March 2015

Prospect Heights Park District and PHNRC Team Up To Offer Nature Classes

The Prospect Heights Park District and the Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission are teaming up to offer a series of nature classes through the park district spring/summer programs. All classes leave from Gary Morava Recreation Center picnic shelter and are held outdoors, please dress appropriately. Park district registration opens soon at

Nature Walk
Connecting with Nature - An overview of the new nature
classes. How does Prospect Heights have anything to do
with native Illinois prairie, savanna and wetland
communities and their habitats? Take a walk with
restoration ecologist Iza Redlinski and members of the
Prospect Height Natural Resources Commission to find out.
#14029 / W / April 22
6:00-8:00 PM
This is a free class.

Birding Basics
Learn where to look for birds in your community, which
binoculars are best and how to use them. Become familiar
with some of the field guides available. Then go on a bird
walk with an experienced birder! Please bring binoculars
and a field guide if you have one and dress for the weather.
#14030 / Sa / April 25
8:30-11:00 AM
This is a free class.

Bird Walks
Explore our natural areas with an experienced birder,
learn to identify birds found in Illinois, and discuss their
behaviors and natural history. If you’ve always wanted
to learn about birds and weren’t sure where to start,
this is the program for you! Please dress for the
weather and bring binoculars.
#13841 / F / May 1        #14034/ F / May 22
#13836 / F / May 8        #13847 / Sa / May 23
#14032 / S / May 9        #13848 / F /May 29
#14033 / F / May 15       #13849 / Sa / May 30
#13340 / S / May 16
8:30-11:00 AM

Introduction to Plant Identification
Plant ecologist Christopher Benda will share a wealth of
knowledge about how to positively identify plants, trees
and shrubs. With hands-on activities, you’ll learn how to
unlock the clues found in leaves, flowers, fruit, bark and
more! This class spends a portion of the time outdoors.
Please dress for the weather.
#13855 / Th / Jun 4
5:30-8:30 PM

Tree and Shrub Identification
Get outside and learn to identify trees and shrubs by the
details: bark, buds, leaves and form! Led by plant ecologist
Christopher Benda, this 2 week class will cover over 20 trees
and shrubs found in our local natural areas. This class spends
a portion of the time outdoors. Please dress for the weather.
#13828 / W / Jun 10 & Jun 17
5:30-8:30 PM

Local Flora - Summer
Gain a greater knowledge and appreciation for the plants that
are found in our local wetlands, woodlands and remnant
prairies. Spend time outdoors with experts learning how to
identify over 40 species of plants while learning about their
habitats and plant communities. Sign up for one class or all
three. This class spends most of the time outdoors. Please
dress for the weather.
#13827 / Th / Jul 9
#14031 / Th / Jul 16
#14035 / Th / Jul 23
5:30-8:30 PM

Summer Evening Wetland Walk
Have you ever wondered why the Slough is called a 'slough'?
Do you want to know more about wetlands, their history,
ecology, or what is important about the habitat that they
provide? Spend an evening with restoration ecologist Izabella
Redlinski, learning about the importance of wetlands. Formal
instruction and discussion will be followed by a walk around
the Slough during sunset, observing the fauna and flora, while
discussing the ecology and restoration efforts of one of the
last remaining natural wetlands in the Chicagoland area.
#14036 / W / Jul 29
#14037 / F / Jul 31
6:00-8:00 PM

Summer Evening Prairie Walk
Join restoration ecologist Izabella Redlinski on a walk through
the prairie, learning about the natural history of prairies and
our remnant sites. Learn the names of important prairie
plants and their historical and ecological significance.
#13853 / Tu / Aug 13
#13854 / Sa / Aug 15
6:00-8:00 PM

Green Infrastructure - Healthy Solutions to Flooding and Water Pollution

"Green Infrastructure - Healthy Solutions to Water Pollution and Flooding" will be presented on Thursday, March 12, 7:00pm – 8:30pm at the Prospect Heights Public Library District, 12 Elm Street in Prospect Heights, IL.

