Chipping Away at Starved Rock

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By Dave Coulter

Rough Edges

Wetlands adjacent and feeding into Starved Rock State Park are under threat of ruination due to a proposed mining project.  The Illinois Sierra Club and others have raised concerns about the potential impacts this mine will have on a state park that is much beloved and much visited. The LaSalle County Board is poised to vote on this permit in ten days.  I did take up the Sierra Club on their offer to contact the board on this issue, even though I am not a resident of their county.

The State of Illinois has very few remaining natural areas left. This dearth of prairies, wetlands and forests is the legacy of our collective history. Virtually all of our midwestern prairie soils were converted to farmland to feed a growing nation. The handful of prairies and wetlands that remain are here by fluke, accident, or good luck. For example, were it not for the economic calamity of the Great Depression Wolf Road and Gensburg Markham Prairies would have been subdivided and built up. Their value to society as natural areas came years later when it was recognized that The Prairie State had almost none.  I don't know the land use history for this wetland parcel that is now in the spotlight, but it is the state's natural lands inventory. I'll bet there are some amazing things living there - plants and animals that have been on the run since the end of the 18th century.

It might be better now, but for the longest time I felt Illinoisans knew more about the dangers to distant rainforests and oceans than to....Illinois. And it would be hard to blame them. What is left of our vast natural bounty has been reduced - in many ways - to outdoor museum exhibits. I'm not knocking what we have, mind you. We owe a great debt to those local 20th century naturalists that raised hell to save the scraps that we try to keep and maintain today. These scraps of land give us the last living glimpses of the beauty that this land once held, and what we have lost.  

I truly do not envy the LaSalle County Board. They have to again judge this age old debate of jobs vs. nature. Last fall, one of E's daughters and I rode our bikes through the Illinois River valley. We pedaled through Starved Rock and Buffalo Rock State Parks. We also toured many of the small towns along the way. I have no doubt jobs in this region are needed, and needed badly. They will try to balance the immediate needs of real people versus the loss of yet one more tiny strand holding together the Illinois landscape - a strand that probably seems anonymous to all but a few naturalists. Such anonymity is a tragedy, but it too is a part of our legacy. 

No, I am not a resident of LaSalle County and I can't predict how much impact an email from a non-constituent from Cook County would have. But I am a resident of the State, and I do care about the very few natural areas that remain. Can this - or any - county board predict how the loss of one more tiny strand will affect the bigger web of nature?  This is a decision I can only hope they consider very thoughtfully. 

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