Protecting endangered species in the suburbs a worthy cause

This editorial is a consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board.

Part of what makes life great in the suburbs is the amount of green space around us. Despite the subdivisions, shopping centers and office campuses, the collar counties have numerous forest preserves containing beautiful prairies, wetlands and woodlands.

But with each forest preserve comes a responsibility to protect its wildlife. Thankfully, the districts maintaining those sites also are working to ensure the preservation of even the smallest critters.

Take, for example, DuPage County's long-running effort to save the Blanding's turtle.

The reptiles are an endangered species in Illinois because of disappearing wetland habitats. People also illegally collect the turtles, known for their vibrant yellow markings.

In the 1990s, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County noticed it was only finding adult Blanding's turtles in its preserves - no juveniles or young adults. It was a sign the turtles were dying off faster than they could repopulate.

To help reverse the trend, the forest preserve district started the region's first Blanding's turtle "head-start" program in 1996.

One problem the Blanding's turtles faced was predators raiding their nests and snatching the eggs. So the district program gives pregnant females a safe place to lay their eggs. Zoos, museums and other partner institutions raise the turtle hatchlings for at least a year in captivity.

When the young turtles are released into the wild, their larger size offers them more protection from predators and a better chance at survival.

Still, DuPage forest preserve officials are looking to do even more.

In a story this month, senior writer Katlyn Smith reported the district is pursuing an "America the Beautiful Challenge" grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund a habitat restoration project. If approved, the work will benefit populations of the Blanding's turtle and rare species of marsh birds, ecologists say.

The proposed $897,737 restoration project includes 439 acres of invasive species control in core Blanding's turtle habitat and the surrounding landscape. The effort would also enhance 46 acres of open water marsh habitat for Blanding's turtles and rare aquatic birds.

The forest preserve district is partnering with the Illinois Department of National Resources on the grant proposal.

We hope the application is approved so the project can start in 2024.

According to the IDNR's Illinois Natural Heritage Database, DuĀ­Page County has 65 endangered and threatened species. Lake has 147, Cook 141, Will 97, McHenry 95 and Kane 71.

Species that once thrived in this area have seen their populations thinned by many years of pesticide use, disappearing habitat and other factors. So anything we can do to help is vitally important. It will only make our region a better place to live for all of us.

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