. How satisfying it will be to revisit the area once the Churchill Woods Protectors get their hands on restoring the whole of Churchill Woods. Following the woodland hike, a few of us checked out a plum thicket (Prunus americana) at the Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve across the road then celebrated the successful workday with food and drink at the nearby Babcock’s Grove House in Lombard. Thanks to Andrew Van Gorp for organizing this workday!

Learn more:

Gear Bag: The DEWALT DCS387P1 20-volt Reciprocating Saw

Recently, I had a few hours on a Saturday morning to sneak in some additional outside playtime. I decided to march into a local Kankakee woodland and test out a potential new restoration tool. A DEWALT DCS387P1 20-volt MAX Lithium Ion Compact Reciprocating Saw to be exact. This specific tool was given to me by Friends of Langham Island volunteer John Sullivan, and I have been anxious to put it through its paces. John initially brought this to a work day near a high traffic public park and I was intrigued by its performance, but was skeptical until I could have it in my hands.

In the box comes the saw itself, a lithium ion battery, a battery charger, and zip up travel bag. Blades are purchased separately.

I see this saw as a chainsaw alternative so that is what I am comparing it to. With that in mind, here are some things I like and dislike about this saw:

Likes:

  • Noise: The saw is a fraction as loud as chainsaw…it reminds me of an air mattress pump for comparison. This low noise factor is beneficial for urban restoration work when you need to cut quickly but want to limit public disturbance.
  • Easy on/off: Literally all you do is press the trigger button and go. Let off and it instantly stops the blade. No choke, no pull starting, no tightening chains, no mixing gas, no bar oil…minimal of minimal training needed.
  • Weight: it weighs about 9 lbs. with the battery on it. For comparison, I estimate my Stihl MS 250 Chainsaw is about 15lbs (with fuel/bar/chain) and my MS 271 is closer to 18 lbs. I had no problem holding this saw with one hand.
  • Blade Position: The chuck head allows the blade to be mounted down, up, right or left which can help you make some awkward cuts.
  • Light: there is an LED light on the chuck that can help guide you if you are working in failing sun or are an overachiever working at sunrise.
  • Blade Types: There are several different blades you can buy with different tooth patterns. Aside from wood this can also cut metal and plastics. In a restoration area with an old fence or debris you might find this handy. Blades are fairly cheap 6 for $10 or so.

Dislikes:

  • Price: It is a little expensive at around $200….so it won’t be a purchase for everyone, but it is much cheaper than many mid-level name brand chainsaws (plus the extra gear they require).
  • Battery Life: The battery, if working straight through, lasts about an hour or a little more. I was working alone for 2 hours taking time to stack the brush and paint stumps. I never had to change the battery during that time. Most workdays I attend last longer than 2 hours so you may want to buy additional batteries, but those are not cheap either at around $70.
  • Cutting Limit: I felt comfortable cutting stems 3 ½ inches or less. I did cut a few stems a little bigger for a test but I could tell there was more stress on the saw/blade than I wanted.

Summary:

If you are new to power tools, but want to try something other than a bowsaw this might be for you. Chainsaws take a decent amount of training and extra gear to run properly… while this saw is just charge and go. You could still easily get hurt using this saw it is much simpler in design, lightweight, and easy to maneuver.  If you are looking for the adrenaline rush and unlimited cutting diameter this saw is not going to meet your expectations and perhaps something more like a Stihl 171 for a similar price is a better route. For honeysuckle and buckthorn cutting this will cut a great deal of things you encounter and in a relatively quiet manner. Since cutting brush isn’t Dewalt’s original purpose for it, I am going to give it a 4/5 rating. Minus a half star for price and minus a half star for battery limitations.   You will see this guy on the steep slopes of Langham Island and Rock Creek where the weight and maneuverability are big benefits.

Viva La Resistance!

Looking for Bob Mann

Driving along 31st Street in suburban Westchester, Cook County, Illinois, you may notice the Forest Preserve District sign on the south side of the road proclaiming “Bob Mann Woods.” The sign is not situated in a woodland, but in what we call a “Eurasian meadow” or “old field” habitat. Looking at the state aerial photograph taken in 1938, the north part of Bob Mann Woods was indeed a farmer’s field at the time. The woods proper began closer to Salt Creek.

