Rob Curtis/The Early Birder
morning I walked in a prairie in all its late summer glory.
Tall grasses waved over my head. Birds and butterflies flew
about. Flowers bloomed high and low.
I could hear traffic sounds in the background, and soon
I would reach the asphalt borders of this small but precious
tract. Can this be wilderness, a 90-acre remnant of the
vast tallgrass prairie? Isnt there somewhere else
where I can truly get away from it all?
But increasingly, conservationists and thoughtful citizens
have come to recognize that it is us, which
is to say, the idea that any natural area no matter how
large or how remote exists untouched by the hand of
man is now a figment, a dream. It is not the story
of life on planet Earth in the new millennium.
No habitat for humans or any other species can survive,
protected and healthy, without the advocacy and care of
people. Wilderness areas are human constructs protected
by legal designations with no potency except the willingness
of human beings, generation after generation, to respect
and endorse them. John Rogner, chair of the Chicago Region
Biodiversity Council (Chicago Wilderness) and a fisheries
biologist by training, makes this point eloquently in his
The wild areas in our region have been hammered, for sure.
As you can read in Wilder Woods? by Kathleen
Kostel, the continuing degradation of our woodlands by the
encroachment of invasive species, lack of fire, overbrowsing
by deer, and changes in water flow are a cause for concern
and a cry to action. But these places are seasonal
homes to species that also live in the Arctic tundra and
the rainforests of Ecuador. Our wild places are absolutely
critical to the survival of monarchs and lesser yellowlegs,
of hairstreak butterflies (pictured here) and noble oaks.
These places are different from, but sibling companions
to, our countrys vast western tracts, where jets hum
overhead and acid rains from factories fall. Our wild places,
all of them, compel us to recognize that we the people are
part of a community of living things.
In this issue you will read about the exciting plans for
the Calumet region a place that many would consider
nothing more than a postindustrial wasteland. Yet Indian
Ridge Marsh is home to the largest nesting colony of black-crowned
night herons in the state of Illinois (where this bird is
endangered). Few would have given nature in this area much
of a chance to heal. Many would have said these marshes
and woods were too far gone to even bother with.
But passionate people like Marian
Byrnes, Jim Landing, Walter Marcisz, and others, studied
and cared and fought and attended countless meetings in
order to save and even restore the nature here. In the Calumet
region, these visionary heroes had that true sense of community,
of living in a place where birds and plants and people could
be healthy together.
In this coming season, let us give thanks to Marian Byrnes,
to John Rogner, to the red-shouldered hawk, the hairstreak
butterfly, the prairie dock, the wild white indigo. They
are our neighbors. They will show us the way.
Shore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.