Chicago Park District steps up for natural areas, endangered species

Habitat addition adds 3.1 acres to Montrose Beach Dunes, provides barrier to erosion and stores precious carbon in the fight against climate change

To the few who could visit Montrose Beach last year, it was quite apparent: The sandy area protected for Piping Plovers was becoming more vegetated. With the lakefront closed, plants like Sea Rocket were taking hold in the same place where Piping Plovers Monty and Rose were foraging. This was open sand that until now had been combed by the Chicago Park District for decades. The thought came just as the vegetation arrived: could this area be more permanently protected and added to Montrose Beach Dunes?

The Park District announced Wednesday that the 3.1 acres of habitat would be added to the dunes natural area, which is a big win for Monty, Rose, other breeding birds and many that stop over on their way north to the Arctic (and south to South America). It took many months of calls, e-mails, letters and testimony to make this victory a reality. Kudos to the Park District for making this decision and to Superintendent Michael Kelly.

“We are thrilled to announce the expansion of the Montrose Natural Area,” said Chicago Park District General Superintendent & CEO Michael Kelly. “This treasured space, which attracts native and migratory birds, including the endangered Piping Plover and various plants, brings nature and people together in a unique way.”

This is a moment to think about what’s possible when we know that bird populations have declined by as much as 30 percent since the 1970s.

Too often, we have needed to defend the environment against attacks rather than seek opportunities for expansion. In this case, we have something to celebrate in a time when nature has provided an outlet for so many during the Covid 19 pandemic. The Park District has made investing in native ecosystems a priority as natural areas now encompass 1,919.9 acres of the district’s approximately 8,800 acres. The benefits of these areas are many—the dune area at Montrose is home to a globally rare panne habitat that acts as a natural barrier against erosion while storing precious carbon in the fight against climate change.

This is a victory for natural areas and for park visitors from all over the city. It shows the promise of what is possible in a high-traffic urban area with a variety of uses such as those at Montrose Beach. It also shows what’s possible when a group of citizens comes together to rally around the environment and make their voices heard.

A special thank you to Volunteer Site Steward Leslie Borns for her years of work and to Alderman James Cappleman for his strong support of the habitat addition.

A version of this letter appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times today.

A nifty collaboration

Chicago Ornithological Society (COS) and the Illinois Native Plant Society-Northeast Chapter have teamed up on a neat partnership to bring together birds and botany, subjects that go together hand in hand. In a post recently, COS stated:

Our strongest interests, whether birds, plants, fish, or insects, tend to isolate us in silos. We know these taxa don't exist in a vacuum, though, and that these organisms are connected in one of the most biodiverse regions in the country.

It’s interesting how many people are birders who don’t know much about botany (looks around, raises hand) and how many people are botanizers who don’t know much about birding. The two organizations will work together on virtual and in-person events starting in April and running through May. All are welcome and the events are free.

TWiB Notes

I will be on “The Mike Nowak Show with Peggy Malecki” on Sunday at 10 a.m. discussing the habitat addition along with Doug Stotz, senior conservation ecologist at the Field Museum. The show focuses on gardening, the environment and green living in Chicago. It’s available as a live video stream on YouTube, on Periscope (Twitter) and on the web…..A salmonella outbreak is affecting birds all over the country, and it has the risk of spreading to humans, too. Pine Siskins unfortunately appear to be affected the most as of now. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the AARP have posted information on the situation. Care should be taken when cleaning bird feeders and bird baths……And, in case you missed it, Short-eared Owl captured the crown in Indiana Audubon’s March Migration Madness!

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