Bob Mann Woods Sign

Who was Bob Mann? I associate the name with two vintage Forest Preserve projects, one being a spiral bound typescript with the unwieldy title: “Origin of Names and Histories of Places – Including Major Forests and Holdings, Picnic Areas and Recreational Facilities, Nature Preserves, Aquatic Areas and Wildlife Refuges in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois.” This document was compiled between 1964 and 1965 by Roberts Mann. A brief biographical information states that Mann was hired by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPCC) on October 30, 1930 as assistant to the chief construction engineer. He was appointed superintendent of maintenance in 1932, became superintendent of the newly formed conservation department in 1945, and was succeeded by Roland Eisenbeis in 1954, at which time Mann served as conservation editor until retirement on October 31, 1964. The booklet concludes with the notation, “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice” – if you seek a monument, just look around.

The other enterprise was the Forest Preserve series of Nature Bulletins: brief, topical periodicals that started in 1945 (along with the creation of the conservation department). Originally they were a weekly publication, a frequency that proved unsustainable – they evolved to a nominally monthly bulletin. Like the “Origin of Names…” document, they featured a casual yet immersed writing style that packed an amazing amount of information – ecological, historical, geological, sprinkled with a body of folksy knowledge called “lore” – into a single page format. At the time many thousands of copies were distributed to area schools, libraries, and later at the FPCC Nature Centers. I originally discovered the Nature Bulletins when they were archived at Argonne National Lab’s NEWTON website. This site was turned off in 2015, but they are now available at a mirror site.

These bulletins contain what one might term classic Mannisms, including Latin quotes, tributes to other notables in conservation, innumerable pleas to get out into the preserves, and some contextual viewpoints that he no doubt would have modified had he lived to our times (e.g., his adamant opposition to burning natural areas).

Nature Bulletin No. 335 (Hollow Trees): “Natura non facit saltum (nature makes no jumps)”

Nature Bulletin No. 701 (Aldo Leopold): “We can honor him most by assuming personal responsibility for the welfare of the land.”

Nature Bulletin No. 551 (Woodlands for Pleasure): “Thus, the recreational forester regards a woodland as a community, complete in itself, where each and every species of plant and animal, living or dead, contributes to the growth, stability and beauty of the whole. He believes in letting Nature alone, and patiently permits her to solve her own problems and work out her own complex system of checks and balances.”

Had Mann witnessed the catastrophic extent of The Great Buckthorn Invasion, he undoubtedly would have changed that tune.

When I found that the Chicago Tribune had a beta version of their archive online, I did a search on Roberts Mann. To my surprise I found that from 1956 he was a regular contributor to the newspaper. On occasion he would borrow from a Nature Bulletin in working up a longer column. Bulletin No. 570 (Walking) covered a subject close to Mann’s heart. The FPCC version includes a somewhat esoteric literary reference: “A child is doubly fortunate if that parent loves the out-of-doors, has a feeling of kinship with the soil, is familiar with the trees and smaller plants, knows the secret of wild creatures, and whose pathless ways of walking might be described by Arthur Sidgwick’s verse:

For us the path that twists at will,
Through wood and field and up the hill

For his Tribune feature (June 7, 1959), Mann repeated some of the same text. However in place of Sidgwick’s poem we instead read: “In five preserves notable for their trees, wildflowers, and other features, there are self-guiding nature trails leading from highway entrances marked with a sign: WOODLAND TRAIL – for Health, Relaxation, and Fun – TAKE A WALK.” As an avid walker of the preserves I wonder where these signs were posted, or if any survive.

Other Tribune columns were conceived entirely apart from the Mann of the Nature Bulletins and report in detail on his seasonal findings. Sprinkled through columns in the 1950s are references to his home at “Punkin Knob,” bordering what was then Cantigny Woods in southwest Cook County (today called Arie Crown Forest; this corner of the site disappeared with construction of the Southwest – aka Stevenson – Expressway).

