Fall 2007
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Woods of Wisdom

Fall 2007

"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise; that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.  The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively, the land ... a land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land - community to plain member and citizen of it ... it implies respect for his fellow members, and so also respect for the community as such."

                                                                                                        --- Aldo Leopold, "Sand County Almanac"



A New Set of Tracks Appeared Today .......

With the tide went the fish. The small blues, flounder and ever present pin fish, who all quit biting as the tide receded to the deeper waters. Only to be replaced by the pecking minnows which steal your bait and are seldom caught without a net. A beautiful day on one my favorite places in the world, the point of Ft. Macon on the island of Atlantic Beach, N.C.

For over twenty years, I have found refuge on this point. A place of contemplation, of gathering of spirit, of reflection. Once only fifty feet wide, now over two hundred feet wide, thanks to the ever present shifting of sands caused mainly by the many hurricanes who visit this place each year. The rock jetty I once fished off of is now buried in sand, only the top of the huge rocks protruding enough to show off its once proud purpose. So I released the last of my bait to the hungry waiting mouths of the many seagulls who would gladly keep the feeding a secret from the gathering crowd that always appears with the giving of a first morsel. And with the last coaxing piece, I decided to walk behind the dunes where the travel lanes of the night travelers remain undisturbed by the tromping of hundreds of footsteps. I found deer, fox, cat, raccoon, crab and others without much surprise. Though an island, it never ceases to set my mind to wonder as to how the creatures made the trek across the inland waters to get here.

But a new set of tracks appeared today, though unclear, I had seen this set before, but could not interpret its' meaning. So I followed it. Like a child who had dragged a stick beside him, the large foot prints straddled a deep tail drag throughout its trail. It swerved and meandered up and down the dunes, checking every crab hole and constantly crossing the trails where the humans came to the beach. And when I lost it I would envision its movement and again pick up the deep center line it left with its tail. And after some time, I came upon its well shrub-covered den, not twenty five feet from the main road coming into the park. How fascinating that this creature would make a home here. To survive in this salty setting, I would never have guessed such an animal would choose this place to reside. So far from fresh
water and the life that it's species would normally follow. And unlike its western cousin, in my mind, so less predisposed to live and prosper here. By far one of my most favorite mammals, the river otter.


Fermi Lab Prairie

In Land We Trust

Did you know that ….

Most fish and wildlife habitat is on private lands?

Some of the nation’s finest public hunting and fishing areas are surrounded – or blocked - by private lands?

The greatest opportunity to expand public access to fishing and hunting lies on private lands?

In order to secure the future of wildlife habitat, public outdoor recreation, and hunting and fishing in particular, we will need the kindness of private landowners. Incentives for charitable giving are an important conservation tool that is available to any landowner who prefers that their property remain a haven for fish and wildlife instead of being developed into a shopping mall or a housing development. However, few are in a position where they can afford to simply give it away. For years Congress has encouraged philanthropy by offering tax relief for land that is either donated or placed in conservation easements.

To donate land, a property owner typically contacts a land trust, a group that specializes in conserving undeveloped land for future generations. The trust arranges for the transfer through either a sale or a donation, resulting in a tax deduction for the owner. Sometimes the deal is the transfer of title to the property; other times, only the surface rights. Usually the land trust turns management of the property over to a state or federal agency, often through a sale that has been agreed upon before the original transaction is complete.

A conservation easement is different in that the landowner keeps the land and gets a tax break by agreeing to limited or no development. In just the last five years, some 37 million acres of private land have been placed in conservation easements, according to a recent census by the Land Trust Alliance, an umbrella organization. Most of that is open to public hunting and fishing, including some that had not had any public access.

A prime recent example of tax incentives in action involves of the world’s most famous stretches of trout water – the 1-mile section of Montana’s fabled Madison River from Three Dollar Bridge to Raynold’s Pass. Until last year, anyone who wanted to fish this wade-only section had to hire a guide; the property on either side was private and there was no way to walk in.

But the heirs of the historic Olliffe Ranch that borders the river had creative ideas for the future,. Negotiations with the Trust for Public Land ( http://www.tpl.org  ), a national land trust, resulted in (a) the purchase of a 50-foot wide trail easement that now gives anglers walk-in access along the Madison on this stretch: (b) a 1,521-acre conservation easement that provides public access to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area, one of the finest places for big-game hunting in the state; and (c) an option to buy another 385 acres on the Madison, should the heirs decide to sell.