Storm water runoff is a major cause of water pollution and flooding in urban areas. Spend an evening learning about ways that residents and the community can work together to provide habitat, flood protection, cleaner air and cleaner water in Prospect Heights with Jeff Mengler, PWS, Senior Project Scientist for Hey and Associates, Inc. and Co-Chair of the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision Taskforce. The program is co-sponsored with the Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission. Please register.

Hardy Volunteers Tackle Buckthorn and Sub Zero Temps

The volunteer workday held on February 15th was unique for many reasons. For starters, the air temperature was around 6° and the wind chill was well below zero. The average age was around 58 and all the regulars showed up.

There was great debate about cancelling the workday within the commission but Chairperson Agnes
 Wojnarski was emphatic that she had done her homework and that all things were good to go. Agnes had selected a burn site that was down in a ravine, sheltered from the wind with plenty of buckthorn to burn. "Twenty minutes in, we were stripping down layers" said Dana Sievertson, PHNRC Commissioner. 

"We decided early on not to cancel and see if the volunteers would show up given the conditions. We were very happy to see that the dedicated regulars saw it as an opportunity not to be missed. There is something quite magical about being outside in those frigid conditions with a roaring buckthorn fire and a touch of snow and ash swirling around you while you are completely 
immersed in the silent winter landscape", said Sievertson. "It is a unique winter experience that everyone, especially local residents, should experience"

"Safety is course, our primary concern", added Commissioner 
Wojnarski. "We would never permit anyone to work in unsafe conditions".

The fun continues Sunday March 1st when light snow and mild 
temperatures continue and every other Sunday thereafter.

Restoration Ecologist Bruce Shackleford Visits PHNRC

In January 2014, PHNRC Commissioners were fortunate to be visited by Arkansas Restoration Ecologist Bruce Shackleford, and his wife Cathy. Bruce is the founder and President of Environmental Consulting Operations, Inc and the driving force behind the wetland compensatory mitigation site in Fayetteville Arkansas, the Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary. 

We found out very quickly, Bruce is a wealth of information, experience and very generous with his time and information. We listened and learned as we toured the slough and our local remnant prairie and discussed everything from non-native earthworms to prescribed burns. It should be pointed out that Bruce was of the strong opinion that our prairie, while degraded, was most definitely worth saving and the best thing we could do is a prescribed burn.

We hope you will read Bruce's interesting article "Common Bonds". We also look forward to Bruce's return visits and a continuing relationship with PHNRC and our community.


My name is Bruce Shackleford and I am an a Restoration Ecologist in Arkansas. I have gladly invested 41 years as an environmental professional in some form or fashion, and the last 25 years I have been President of Environmental Consulting Operations, Inc., a company I founded in 1990 in my home state of Arkansas.  Although I have decades of experience in environmental regulatory permitting, my passion and primary area of interest is ecological restoration. Professionally, this has included hundreds of small wetland and stream restoration projects where these resources are temporarily impacted by linear projects, such as the construction of water and sewer lines.  

Typically, I design and develop environmental specifications that become a part of the contractor's contractually binding requirements for maintaining compliance with environmental permits and restoring disturbed areas to preconstruction (or better) conditions.  My larger, more contiguous projects in Arkansas have involved elk habitat restoration, marsh restoration for waterfowl habitat improvement, and wetland compensatory mitigation sites. 