April 15, 1962: “The bluebird is my favorite harbinger of spring and I haven’t seen one since 1958 when my wife and I lived at Punkin Knob in the forest preserve at 71st street and La Grange road. Every year a pair nested in a hole they had pecked out in a dead cherry tree.”

Eastern Bluebird Mark Kluge

Mann would have been thrilled to learn of the bluebirds’ return across Cook County; they nest every year in Ted Stone Forest Preserve across La Grange Road. Other Mann observations unfortunately describe places whose wonders have all but vanished.

July 6, 1958: “In La Grange Park Woods, along Salt Creek, I found a lot of the fire pink [Silene virginica]…”

Today, alas, La Grange Park Woods is the archetype of a formerly grand oak woodland whose understory is densely choked with buckthorn and honeysuckle.

But I still did not feel that I had found Bob Mann, even after I stumbled upon his obituary (May 2, 1975). In addition to the biographical tidbits I already knew, this told me that he had grown up on a farm in Schuyler County, studied Engineering at Bradley and Cornell University, and that he and his wife lived at 905 Edgewood Avenue in LaGrange Park. I was not familiar with the address as such but Google informed me that it was a place I had visited many times.

The Salt Creek Bicycle Trail is familiar to cycling and running enthusiasts. South of 31st Street it encompasses a road-like stretch and a few remnants of old driveways lead east from the pavement. One house remains here at the corner of 31st and this now vacated stretch of Edgewood Avenue. On a crisp fall morning, I went out in search of Bob Mann.

At the south end of the former Edgewood Avenue there is an old gravel driveway leading east to a concrete slab. I am not archeologist enough to know whether the slab is a remnant of the garage or the house foundation. The former yard is dominated at one side by a huge Catalpa tree, and its progeny are scattered thickly around the property. The view to the west includes the grand trees of the forest preserve, where Mann took daily walks in all kinds of weather. In fact a path winds west from the driveway site all the way to a prairie/sedge meadow complex south of Mayfair Avenue. (The prairie/sedge meadow area was at one time designated as a future addition to the Salt Creek Nursery, but fortunately that was not fulfilled.) This morning the sun illuminated the autumn foliage in the treetops (with the moon still visible above the trees), numerous birds were singing, and as I prowled around Mann’s former homesite the chipmunks and squirrels darted through the undergrowth.

Deciduous Canopy

Mann’s first Tribune column following his retirement maintained his style and substance, describing meticulous observations near his home at Salt Creek/Bob Mann Woods.

November 15, 1964: “The old 20-acre field south of 31st Street is populated with hawthorns and chokecherries. In them, so far, I have discovered 37 nests built by cardinals, catbirds, grackles and mourning doves. In the crotch of a sapling is the cup-shaped nest of a goldfinch – fashioned with grass and milkweed floss; lined with thistledown…”

This field and the nearby homesites were designated “Property to be Acquired” on the 1941 Forest Preserve Master Plan drawing of Salt Creek Woods. It is this field where Mann must have spent many hours that bears the FPCC sign today.

Bob Mann CatalpaNot all of Mann’s writings were intended for publication. In the 1940s he carried on a lively correspondence with Aldo Leopold at the University of Wisconsin. Numerous letters are online at the Aldo Leopold Archives.

Curt Meine, Leopold’s biographer, described Mann in vivid terms: “Mann was a boisterous, jovial man, a superb field naturalist and veteran of Chicago politics, possessed of a booming voice and a wild shock of snow-white hair.” Meine quotes one of Leopold’s colleagues to the effect that if anyone could be called a disciple of Aldo Leopold, it was Roberts Mann. There is more on the Mann-Leopold relationship at the FPCC blog.