"I’m not going to say tax incentives were the main reason or the clinching factor in this, but they played a part," says Alex Diekmann, a TPL project manager who negotiated the deals. "It’s been a very successful formula, helping landowners, and helping hunters and fishermen – and the entire nation, really, which benefits from more open space and wildlife habitat. But we needed changes."

Private conservation groups have needed changes in the tax code. Before the current bill was enacted, anyone donating development rights to their land could deduct up to 30 percent of their annual gross income for up to six years. That was fine for wealthy individuals, but it wasn’t much incentive for medium-size ranchers and farmers who find themselves land-rich but cash-poor due to the skyrocketing development value of fish and wildlife property.

"A landowner with 1,5000 acres may have an annual income of around $50,000 from ranching or farming, but the appraised development value of his land may be $2 million," says Tom Sadler, director of program development for the Trust for Public Land. "Under the old formula, if he donated his development rights for conservation, he could deduct 30 percent of that $50,000 for six years.

"As much as the owner might want to see his land remain open for fish and wildlife, hunting and fishing, he’s giving away a $1 million value for a $90,000 write-off. I couldn’t advise a landowner to dispose of his valuable asset that way."

Now the landowner can wisely use a conservation donation or easement; the new legislation has given strong support for conservation efforts..

Last year President Bush signed the Pension Protection Act, which included some dramatic changes in the tax code for conservation-minded landowners. The new bill, which revitalizes a law which was set to expire at the end of 2007, allows landowners who earn at least 50 percent of their income from farming or ranching to deduct up to 100 percent of their income for 15 years if they donate a qualifying conservation easement. Nonagricultural landowners can deduct 50 percent of their income for 15 years.

"Because of this act, the guy making $50,000 a year can deduct $750,000 on that donation worth $1 million in development value," states Sadler, director of program development for the Trust for Public Land. "Under the old formula, if he donated his development rights for conservation, he could deduct 20 percent of that $50,000 for six years.

Congress agreed to give the formula a trail run, but was concerned over the cost of the bill. President Bush however, stated that he would sign a bill making the change permanent. "The change was a godsend to the conservation movement" Sadler says. "This is especially true in some of the most treasured places out West that are undergoing this explosion in development value. A lot of ranchers and farmers out there don’t want to see their property chopped up into 5-acre ranchettes or closed to public use. But they can’t give the rights away. That’s why we need to make this permanent."

Read more about preserving rural heritage and Midwestern open areas on the Land Trust Alliance website:



            Bob Marshall, writing for the May issue of Field and Stream

  Land Trust Alliance:


  Trust for Public Land:



What is a land trust?

A land trust is a private, nonprofit entity that works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by stewardship of such land or easements. The most common land types are fish and wildlife habitat (39 percent), open space (38 percent), and water resources (26 percent). Between 2000 and 2005, the amount of land protected by land trusts using easement doubled to 6.2 million acres.

To find a land trust in your region, contact the Land Trust Alliance (202-638-4725; http://www.lta.org  ). The LTA represents more than 16,000 local and regional land trust groups across the nation.






Indian Boundary Prairie

Cook County, Illinois







Restoring and Preserving Our Native Prairie
Stewardship of a fire-dependent ecosystem

"There must be some force behind conservation more universal than profit, less awkward than government...something that reaches into all time and place where men live on the lands...A voluntary decency inland use exercised by every citizen and landowner out of a sense of love and obligation to that great biota we call America. This is the meaning of conservation..."

--- Aldo Leopold

What is a Prairie?

Everyone is familiar with the word "Prairie"; however many people may not understand what truly defines a "Prairie." A prairie is a species-rich and naturally occurring plant community of two main plants groups: grasses, both short and tall, and the beautiful perennial prairie wildflowers. Prairie plants are herbaceous, not 'woody' like trees and shrubs, providing high quality nutritious forage and habitat for insects, birds, and small and large mammals such as field mice, bison, elk and others.

