Less than one-tenth of one percent of quality natural land remains anywhere in Illinois. That’s roughly the equivalent of a small bedside nightstand in a 2,500 square foot home; provided you chop that nightstand into a thousand pieces and scatter them throughout theplace.
Less than one-tenth of one percent. Chopped up into a thousand pieces.
One of the biggest and best remaining pieces is Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and its sister sites – Goose Lake Prairie and DesPlaines Conservation Area.
Yesterday’s vote by the MPO Policy Committee paves the way for the Illiana Expressway to be built right through the middle of this last best stand of nature in all of Northern Illinois.
IDOT engineers assure us that there will be no adverse effects on the natural areas through which the Illiana will course 43,000 vehicles per day. Pardon me, but I’m going trust the ecologists, botanists and avian experts who are not on the state payroll.
Experts tell me – supported by data that I help collect as a volunteer bird monitor at Midewin – that Midewin is a critical refuge for grassland birds. Over the past few decades, suburban sprawl has gobbled up farmland and grasslands at an explosive rate. As a result, “grassland birds have experienced steeper, more consistent, and more widespread population declines than any other avian guild in North America.” Populations of the eastern meadowlark, for instance, whose image is emblazoned on Midewin’s logo, has declined by 72 percent. To put it another way, there are 17 million fewer meadowlarks today than there were in 1970.
Building the Illiana will drive a stake through the heart of Midewin. It will gobble up thousands of acres of farmland. Tens of thousands. For once the road is built, unchecked suburban sprawl will follow as it has throughout our history; the very thing that the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and its Go To 2040 Plan was hoping to avoid in favor of smart, strategic, sustainable development for the entire region – not just the politically advantageous county of Will.
If the Illiana is built – and I have no doubt that in the end the state, not the much heralded private partners, will undertake the lion’s share of financial risk in building it – Midewin will remain. But it will be decidedly less. It will be green, but comparatively devoid of the bird song that should fill it. This, too, will be your legacy. A perpetual Silent Spring save for the constant roar of cars and commerce. And so it seems fitting that I leave you with a quote from Rachel Carson:
“Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?”