Chicago is the country’s only big city without a National Wildlife Refuge nearby. But that could change if the US Fish and Wildlife Service starts piecing together one out of land in McKenry County and just across the WI border into the proposed Hackmatack NWR. Wildlife groups around the country are rallying to support it before the final decision, expect this fall.
Animal tourists would love the new refuge, even though it’s not, like the original refuges, tailored to save a certain species or natural wonder. (Teddy Roosevelt made Pelican Island the first in 1903 one to save egrets from poachers after the birds for hat feathers.) Hackmatack is like more recent refuges: it’s not here because the wildlife is particularly awesome, but because it’s savable and near people.
“ We’ve been talking about the Hackmatack NWR as one of the new urban refuges that the USFWS has made a priority. Another reason why our area makes sense,” says Cindy Skudrud who helped start Friends of Hackmatack.
But, the wildlife would include whooping cranes at least twice a year as they migrate through, plus the possibility of mountain lions. The refuge would also offer a chance to see river otters, Blandings turtle and a bunch of other grassland and water birds, says Skudrud. Dickcissel, Henslow’s sparrow and short-eared owl, the savanna-loving red-headed woodpecker, and wetland-dependent species like pied-billed grebe and least bittern would use the land, which is mainly forest, prairie and peat bog. Here’s a list of 57 endangered and threatened species of plants and animals that would be helped by the NWR. It includes the Tamarack (Larix laricina), a kind of larch tree, whose native name gives the refuge its unwieldy name.
When the refuge system celebrated its 100th birthday, Skudrud and other conservationists realized Chicago was the only big city without a refuge within an hour’s drive. (Even the new one will be a bit of a stretch. It’s an hour twenty two minutes from Chicago’s northernmost outpost, Roger’s Park, though if you count the gerrymandered O’Hare and speed a little you might make it.)
The plan is to save and connect the existing scraps of parks and conservation land.
The wildlife service’s FAQ reads like they only answer to the Tea Party instead of the average Chicagoland resident. They answer questions on federal property rights, whether hunting will be allowed (yes), whether they’ll grab land from farmers (no) and whether they’ll be willing to feed and shoot Canada geese to keep them off farmland (absolutely!). Nowhere in the FAQ is the answer to what seems like the most important questions: what will the millions of people who live in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor be able to enjoy at Hackmatack NWR? Why is it worth saving? You can let the FWS know you’d be interested in seeing the animals at Hackmatack by writing them.
Comments are open on the plan until April 27. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org
While you’re at it, tell the FAA to let Operation Migration get an exemption to its rule about ultralight aircraft pilots getting paid.
Use the Sierra Club’s easy format to tell the FWS what you think
Attend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hackmatack public meetings on:
- Tuesday, April 3, 5-8 PM, Lost Valley Visitor Center, Glacial Park, off Rt. 31 north of Ringwood, IL
- Wednesday, April 4, 5-8 PM, Brookwood Middle School, 1020 Hunter’s Ridge Drive, Genoa City, WI
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