About 15 years ago, I became interested in prairie restoration.  It may surprise people to learn that at one time there were several hundred thousand acres of tall grass prairie scattered throughout Arkansas. Today, less than one percent of the original Arkansas prairies remain and the prairie chickens, bison, and now extinct eastern elk we once had are completely gone. 
Nationwide, prairies have become our most endangered ecosystem and little, if any, regulatory protection of them has been put into place by our federal government.  Congress mandated the Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands.  Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the Federal Clean Prairie Act to protect our prairies.  Thus, their demise continues.
Consequently, I set out on a mission to study and apply the ecological restoration of prairies.  A great opportunity arose when my company was awarded a contract by the City of Fayetteville, Arkansas to design a wetland compensatory mitigation site.  The selected property appeared to most people as a tall fescue pasture, but I recognized that it was a degraded remnant tall grass prairie.  Thus, Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary came to be and served a dual purpose of meeting mitigation requirements while restoring a tall grass wet prairie.  More information about this project can be viewed at the Woolsey Wet Prairie website.
Through an unusual twist of fate, I recently came came to know the Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission.  My wife, Cathy has spent most of her career as an executive for three of the top five cellular telecommunications companies in the U.S. When another firm acquired her employer in Arkansas, she lost her job and accepted another position in Denver, where she worked for four years.  She flew home to Arkansas on weekends about 80% of the time, and I made many trips to see the Colorado short grass prairies, the elk, pronghorn, and buffalo.  People sometimes roll their eyes when we tell them about our lifestyle, but it is the life we live.  Then it happened again.  Her Denver employer was acquired, and her options for other positions were Atlanta and Chicago.  We chose Chicago.
For weeks after she started her new job, she lived in a hotel as we searched for a place for her to live.  We traveled throughout the Chicago suburbs with our realtor, including Oak Park, Elmhurst, Mt. Prospect, Des Plaines, Arlington Heights, and finally felt most comfortable with making a nest in Prospect Heights.  

During our search, I observed small green spaces with signs that noted prairie restoration sites and I wanted to learn more about how such restorations were done in the area.  A web search guided me to the Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission. At that point, I felt it appropriate for someone from "The Natural State" to reach out to those from "The Prairie State" for the purpose of exchanging information and ideas about ecological restoration.  I sent an email to the PHNRC Chairperson, Agnes Wojnarski to introduce myself, share information about Woolsey Wet Prairie, and request a visit to the PHNRC sites and so our dialogue and my education about PHNRC activities began. 
We set a date for the site visits and met at Isaac Walton Park on January 30, 2015.  There, Cathy and I met With PHNRC Commissioners Agnes Wojnarski, Dana Sievertson, and Marcia Jendreas.  After the introductions, we trodded through the snow to tour the Prospect Heights slough. 

I turned 63 that day and I could think of no better way to spend my birthday than viewing a restoration site with those of like mind.  Undoubtedly, the buckthorn infestations have provided quite a challenge, but the dedication of those who volunteer is the only way to win the war to make room for something native that should be growing there. I was especially glad to see that they are safely and effectively using herbicides on buckthorn cut stumps.  

I sometimes encounter so-called green groups who are adamantly opposed to the use of any herbicide whatsoever, especially with individuals of my generation.  I call it the Rachael Carson/Vietnam Agent Orange syndrome.  No doubt, Carson's Silent Spring and the environmental impact of our government using extremely dangerous chemicals to defoliate jungles to find the enemy point out the environmental devastation from bad choices made by our society.  However, the chemicals that created those horror stories have long since been banned.
In contrast, today's smart chemicals are basically plant hormones that control invasive plants by interrupting biochemical pathways, and many have been developed to target specific groups of plants instead of killing everything.  Therefore, we must ask ourselves, "Which is worse for the ecosystem, allowing a dense thicket of non-native invasive species to displace a native community of flora and fauna, or use chemicals that quickly break down and pose no environmental hazard to control the invasive species?" It has been my experience with ecological restoration, if you choose not to use herbicides to control non-native plant species, you will lose!  Many invasive plant species are controlled with the use of herbicides by the National Parks Service in remote places such as the Grand Tetons and the Colorado River that most people think are pure and untarnished ecosystems.  The truth of the matter is that untarnished ecosystems with no non-native plant species in the Lower 48 do not exist today.
I am anxious to make a return visit to The Slough to see what comes back after the buckthorn is removed and what will fill the ecological niche it occupied.  This could be native or it could be a different non-native.  Considering that more than 2,000 species of alien plants have become established in continental U.S., persistence is required to peel back the layers of non-native plants that inhibit the native plant community.  From what I have observed, PHNRC volunteers obviously have the persistence!
Our next stop along our tour was the ComEd Right of Way Remnant Prairie Site.  I do not believe I have ever seen such a stand of invasive teasel!  At first, I did not even recognize it because I have rarely seen it in Arkansas, yet I also saw enough native plant species, even during the dormant season with snow on the ground, to support the position that there is a suppressed relict native seed bank at the site.