Both the grasses and forbs of native prairie are deep-rooted, long-lived perennials that continue to grow year after year. The prairie plant's roots can grow 3 to 16 feet into the soil. The plant's root depth provides the prairie plant drought tolerance as well as supporting greater absorption of rainfall into the soil. Many of the native prairie plants tend to be warm-season plants which do their growing from late May through August. The prairie grasses turn a rich, golden-reddish-brown in the fall, and the flowering plants bloom in a rainbow of vivid colors. By contrast, today's lawns and pastures are cool-season, Eurasian grasses that do most of their growing during the cool, moist spring and fall seasons and are typically shallower rooted.

History of the Prairie

At the time of settlement, the North American prairie extended from western Indiana to the Rocky Mountains and from Texas to the Canadian Prairie Provinces. 9000 years ago, after the last glaciation, the Illinois prairie began to establish itself during a warm, dry period. In pre-settlement time, approximately 75% of Illinois was covered in prairie. The Northern American Prairie found in Illinois, Iowa and other portions of the Midwest is referred to as the Tallgrass Prairie because of the tall height of the dominant grasses such as big bluestem and Indian grass. Grasses which grew over 6' tall as well as the constant threat of prairie wildfires posed formidable challenges to early settlers.

In less than 100 years after settlement, most of the Illinois prairies had been eliminated by the plow and over-grazing. Cornfields and cool-season pastures replaced the prairie. 8,000 years of living and dying prairie plants with their deep roots created the Midwest's rich prairie soils, making it one of the world's most productive agricultural regions.

Prairie Restoration

Interest in saving and restoring the Midwest Prairie began in the late 1950s. Prairie remnants were discovered and seeds collected along railroad tracks, country roadsides and old cemeteries. By the 1970s, scientists estimated that there was less than one 1/100 of 1% of Illinois' original prairie left. Today, the task undertaken by restoration biologists and citizen stewards of the prairie is to preserve those remnant prairies that remain as a seed source and as models for restoration. It is thanks to the efforts of early restoration pioneers that the art and science of prairie restoration was born.


Prairie restoration does not come overnight

Prairies require time, patience and a management plan, including burning. Without occasional fire, grasslands will be overcome by woody growth such as shrub and trees, eventually to disappear. It's not like planting a lawn or a cornfield. Prairie plants require time to become established, take over a site and dominate. Restoration biologists state that once well established, these long-lived, deep rooted perennials will eventually crowd out competing annual weeds. Regular spring burns are an essential part of the prairie plant community establishing and maintaining itself. With fire management, the prairie becomes a self-sustaining, permanent and stabile habitat.

So what can we expect the first few years of a reconstructed prairie that had been cropland? Usually the prairie plot is rather weedy with the usual annual farm weeds such as foxtail, velvetleaf, pigweed, lambs quarter, and ragweed. For this reason, restoration biologists will often burn annually on a newly reconstructed prairie site in order to suppress aggressively invasive non-native species. Also in the first year, prairie plants put their energy into root growth. In spite of weed competition and energy put into root growth, some prairie flowers, such as black-eyed susans, may bloom late that first season. There may even be a prairie grass or two heading out.

The second year is a different story. More prairie grasses head out, lots of black-eyed susans bloom, along with purple coneflower, yellow coneflower, oxeye sunflower, rosinweed and others. Weeds during the second and third growing season are steadily decreasing and are typically gone in the ensuring years. As the prairie establishes itself, the weeds disappear, the prairie grasses and wildflowers flourish.

An important part of managing prairie sites is periodic fire. Restoration biologists have found that periodic fire management is a critical component for maintaining the health of prairies. A Nature Conservancy booklet on fire management explains the relationship between fire and fire-dependent ecosystems such as prairie. The following passage from the TNC booklet describes this relationship:

For people and nature alike, fire can be beneficial, benign or destructive. Fire helps determine where different types of habitats exist around the world. Plants and animals have developed different responses to fire, with some dependent on fire and others sensitive to fire. In fire-dependent ecosystems, fire is an essential natural process. Many plants and animals have evolved to tolerate the periodic sweep of flame, and depend on fire for their growth and reproduction. For more information on fire management of native prairie sites, visit The Nature Conservancy’s web page at:




