Archive for the ‘Going green’ Category


A bison grazes in 2013 in a forest in eastern Poland. Kane County Forest Preserve Commissioners approved a plan this week to bring bison to the Burlington Prairie Forest Preserve. (Associated Press)

It’s been 200 hundred years since bison roamed the prairies of Kane County, but a new plan to reintroduce them into a local forest preserve may turn back the clock.

Kane County Forest Preserve commissioners approved a plan this week to bring a handful of bison to the Burlington Prairie Forest Preserve. The plan centers on one of the main ecological goals of restoring tallgrass prairie to the county’s preserves. Before the surrounding area developed, fire and the grazing habits of wild animals, such as bison, provided natural management of the grasslands. Preserve officials reintroduced controlled burns to the preserves many years ago.

Executive director Ben Haberthur told commissioners now is the time to reintroduce bison to restore the grazing aspect of grassland management. Up to 90% of the diet for bison is grasses.

“The grasses evolved with grazing,” Haberthur said. “So it actually promotes the soil microbiome to grow more. Bison are native to Illinois, and they are definitely native to this county. They will bring a big component back to the ecosystem, namely fertilizer.”

District officials experimented with the benefits of animal grazing in the preserves with cattle in the Aurora West Forest Preserve. That experiment resulted in the flourishing of the restored grasslands in the preserve. Officials see bison as the next step in returning the grasslands to their most natural state and care.

The Burlington Prairie Forest Preserve is in the Pleasant Valley Conservation Alley north of Huntley and in the northwest portion of the county. The plan calls for two paddocks of 30 acres each with an additional 89 acres seeded for pasture. For the safety of the animals and the public, the areas containing the bison would be fenced, which accounts for the bulk of the initial cost of the project.

Read more here.

Editorial note: As we’ve suggested before, there is ample acreage at Horizon Farm for the Forest Preserves of Cook County to consider such an endeavor.

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Lake Greenway

Proposed Lake County greenway.

The Lake County Board formally endorsed a proposal Tuesday to transform 1,100 acres of land — originally set aside for a now abandoned highway expansion project — into a “greenway” that would connect trails, forest preserve land and open green space in the central part of the county.

Though the vote is mostly symbolic, its passage signals to state legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker that there is intragovernmental support for the greenway idea backed by the 20-member Route 53 Land Expansion Alternative Use Task Force, which reached that decision in December after meeting throughout 2022 in accordance with a directive from the General Assembly.

It’s also an emphatic victory for environmental activists long opposed to the expansion of Route 53, for which the land was originally acquired.

Speaking on behalf of a coalition of environmental organizations supporting the greenway, Midwest Sustainability Group executive director Barbara Klipp mused that government entities originally started buying up parcels of land for eventual Route 53 expansion about 60 years ago, when she was born.

“This corridor represents one of the most scenic landscapes remaining in Lake County,” Klipp said. “And we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fully unleash its value as an iconic nature trail and conservation area where residents of our communities can treasure the atmosphere that makes central Lake County such an amazing place to live.”

More here.

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Cliff McConville of All Grass Farms located within the Brunner Family Forest Preserve Wednesday March 8, 2023 in Dundee Township. (Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.com)

Before his farming days, Cliff McConville worked in the Loop downtown for years, commuting to an array of jobs in the insurance industry from his home in Barrington Hills.

In 2011, McConville transferred to a remote job, and with an extra two and a half hours or so on his hands, he turned to raising chickens and a handful of beef cows on his property’s eight acres.

McConville, who spent his childhood in Mount Prospect before heading to Austin, Texas, for high school and college, had always wanted a farm and had become interested in the idea of regenerative agriculture through books and documentaries.

The farming and grazing practice of regenerative agriculture, heralded by environmentalists as a major solution to climate change and water issues, is a conservation alternative to conventional farming that focuses on rebuilding soil health and biodiversity.

With high demand for sustainably raised, grass-fed cows, McConville’s business took off. Today, alongside a 400-acre operation in Wisconsin, he runs 150 acres of pastureland within the Brunner Family Forest Preserve through a long-term lease with the Kane County Forest Preserve District.

Though county forest preserve and conservation districts are charged with restoring land to the natural prairie and woodland of Illinois, it’s a slow and costly process. As a result, large swaths of district land are often leased out to farmers like McConville while awaiting restoration.

Read more here.

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LMP Lead

Completion of the Longmeadow Parkway Corridor, which runs from Huntley Road in Carpentersville to Route 62 in Barrington Hills and includes the new toll bridge over the Fox River seen here, has been delayed by the need to remove lead-contaminated soil in the project’s final phase. (Mike Danahey / The Courier-News)

Removal of the lead-contaminated soil that’s held up completion of the $115 million Longmeadow Parkway Bridge Corridor is to begin this spring, Kane County Division of Transportation officials said.

