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posted: 5/24/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Endangered animals are needed for our health, well-being

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Sometimes the fate of the smallest critters creates the biggest controversies.

Remember the snail darter? The tiny fish that you could fit in the palm of your hand lived in eastern Tennessee and was relocated to other suitable habitats decades ago -- but only after the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in.

Justices eventually approved the construction of a dam that would have threatened the fishes' spawning route and, thus, its existence.

There's the Blanding's turtle, which as an endangered species has caused headaches for suburban developers who have had to alter plans to build in such places as Elgin when the turtles' existence was discovered.

Such cases have caused much eye rolling and many derisive comments about tree-huggers.

What possible effect could the departure of one tiny species have on your life?

Now think bigger.

Lake and Cook counties have more endangered and threatened species than any other counties in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' Illinois National Heritage Database.

In Monday's edition, reporter Jamie Sotonoff wrote that Lake has 138 endangered and threatened species and Cook has 112. McHenry has 83, DuPage 62 and Kane 55.

Among them are majestic birds of prey like the peregrine falcon and osprey, and statuesque wading birds like the little blue heron and the least bittern. There are fish and plants, too.

Many of these species are reliant on wetland habitats that existed long before European settlers came to this area less than 200 years ago. Since that time, Kane County Forest Preserve naturalist Valerie Blaine writes in a recent Daily Herald column, natural areas in Kane County have been reduced by more than 90 percent.

And Kane County in the past 20 years has set the gold standard for buying up land for forest preserves and purchasing development rights from retiring farmers to maintain a healthy balance of natural areas. It's not surprising, then, that among suburban counties Kane has the lowest number of endangered species.

They're endangered because of us -- because our homes have encroached on their habitats, because pollutants find their way into the water. When there are fewer animals living among the reeds, there is less for the falcons to eat.

So why should any of this matter to you?

Look around. It's nice that the shopping is close and there are plenty of restaurant options down the road. But do you picnic in a mall parking lot?

Imagine taking a canoe out on the Des Plaines River and hearing nothing but traffic noise.

Think of all the extra mosquitoes we'd have if there were fewer birds to eat them. And the pests that would thrive unchecked without their natural predators around.

Life in the suburbs is great, and nature is a big part of that.

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