Fire Effects on Prairie

Fire is a natural and necessary disturbance in the tallgrass prairie. It interacts with climate to determine where grasslands will dominate over forests because both limited rainfall and fire restrict tree growth. Fires were routine occurrences in the prairie prior to European settlement and were ignited both by lightning and Native Americans. Tallgrass prairies are dominated by warm-season perennial grasses such as, big bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass on moist sites, and by little bluestem and sideoats grama on drier sites. These species are classified as warm-season grasses because they begin actively growing in late spring or early summer when soil and air temperatures are warm and continue to grow throughout hot, dry periods in the summer. In contrast, cool-season grasses, such as non-native smooth brome and bluegrasses, begin growing right away in the spring, and usually become dormant during the hot, dry months of summer. Also present in the prairie are several species of cool-season native grasses, such as junegrass, needlegrass, Canada wild rye, and prairie dropseed, as well as a large variety of perennial wildflowers (known as forbs) that bloom in succession from spring through fall. Native prairie plants have roots that reach deep into the soil and some species store large food reserves in these roots or in rhizomes.

The warm-season physiology of dominant prairie grasses makes it possible to use fire to selectively control invading non-native grasses. Fires set in the spring, when most prairie plants are still dormant and cool-season grasses are actively growing, can suppress undesirable Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome, while leaving many prairie species untouched. Fires set in the summer growing season encourage the early-season wildflowers and native cool season grasses. Many restoration biologists recommend varying the season of fire to encourage the greatest diversity of prairie species. Fire also removes accumulated dead plant material, so sunlight can warm the blackened soil surface after a fire. Scarification by fire and increased light stimulates germination of forb seeds. Within a few days after fire, native plants begin to sprout from growing points below the soil surface. In addition, fire limits woody vegetation that often invades unmanaged prairies by damaging growing points of trees and shrubs and their protective layers of bark.


Consider the Following Benefits of Prescribed Fire:


More native plants flower, produce seed and are more robust when prescribed fire is used in the management plan.


Fire lengthens the growing season for native plants and shortens it for Eurasian weeds.


After a spring fire, the dark soil warms quickly to the benefit of prairie plants and to the detriment of weeds.


Cool-season Eurasian weed grasses such as the Blue Grasses (Poa sp.), Quack Grass (Agropyron repens) and many Bromes (Bromus sp.) stop growing as the soil warms.


Late spring fire can burn off 3"-8" of weeds before the prairie plants even begin growing. Most prairie plants are warm-season forbs, legumes and grasses.


Microbial activity in the soil is stimulated by fire and the nutrients released by ash. More than 40 species of arthropods are attracted to burned sites because of smoke, increased soil temperatures and higher CO2 levels.


Invasive woody weeds are at a disadvantage due to the formation of the dense prairie sod that prevents seedlings from germinating.



            How often to burn?                                                                    Prescribed Burn

Fire frequency as well as the season of the burn is an important consideration in prairie management. Annual burning promotes the dominance of warm season grasses and reduces native cool-season grasses and forbs. Ideally, managers should mimic historic fires, but unfortunately, we don’t know what the original frequency and seasonal occurrence was. Historically many prairie fires were generated by lightning occurring during the mid-summer season. Most studies suggest a fire frequency of 3 to 5 years is best, with a mix of burns during spring and late summer for maintenance of a healthy and diverse prairie community.

It is unwise to burn an entire prairie in a single year. Besides the plants they support, prairies are home to a wide diversity of vertebrate and invertebrate animals. Burning only part of a prairie each year (perhaps a third or fourth) leaves an important refuge for these animals. This is especially important for some butterflies which may be present in the spring, not as adults, but as eggs or pupae that cannot escape from fires. These vulnerable species can escape the fire in unburned areas and later recolonize burned areas where growth will be vigorous. It is also important to plan burns so that not all of a habitat type, such as a dry knoll, is burned at once. Fire breaks should divide these in case a plant or animal species is restricted to those specific habitats. As a result of research on native prairie species, some restoration biologists are recommending that some habitat areas be set aside that are never burned at all in order to protect less mobile species.

Don Gardner, a restoration biologist, comments:                                                                       

"Eastern tallgrass prairie is a complex ecosystem with interactions and interdependencies not only among prairie plants but also involving their relationships with soil microorganisms, insects and other arthropods, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The prairie system is still not well understood, but in spite of the slow development of a restored or recreated prairie, each year can provide new insights and satisfactions. It becomes a privilege to feel that one is a part of that intertwined web and is gently encouraging its reestablishment."