There is no question in my mind that this site is in dire need of a prescribed burn. It is the only way to move this project forward.  The "thatch" or layer of dead vegetation continues to accumulate each year, giving the non-native plants an advantage, while suppressing the native plants.  This is especially true of prairie plant communities that are fire dependent.  Fire suppression is among the major causes of the loss of our prairie ecosystems.  The lack of fire gives way to the formation of a plant community dominated by non-native species that  pose a threat to biodiversity, habitat quality, and ecosystem stability. I very strongly encourage PHNRC and ComED to burn this site! It is perfect for a controlled burn because it has firebreaks on all sides being bounded by the railroad tracks, the bike path and 2 major roads.
Tom Foti, retired Chief of Research and Inventory of the  Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission once said, "Ecological restoration is not rocket science."  "It's harder than rocket science." Today's state of the art ecological restoration is often referred to as adaptive management, or AM. AM is a structured, iterative process of optimal decision making in the face of uncertainty, with the objective to reduce uncertainty over time via system monitoring. AM is often characterized as "learning by doing" in a process whereby any given selection of a vegetation management tool is done after observing the results of the previous vegetation management tool.
In more simple terms, we never know how any given site will respond to whatever we do to try to improve it, until we try to improve it. 
As my birthday weekend and Illinois adventure came to a close, blizzard conditions moved into the Chicago area, a part of normality for you Chicagoans, but quite a novelty for an Arkansan to observe.  Wow!  You people are certainly highly evolved to withstand the brutal weather!
Days after being back in Arkansas, I shared several Ecological Restoration and Restoration Ecology journals I receive through the Society of Ecological Restoration with Agnes and Dana that contained research findings relevant to PHNRC projects.
As a flashback to my departure from Chicago, after taking off from O'Hare, my mind wandered from one thing to the next, but the main thought I had was thankfulness. 
I was thankful I was going home to the 37 acres around our house, my virtual AM experiment station where I do test plots with different types of herbicides; annual prescribed burns; plant wildlife food plots; grow eastern gamagrass, Indian grass, rattlesnake master, and big bluestem in raised beds before transplanting to my experimental prairie restoration plots.
I was thankful for my new PHNRC friends. I look forward to a continued dialogue and being a friend of the program and a healthy exchange of ideas. Their everyday lives are so different from mine.  Living in a big city, they have to drive for miles to see what I see every day from my front window, yet we share common bonds.  What are those common bonds and what makes us tick?
As land stewards, our common bonds are:

We are all fruitful dreamers that go against the odds and make dreams come true. 
We believe enough in our cause that we make the impossible.....possible. 
We recognize that a big part of successful ecological restoration must involve educating others.
We believe in preserving/restoring what little is left of our natural heritage.
We reach out to others of like kind to generate more enthusiasm and synergies for our cause.
We believe in making success stories, so how do we define success?
As death defines life, success can only be defined by first defining failure.
Failure means we as a people cave in and our little postage stamp size prairies become a thing of the past.
Failure means another prairie plant, or another prairie bird becomes more rare, which translates to soon becoming extinct.
Failure means that prairies become the same as the extinct passenger pigeon, eastern elk, and Carolina parakeet where future generations never get to see them and only get to read about them in books.
Failure means that our generation has not passed along these ecological values, nor instilled them into future generations.
Back to our common bonds....
Our most important common bond is that FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.

As we say in Arkansas, "See Y'all next time!"

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