The 5.6-mile regional road, which runs from Huntley Road in Carpentersville to Route 62 in Barrington Hills and includes a new toll bridge over the Fox River, is partially open but completion has been at a standstill because of the 60,000 cubic square feet of tainted dirt that requires special removal and disposal.

Kane County Board members approved a new contract in February under which the soil will be treated on site before it’s disposed of, said Steve Coffinbarger, division of transportation assistant director.

“We’ve made progress,” he said. “We’ll get started on that this spring.”

Once that work is finished in spring 2024, they can accept bids for the last stage of paving work needed, Coffinbarger said. If all goes according to plan, the entire roadway — including the bridge — will be open before the end of 2024, he said.

County and state officials have known there was contaminated soil on the site for decades. The former owner of the gun range site has been working with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to remove the lead, Coffinbarger said.

Read more here.

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The seedlings closeup.

From the Barrington Area Library:

The Seed Library opens on Wednesday, February 1, beginning at 10 AM!

Drop in on Feb 1 to see what’s available in the Seed Library this season (or plan in advance by visiting our Seed Library website). Master Gardeners will be here to answer questions and share seed starting tips. Learn how to make custom garden items with the laser cutter, help us create painted rocks for our fairy garden (and for you, too!), and pick up Take-And-Make Kits for kids and adults.

Take-And-Makes, info tables, and activities run from 10 AM – 4 PM on February 1; after 4 PM tomorrow, the Seed Library will be open during all regular Library hours. While supplies last. Seeds are organic and non-GMO.”

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Beth Botts

Winter, when the branches of dormant trees are bare, is a good time to have them pruned. Oaks should only be pruned when they are dormant. (Beth Botts)

By Beth Botts
Morton Arboretum

The gray, still days of winter are the perfect time to prune trees. In fact, winter is the only recommended time to prune some species, such as oaks.

“If you prune oaks during the growing season, you risk spreading serious diseases,” said Sharon Yiesla, plant knowledge specialist at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle. One of the worst is a fungal disease called oak wilt.

The oak wilt fungus is spread by a beetle that is attracted to open pruning wounds in trees and carries the spores from tree to tree. Since the beetles aren’t active in winter, the safe period for pruning an oak is between Oct. 15 and April 15, Yiesla said.

Oak wilt is difficult or impossible to treat, she said, so the best way to fight it is to prevent it. The most important thing a homeowner can do to protect an oak is to prune it only in winter, unless it has been damaged by a storm.

Winter is also the best time to prune other trees, when they are dormant and not actively growing, Yiesla said. As with oak wilt, the cold will reduce the likelihood of spreading other pests and diseases.

The bare branches also make it easier for a trained arborist to see the tree’s structure and check its health. And if the ground is frozen when trees are pruned, surrounding perennial beds and other garden areas won’t be damaged by professionals’ equipment.

Large, mature trees should be pruned by certified professionals. “A certified arborist has the training and equipment to do it safely,” Yiesla said. You can find a certified arborist through the website of the International Society of Arboriculture (treesaregood.org/findanarborist) or the Illinois Arborist Association (illinoisarborist.org).

Prune a tree yourself only if you can do it with your feet on the ground. Working above the ground to prune tree branches that may weigh hundreds of pounds requires the special safety training and equipment that professional firms have. “It’s easy to get seriously hurt pruning trees,” Yiesla said.

“Always err on the side of hiring a professional and keeping yourself safe.”

It’s a good idea to have large, mature, valuable trees inspected every few years, to catch any problems early. “That’s a good thing to do in winter too,” she said.

For tree and plant advice, contact the Plant Clinic at The Morton Arboretum (630-719-2424, mortonarb.org/plant-clinic, or plantclinic@mortonarb.org). Beth Botts is a staff writer at the Arboretum.

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Gas Stove

Citing studies that link gas stoves to health problems, including asthma in children, a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission official said his agency will begin a formal review process that could lead to new regulations.

“We need to be talking about regulating gas stoves, whether that’s drastically improving emissions or banning gas stoves entirely,” said Commissioner Richard Trumka. “And I think we ought to keep that possibility of a ban in mind, because it’s a powerful tool in our tool belt and it’s a real possibility here.”

The commission will begin soliciting information from the public in March, Trumka said, and regulation could happen in 2023.

Trumka’s remarks came during a Wednesday virtual news conference hosted by PIRG, a network of public interest research groups.

The American Gas Association responded with a written statement from Richard Meyer, vice president of energy markets, analysis and standards: “AGA is eager to submit for the record objective technical information related to the safety of gas cooking appliances and ways to reduce cooking process emissions — which are produced both by cooking with electricity and cooking with gas — from impacting indoor air quality.”

Gas cooking in the home was linked to a 42% higher risk that children would have asthma, in a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study, a meta-analysis combining the results of 41 previous studies, also suggested a 24% increase in children’s lifetime risk of asthma.