Mann’s periodic newspaper columns continued into 1967, after which he would pen an occasional item for the Tribune’s “Voice of the People” page. Eventually these too ebbed. Roberts Mann died on May 1, 1975, at the age of 83. The Tribune obituary referred to him significantly as “Naturalist Roberts Mann,” rather than just a Forest Preserve employee. Mann set some lofty standards for a naturalist in a 1947 letter to Leopold:

“A naturalist…should have these qualifications: (1) broad general training in the biological sciences; (2) preferably a specialist in one; (3) essentially an ecologist; (4) training in teaching methods and psychology; (5) thorough training in public speaking (more than just one course); (6) must like people; (7) must have the peculiar knack of talking to and interesting kids; (8) preferably a farm boy or at least a small town background, because as Hal Boyle says, ‘The country lad’s the smart boy. He never falls victim to the chief crime of modern city life, which is to become a stranger to the land.’”

An editorial feature in the May 7, 1975 Tribune detailed his legacy: “Roberts Mann loved the woods, and taught others to love them, too. It surely gladdened his heart that his enthusiasm for nature became increasingly widely shared as he grew older, in part because of his own good work.” Mann’s wish was that his ashes be scattered in Salt Creek Woods, and it is here, and in the many thousands of acres of nature in the Chicago area, that we can find Bob Mann.

All photos by the author, all rights reserved.

De-Extinction Counter

At the Field Museum where I work, we have a big counter at the end of our Evolving Planet exhibit. It looks like this:

extinction

While true, sobering, and essential to recognize, I also find this display to be incredibly DEPRESSING. Which – I worry – can actually lead to stymying action to preserve and protect the species we still got! So I’d like to make my own counter, starting with my home.

Below is a partial list of the efforts to bring back and recognize the native species of Chicagoland, either by reintroduction, discovery of new populations, or just the biota realizing the coast is clear enough for them to move back in. While this is technically de-extirpation, that’s less attention grabby than “DE-EXTINCTION” although we are not bringing back the wooly rhinoceros… Yet.

I will update this list every time a new story emerges. Let’s fight the 6th Mass Extinction event with our urgent hope!


Reintroductions:
Bison
Smooth Green Snake, Meadow Jumping Mice, Least Weasel
Leafy Prairie Clover
Blanding’s Turtle
Pitcher’s Thistle
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
Ornate Box Turtle
Aligator Gar

Moving Back:
Piping Plover
River Otter
Badger
Wolves
Black Bear
Slag Sedges (2 species)
Skunks
Black Crowned Night Herons
Sandhill Cranes
Bald Eagle
Ospreys
Clay-colored Sparrow
Bobcats, Armadillos, Mountain Lions
Peregrine Falcons
Black-Necked Stilts
Merlins
Trumpeter Swans in Cook County (needs link!)

Not Actually Lost Yet:
Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly (only federally endangered dragonfly)
Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid
Kankakee Mallow

Do you have a suggestion for a Chicagoland de-extinction? Send it to rtelfer@fieldmuseum.org with the link to article about it.

#BirdthePreserves

Hooded Warbler by Jerry Goldner

Hooded Warbler by Jerry Goldner

Displaying hooded ng warbler cool 2.jpgThis year (2016) the Forest Preserves of Cook Country are launching a sweet program to get new people exposed to birding. The 2016 Big Year will give awards for the team who birbs the most birbs – register on this page and pick a team for a preserve near you or one you want to know better (I’m partial to the team at Eggers Grove because it’s clearly the best one). Whichever team you join (you can go to as many sites as you want) you will meet a lot of folks who want to share their knowledge with you and have promised not to be mean about it. DNAinfo has already written a story about it!

Join the Facebook page to see tons of updates of birds birding around Chicagoland that you maybe didn’t know even existed at all!

Winter Restoration: Buckthorn Destruction Time Lapse

Volunteer Nate Bartlett created this handy time lapse of a winter restoration workday at Somme Woods. It’s been pretty helpful in illustrating just what happens at a volunteer day in the cold months for those who are dubious. You’re never cold – look how fast you can move!

Saving Rare Illinois Plants

Here’s H2030er Robb talking about some work going on Langham Island to restore two of the rarest plants in Illinois. To join the Langham Island restoration effort, please become one of its friends.

Much thanks to Trevor Edmonson, Rachel Goad, Stephen Packard and the rest of Friends of Langham Island who have done way more work than Robb to restore that special special place.