--- Don Gardner lives in northern Ford County where he restores and writes about prairie. He serves as a member of The Illinois Steward Advisory Board

Prescribed Burn


The Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

How many of us have enjoyed watching the majestic flight of the Great Blue Heron across the open areas of our Illinois landscape? The Great Blue can be distinguished in flight from the crane by the carriage of its head and neck, held folded back in flight, while the crane flies with its head and neck extended. The Great Blue Heron is a local summer resident, wintering as far south as South America. This heron generally nests in colonies in marshes, swamps, and along shorelines where there is minimal disturbance, and where they can establish nests safe from predators. Great Blue Herons feed mainly on fish, but their diet also includes insects, frogs, snakes, salamanders, grasshoppers, dragonflies, aquatic insects, and, occasionally, small rodents.

Great blue herons frequent many wetland situations, meadows, fields, etc., but almost invariably nest in flood plain forests. Great blue herons require large tracts of floodplain forests in which to nest, and need the availability of undisturbed, unpolluted wetlands in which to forage. Both habitats are essential for a local population to survive. Research by wildlife biologists suggests that the great blue heron and other species have a particular association with the natural floodplain sequence in which lagoons are filled by spring floods on major streams and dry back as summer progresses, which concentrates fish populations as the food requirements of nestlings reach their peak. Blue herons respond unfavorably to pollution, habitat destruction and human disturbance.

The bird's nesting behavior is not often witnessed since they nest in small, concentrated colonies in isolated areas. The heron’s nest is built high in the timbers of drowned, dead trees, on islands or in trees with water around the base, possibly for added protection from ground predators, such as raccoons. Colonies should be visited with care and only so long as there is no disturbance of the birds. More rarely they may live in deciduous or evergreen trees.

Upon arrival at a rookery in spring, the birds do not start nest building right away, but remain perched in the trees, preening, resting and making trips to feeding spots. A few days later they start to claim nest sites and defend them against intrusion from other herons. The nests are flat platforms made of sticks and lined with moss and leaf materials. Sticks a foot or more long are gathered from the ground, from trees and from old nests. The male generally brings the material to the female, who greets him with the Stretch-display, and then she takes the stick and places it in the nest. When birds are using a nest form a previous year, they just renovate it with a few new sticks. Whether the nest is old or new, the birds line it with finer twigs, grasses and leaves.

Normally 3 - 5 bluish green eggs are laid per nest. The male and female alternate incubation duties over the 28 day incubation period. The young hatch over a period of up to seven days. When feeding the young the parents at first stand on the side of the nest then begin to regurgitate and carefully place bits of food into the mouths of the young. As the young get older they become more active and begin to make their incessant "kak-kak-kak" calls when they see the parents in the vicinity.

The young leave the nest when they are seven to eight weeks old, at which time they are about the size of the parents. The young remain with the parents for two to three weeks after leaving the nest and are fed by them during this time. After this they go off on their own and feed in areas with other young.

After breeding and when the young can fly, great blue herons may disperse in all directions, with the young birds traveling the farthest in many cases. At this time, late summer, they may even move into areas where they are never seen at any other time of the year. Following a few weeks of feeding in these new areas, the birds start to migrate south. Fall migration occurs from mid-September through October. The birds migrate singly or in small flocks, from a few to a dozen or more, mainly during daylight. In the winter, Great Blue herons may join other local herons as they go to a communal roost, flying there each night and then flying away every day to favored feeding sites.

Heron Conservation

Human creations such as power lines, toxic waste, pesticides, and discarded plastic six-pack rings and monofilament fish line continue to pose a threat to the survival of herons. Also, rookeries are sensitive to human disturbances and land development pressures, making local conservation of wetland habitat crucial for long-term survival of these magnificent birds.

The Illinois Natural History Survey has the following recommendations for best management practices:
"If we are to conserve the remnant nesting population of great blue herons in Illinois, their colony sites and fishing areas must be protected. It is first important to locate major foraging areas for each colony. These areas must be protected from human encroachment, disturbances and pollution. Sanctuaries are the best method for habitat protection.

