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Friday, May 29, 2015

Notes from a Symposium

sponsored by

Forest Preserves District of Cook County
DePaul University

Centennial Symposium

May 28 2015

These are just the tidbits that I wrote down.

I understand that all the full presentations will be on the Forest Preserve website soon.

Arnold Randall: General Superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserves

The current administration deeply believes in the forest preserve mission. Recent accomplishments:
Buying land. Recently bought a 400 acre parcel, the biggest acquisition since the 60s. 
Completed many ambitious plans.
Re-opened the preserves to camping (at one site so far).
Goal of restoring 30,00 acres to high quality woodland, prairies and wetlands in the next 25 years.

Robert Grese: Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Michigan

Jens Jensen, a founder of the preserve system, believed that support for nature was a key part of patriotism. He worked his way up from street sweeper in the Park District to park designer and landscape architect. He supplied the name to "The Prairie Club" which sponsored "Saturday Afternoon Walking Trips" to promote the idea of forest preserves. Later he organized "Friends of Our Native Landscape" to do more advocacy. The "Friends" called themselves "the do-ers."

Julia Bachrach, historian and preservationist, Chicago Park District

In he early 1900s, nature was in eclipse, but people wanted it. The Park District bought 50 or 100 squirrels and released them to restore wildlife. But they disappeared.

Elizabeth Millan Brusslan, Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University

Neither economic standing nor class divisions should be factors in who has access to sacred spaces for play. Play and preservation go hand in hand. At Deer Grove East, the Forest Preserves and Openlands collaborated on a large scale restoration that was so successful that rare species have returned or been rediscovered. These includes sandhill cranes, red-headed woodpeckers, and the northern cranesbill in a much used preserve.

Liam Heneghan, Profession of Environmental Science, DePaul University

One early hunter shot 40 owls in a day and used one as bait to trap a wolf. Another shot 68 wood ducks in an hour. Our efforts to restore the ecosystem is similar to restoring health to a sick person. We don't try to make them younger or reverse the clock. We just seek to restore them - as with the ecosystem - to good health.

Natalie Bump Vena, Fellow in Anthropology and Environmental Studies, Williams College

In early years, misuse damaged the preserves. Staff spent a lot of time protecting the land from the public - for the public. She quoted Superintendent of Maintenance Roberts Mann to the effect that hiring young men as conservation workers during the Depression was a social good. Otherwise, "They would drift toward crime, revolution, or suicide." Though grasslands were a valued part of the preserves in early years, later staff planted trees in original prairies and declared that protection of the preserves from fire "takes precedence over all other work."

Paul Gobster, Research Landscape Architect, U.S. Forest Service 

He argued that "Beauty" was an important value. His slide illustrating beauty showed a very open woods with widely-spaced open-grown trees. He quoted studies showing that nature experienced made people more altruistic. A recent poll showed 80% of the public supported controlled burns but that most people still question deer culling and use of herbicides.

Chris Anchor, Senior Wildlife Biologist of the Forest Preserves

Many species of animals need more habitat and have been lost. As habitat has been protected and improved, many species have returned including white-tailed deer, coyote, bald eagle, and osprey. Species that may soon return include the martin. Martin's are "only two counties away." Their return could reduce the overpopulated raccoons.

Stephen Packard, Volunteer Steward

Since I have the slides and write this blog, I'll try to post my full comments soon.

Mary Laraia, former Deputy General Superintendent of the Forest Preserves

Forest Preserve progress requires inspired leadership. She quoted one questionable approach by Frank Lowden (who later became Governor of Illinois), "It is a greater crime to kill a healthy living tree than to kill a man." She admired the political leadership of Henry Foreman, President of the Cook County Board (1902-1904). He wrote, "... standing native forests ... if they are not secured now ... will be parceled into subdivisions. The forests will disappear, and the art of man never will be able to recreate them."

Eileen Figel. current Deputy General Superintendent of the Forest Preserves

In her summation she said, compellingly, "The founders acted within a window of opportunity. We have such a window of opportunity today, with an inspiring and ambitious plan and a General Superintendent and President who believe in this mission. It will be hard. But it was hard 100 years ago. What they faced and overcame is an inspiration."


  1. It is not only the public that questions the use of herbicides. A number of stewards do not like how herbicides have been used in the preserves. I think the FPCC needs to be more careful so they are not destroying the very things they seek to protect.

    1. Good point. There need to be clearer and better standards. The District is setting up a Working Group on "Restoration Science and Standards." It's part of the Next Century Plan, which many of us hope will make important history. Both stewards and contractors have very varied levels of training and ability. Herbicide can be as crucial to ecosystem health as medicine can be to human health. But both need to be used right.

    2. It is good that standards are created. No matter the outcome of the Working Group some people will be unsatisfied. However, I think standards are necessary if any use of herbicides in natural areas is to continue to be supported by a majority of the public.

      I would like to add that I believe restoration can occur without the use of herbicides. I just do not think taxpayers would be willing to bear the additional labor costs that would be required to completely eliminate herbicide use. Likewise, many stewards would be either unable or unwilling to do the extra labor that would be necessary if herbicides were not available. However, it should be considered that restoration is still possible without herbicides. Indeed, herbicide is too frequently used when other methods would be better.