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Preservationists Say Doherty Amendment Would Harm Forest Preserve Ecology

UPDATE added on July 30, 2009: Via e-mail from Rebecca Blazer, Director, Forest Preserve Initiative, Friends of the Parks Tel 312-857-2757 x17.

“In the City Council meeting yesterday, the Air Pollution Control Ordinance with Ald. Doherty’s [41st Ward] amendments restricting burning WAS DEFERRED!

I believe it takes two alderman for an ordinance to be deferred, but three aldermen went on the record asking for this ordinance to be deferred: Ald. Tunney [44th], Ald. Schulter [47th],  and Ald. Shiller [46th.]

Benjamin Cox, Executive Director, of Friends of the Forest Preserves and I will be talking with these aldermen … I spoke to Alderman Tunney afterwards, and he seemed confident that with some more work, “we’ll get it right.”
The Chicago City Council votes today on an amendment to the Air Pollution Control Ordinance that some preservationists say would harm the health of area parks and forest preserves.

Ald. Brian Doherty (41st) submitted an amendment that calls for a 200-yard buffer between residences and areas where controlled burns are conducted – the original ordinance called for a 50-yard buffer and included many provisions for notification of neighbors.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) is sensitive to the safety concerns of homeowners who live adjacent to the preserves, and has conducted controlled burns for more than 30 years without incident, according to Friends of the Park (FOTP).

A call to Doherty’s office for comment on FOTP objections to the amendment was not returned in time for publication.

Friends of the Parks has been connecting experts, volunteers and everyone interested in Chicago parks since 1975. One of the group’s projects is the Forest Preserve Initiative, which follows best practices about keeping forests healthy and reducing the threat of forest fires to communities surrounding forests, the group says. According the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service, managed “burns” improve wildlife habitat on about 63,000 acres of National Wildlife Refuge System lands throughout the Midwest.

Forest Preserves if buffered 200 yards.
Forest Preserves if buffered 200 yards.

Such buffer areas fill in with invasive plants, which crowd out native plant and wildlife species, and cause loss of capacity to store stormwater, increased erosion, etc. The Lake County Forest Preserve Web site notes that “Every spring and fall, our ecologists safely burn hundreds of acres throughout Lake County. Why? Because fire is one of the things these areas need to regain a healthy diversity of species.”

The FOTP is asking supporters to call their alderman and them to reject the amendment and support the original language in section 11-4-740 of the ordinance, which provides exemption from the ordinance for those ecological restoration practices that are already regulated by the state.

If you want to check out the Forest Preserves and FOTP for yourself, the group is  sponsoring a “clean up and wildflower walk” at Spicebush Woods this Saturday, Aug 1st from 9 a.m. to noon. Spicebush Woods is a high-quality oak woodland in Chicago’s Edgebrook neighborhood that is preserve threatened by invasive brush.

Rebecca Blazer, Director Forest Preserve Initiative, Friends of the Parks contributed to this article.

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