"Dredging and channelization cause waters to become murky and disrupt the natural floodplain sequence in certain areas, decreasing prime foraging and nesting habitat. Great blues also require undisturbed nesting sites. Forestry practices of cutting the largest trees selects against the great blue heron. The break-up of extensive tracts of timber may reduce concealment and protection from high winds which, because of the heron’s great weight, destroy many nests and contents. In Illinois agriculture, through complete deforestation of large areas, draining of heron foraging areas and application of persistent pesticides has destroyed essential habitat. Great blue herons are susceptible to hydrocarbon pollution. During breeding season, herons are very sensitive to disturbance. It may be beneficial to regenerate riparian (floodplain) forest habitat and preserve other riparian areas for alternate use. Also, sites should be protected permanently, not only when birds are present, as Great Blue Herons return to previous nesting sites and relocating is highly stressful and due to development, herons are increasingly unsuccessful in finding other habitat. Poaching and ruthless killing should be stringently controlled.

Situations and Solutions

Conflicts between people and Great Blue Herons occasionally arise when a heron feeds in a fishpond stocked with exotic and most likely, expensive fish. To the heron it's just another pond with fish - a food source.

Using loud noises and perseverance, continuously scare the bird off. After a while it should become discouraged and look elsewhere for food.

Place several 18-inch-high stakes around the pond. Using 3-inch-wide, silver Mylar tape (found with the crepe paper in party-supply stores) crisscross the pond a number of times, securing the tape to the stakes. Before securing it, twist the Mylar tape a few times and leave some slack so it moves in the breeze and reflects the light.


                    Peterson Field Guide to Easter Birds by Tory Peterson





Help for the Prairie State’s Wetland Birds

Illinois' best hope of protecting its endangered wetland birds may be to shore up their natural habitats. Each spring, herons, egrets, blackbirds and terns migrate to this state's wetlands to mate, nest and breed. But these ecosystems, so rich in bird life, also are the most threatened, says Steve Bailey of the Illinois Natural History Survey. In fact, 90 percent of this state's original wetlands are gone. As a result, such species as the black and yellow-crowned night herons and the snowy egret are declining in Illinois.

These large birds like to nest in groups, which means they need ample territory to forage and feed their young. Consequently, they establish colonies, or rookeries, in wetlands that can ensure plentiful feeding. The shrinkage of the wetland habitats puts pressure on the rookeries and their inhabitants.

Until the early 1900s, the Illinois and Mississippi rivers supported enormous rookeries that birds returned to each spring. But the wetlands, and the birds, have been displaced by factories, farms and residential areas. The depletion of these wetlands, and the resulting degradation of rookeries, has forced birds to nest in marginal locations that offer too little protection from predators.

Ironically, Illinois' largest remaining rookery and black-crowned night heron colony is located in an urban area, in Alorton on a narrow strip of woods wedged between an abandoned railroad and an East St. Louis housing development. Located 1.5 miles from the Mississippi, Alorton has lakes and bottomlands enough to support the breeding activities of five species of wetland birds. Last year, 800 nesting pairs of black-crowned herons were counted at Alorton among more than 2,000 migrants, including little blue herons, cattle egrets, great egrets and snowy egrets.

The other remaining large rookeries are located in the Chicago area: Lake Renwick in Plainfield, Baker's Lake in Barrington and Lake Calumet on Chicago's South Side, where, until 1996, three marshes offered habitats for up to 900 nesting pairs of black-crowned herons. Overcrowding is thought to have driven many of the pairs out. When the birds were forced to relocate, some ended up in natural areas such as McGinnis Slough in the southwest suburbs, but others ended up at the steel mill graveyards of Gary, Ind.

Fortunately, some enterprising environmentalists and governmental agencies have taken matters into their own hands and reinforced some of the rookery sites in Illinois. In 1999, the voters of the Forest Preserve District of Will County approved a $70 million tax increase that included spending $450,000 to reinforce habitats at the Lake Renwick Heron Rookery. Workers built new nesting platforms and replanted depleted vegetation to prevent soil erosion around the rookery's seven islands. The project also calls for lining the shores with rocks to prevent soil erosion and bordering brush with logs to avoid depletion through wave action.