Read more here.

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Are real or artificial Christmas trees better for the environment? ©Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

Many American households are beginning to prepare for one of the biggest holidays of the year: Christmas. And for those who celebrate, that often means figuring out what to do about a tree — the time-honored centerpiece of the season’s festivities.

What type of tree or, in some cases, trees you choose largely comes down to personal preference. For many people, a real tree represents tradition — a chance to re-create memories of finding “The One” and hauling it home from the forest or a neighborhood tree lot — with a fresh scent that helps create a holiday atmosphere. On the other hand, artificial trees offer convenience, since they can be reused year after year and typically come with built-in lights or decorations.

But with more consumers becoming increasingly concerned about their purchases’ environmental impact, you might be wondering which type of Christmas tree is more planet-friendly. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to whether real or artificial trees are better for the environment.

The argument for real trees

While you might worry that chopping down tens of millions of trees each year amounts to an environmental nightmare, a real Christmas tree can be more sustainable than an artificial one, says Bill Ulfelder, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in New York.

“There should be no remorse, no guilt, like, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s a cut tree.’ It’s absolutely the contrary,” says Ulfelder, who has a master’s degree in forestry. “Trees are a renewable resource. When they’re being cut, they’re being harvested in ways that they’re being replanted, so it’s a great renewable resource that provides lots of environmental, conservation and nature benefits.”

For one, living trees absorb carbon dioxide — a main contributor to global warming — from the air and release oxygen. It can take at least seven years to grow a Christmas tree to its typical height of between six and seven feet, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), a trade group that in part represents growers and sellers of real trees. While estimates can vary significantly, one study suggests that growing Christmas trees may sequester nearly a ton of carbon dioxide per acre, according to the Sightline Institute. What happens to that carbon depends on how these trees are treated once they’re cut and discarded.

Read more here.

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Protecting open space has always been a quality-of-life issue in the suburbs and the collar counties, a goal under constant pressure from the relentless spread of commercial and residential development.

So, when an opportunity appears to ensure that a large tract is preserved and managed, it is something to be seized and once seized, appreciated. This time, the gratitude goes to the Barrington-based volunteer group Citizens for Conservation.

The group and the Richard Duchossois family announced last week the purchase of the family’s 246.5-acre Hill ‘N Dale Farm South, making it the 14th preserve in Lake, Cook and McHenry counties under Citizens for Conservation’s care.

“We’re going to build a beautiful, complex web of Illinois’ native life here at this preserve,” Jim Vanderpoel, a member of the Citizens for Conservation board, says in a video the group produced on the project.

In reflecting on the family’s goals in selling the site to the conservation group, Kim Duchossois, daughter of the late Arlington Park Chairman Richard Duchossois, discussed how “important this land is to the community,” but it’s worth adding that the preservation’s impact will extend well beyond the Barrington area.

Situated just across Lake-Cook Road from the 4,000-acre Spring Creek Valley Forest Preserve, the addition will expand an important wildlife corridor, providing habitat for native plant and aquatic life, grassland birds and endangered species, such as monarch butterflies and rusty-patched bumblebees.

It will protect the equivalent of three-quarters of a mile along Spring Creek, which feeds into the Fox River, and strengthen initiatives for greenways, watersheds and green infrastructure in three counties. It will be open to public access through programs to be managed by the conservation group. It will have an impact on the environment for all of northern Illinois.

Read the full Daily Herald editorial here.

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Solar Panel Install

Edward Carrico, left, and Spencer Kearney, with Solar Service in Niles, install solar panels on a home in Lake Zurich in March 2017. (John Konstantaras/for the Chicago Tribune)

Wondering how you’re going to pay for a $25,000 rooftop solar system? Help is on the way.

Two historic climate laws — one state, one federal — offer incentives that cut the cost for residential solar by more than half, starting this week.

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed by President Joe Biden last month, includes a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of installing home solar, and the Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act offers an incentive expected to save rooftop solar customers roughly 40% of their costs, starting Thursday.

That would bring the cost of a $25,000 system down to approximately $7,500.

“It’s a really big deal,” said Vito Greco, director of solar programs at the Chicago nonprofit Elevate, which supports clean and affordable energy. “If you’re in Illinois, this is such a great time to get solar.”

Those who don’t pay enough taxes to claim the 30% federal tax credit can now get the full amount anyway, via a check from the government, Greco said.

And residents of low and moderate-income communities can benefit from additional federal tax credits of 10% to 20% of the cost of their solar projects, with some details still being worked out.

The federal tax incentive for people with average or high incomes is straightforward: a credit that reduces what you owe in taxes, not a deduction, so you would get $7,500 back on a $25,000 system.

The federal solar tax credit — increased and extended 10 years under the Inflation Reduction Act — is retroactive through the beginning of 2022.

Read more here.

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