Volunteers keep prairies, wetlands in check

February 25, 2011 3:34:27 PM PST
Even in the middle of winter, some nature enthusiasts are working all across the city and the suburbs to prepare grasslands for the dog days of summer.

Overgrown prairies and wetlands are abundant in this region, but lot by lot, some dedicated volunteers are determined to bring the land back to prime conditions. They say they do the work so you enjoy great outdoors.

In these frigid temperatures, a bustling fire could very well serve for warmth. But it's actually here for brush control.

"My house is a mile to the east. I've lived there since 1959. I bought my parents' house and I can remember when this was all farm fields," Rodney Dabe, volunteer, said.

Dabe is one of about a dozen volunteers who regularly tends to the Bartel Grasslands in south suburban Tinley Park. They are cutting down shrubs and other invasive plants.

"It's wonderful in the springtime when the natives start to come up and you can come out and walk through here and say 'Oh, look at that, that's supposed to be here,'" Dabe said.

"All of the shrubs and most of the trees were planted and don't belong here, so they're interfering with the grassland developing," Dick Riner, volunteer coordinator, said. "Honeysuckle was brought in by birds. They eat it and then they expel it. It's actually European. It didn't even come from the United States."

Judy Pollock is the director of bird conservation at the Audubon Chicago region. She says in addition to the beauty of the restored land. There are other ecological benefits.

"We had an endangered whooping crane, one of the rarest birds in the country came here two years ago as the result of the work here," Judy Pollock said. "Right across the street there, you've got this huge grassland and there are very, very few big grasslands like that, and the birds that like that, they are the fastest declining birds in our country."

On Saturday, March 5th, more than 1,000 citizen conservationists will gather at the University of Illinois at Chicago to share tips, stories and inspiration at the annual Wild Things Conference.