The designers aimed to replicate the eroded base of the rookery in hopes that the colony's natural ecology will redevelop. Icy conditions slowed these efforts, but the project was scheduled for completion in mid-March, in time for the birds' breeding activities.


After the rookery restoration work at Baker's Lake Nature Preserve in Barrington, the number of nesting pairs there climbed from 200 to 315. As a result of the combined efforts of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and Citizens for Conservation, eight black-crowned nests were counted. There were none in 1999.

Nesting material at Baker's Lake includes telephone poles and Christmas trees. Because black-crowned herons tend to select lower level nest sites, 350 Christmas trees were strewn at the restored Baker's Lake rookery. The recycled trees opened new nesting possibilities for the endangered birds.

Meanwhile, the tendency to select low nest sites, including reeds and tall grasses, has made Lake Calumet, with its plentiful reeds and cattails, an area favorable to the black-crowned night herons but undesirable to higher-dwelling great blue herons and cormorants.

Some argue that erecting artificial structures might discourage birds from seeking suitable natural habitats elsewhere. But others contend that if humans don't get involved in habitat construction where birds are endangered, the conditions that force those birds into marginal nesting areas will worsen.

There's evidence to support the latter view. For example, the 1999 flooding of Big Marsh at Lake Calumet killed vegetation and forced black-crowned night herons to relocate to a smaller marsh. And when great blue herons, great egrets and double crested cormorants outnumbered black-crowned at Baker's Lake, they took the best nest sites, which forced the night herons to seek shelter elsewhere. The number of black-crowned pairs dropped from a high of 228 in 1988 to just 11 in 1992. Indeed, black-crowned are showing up in such marginal nesting areas as the site of the defunct Johns Manville asbestos plant in Lake County, says Brad Semel, district natural heritage biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Thus, while preserving and restoring natural habitat is the ideal solution for staving off the destruction of a species, it isn't always an option.

Having to change breeding locales every two to three years is stressful to the birds, which cuts down on breeding productivity. Birds maintain their numbers not necessarily because their habitat remains the same, but because it provides protection from predators and resembles the original. Furthermore, it can be argued that the loss of a single nesting location could leave hundreds of pairs stranded. Consequently, leaving the birds to their own devices may actually imperil them.

Creating support structures and controlling water levels to protect vegetation could keep the birds out of marginally viable nesting areas in Illinois and other states where habitat is scarce. Therefore, efforts such as those at Baker's Lake and Lake Renwick by natural resource managers, environmental groups and resident volunteers are to be lauded. They may be our last hope to save breeding wetland birds. •



Gail Goldberger







Great Blue Lobelia

Lobelia Siphilitica

Bellflower Family (Campanulaceae)

This native wetland wildflower is found throughout the tallgrass region in prairie swales and wet prairies, marshes, fens, along streams, and in seepage areas, generally where there is not intense competition from dense vegetation. Illinois. The deep blue flowers bloom August through October, and are crowded along the upper part of short individual stalks. Each flower has a small green calyx with 5 pointed lobes and a 2-lipped, tubular corolla with pale stripes on the tube. The upper corolla tip is split into two erect lobes, and the lower lip is divided into 3 spreading lobes.

Great Blue Lobelia, also known as Blue Cardinal Flower, is usually no more than 3’ tall, with mostly unbranched stems and milky sap. The leaves are up to 6" long and 1.5" wide, finely toothed and alternate, widest in the middle and tapering at both ends. It is a perennial plant whose seeds mature in the fall. Plants eject their seed when it is mature, so collecting the seed must be done somewhat differently than other species because immature (unejected) seeds will not germinate. Seed may be collected by covering the plants with old nylon stockings after the corollas have withered. A few holes or runs are okay. Simply cut each leg of the stocking into thirds; close one end of each piece with a twist tie and place the open end over the plant. Then, using another twist tie, gently fasten the open bottom of the nylon to the plant stem below the inflorescence. This allows the mature seed to drop into the nylon bag.

Native peoples used the leaf tea for colds, fevers, upset stomachs, worms, nosebleeds, and respiratory and muscle disorders. However, like many herbal and pharmaceutical therapies, the plant is potentially poisonous and should only be used only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner as excess doses cause nausea, vomiting and respiratory failure.


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last updated on August 6, 2013