Elizabeth J. Folk Van Arsdell: 2022 candidate for DuPage County Forest Preserve Board District 5
Office sought: DuPage Forest Preserve Commission District 5
Previous offices held: None
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: I grew up in Naperville, and my husband and I raised our six children here. We are deeply rooted in DuPage County, and I have been actively involved in our schools, church, and community all of my life, though I have not previously run for office. I am doing so now with a focus to help conserve, maintain, and expand our forest preserves and to increase the health of our land and water for the benefit of all of our citizens and the well-being of future generations.
Much of DuPage County has been developed, but we are fortunate in the generosity and foresight of those who provided for our open spaces and our forest preserves. Growing up, our family frequently visited the forest preserves where we each developed an abiding respect and appreciation for nature. Providing children opportunity to freely explore and appreciate our outdoor environment allows the love of nature and sense of responsibility to take root and grow.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your two biggest contributions to the board. If you are a non-incumbent, describe two ways you would contribute to the board.
A: I plan to promote the fiscal accountability and responsibility of the board with full recognition of our obligation to taxpayers to budget wisely and to operate with sound fiscal procedures. I have a degree in accounting with a minor in finance. Practicing as a CPA for many years with a "Big Four" accounting firm, I managed services to some of my firm's most significant clients, gaining critical business experience and insight.
Subsequent to this, I studied biology and physical sciences at Benedictine University and received an M.D. from Northwestern University School of Medicine, though I chose not to practice.
My business and science backgrounds, together with my work and community experience, provide me with a solid, broad background to address all aspects of the board's operations: preservation, stewardship, and expansion of our natural resources and assets with focus on sustainability; fiscal responsibility; and outreach, engagement, and responsiveness to citizens of DuPage County.
Q: What role should the forest preserve play in preserving historic buildings on its land?
A: Each unique situation needs to be assessed. At a point, this may require reevaluating the preservation decision for factors including historical significance, value to the community, structural integrity, utility of the building, and financial rationality. Ultimately, our responsibility to the mission of the forest preserve, to the community, and to the taxpayer will be key factors in any such consideration.
If there is a commitment to a structure, then there is an obligation at a minimum to secure and maintain the structure to ensure its safety for the community. Ideally, there would be a utility to a preserved structure which would either help fund its maintenance and restoration, or otherwise provide useful space for forest preserve operations.
Grants have been used to help in restoration, and we should continue to seek such funds. Shared services programs with community organizations or local governments may also make the preservation fiscally reasonable and sustainable.
Q: How would you rate the job the commission is doing to develop existing forest preserves and make them accessible to residents? How would you approach things differently?
A: There has been an emphasis on accomplishing master plan projects too quickly. Our focus should be on the core mission of the forest preserve, and the various aspects should be prioritized by citizens as reflected in the 2017 community survey: protection and expansion of natural areas, maintenance of other assets, and establishing connections to link the trail system.
Regular land maintenance must be emphasized in the annual budget to avoid massive ecological restorations now included as master plan projects. Careful consideration should be given before removing healthy, noninvasive mature trees, which are vital to environmental health.
Progress on our trail system has stalled. We should prioritize completing the trail systems, and addressing accessibility and safety. We want our citizens to have linked access to trails and preserves throughout DuPage County and beyond, as was so thoughtfully planned years ago.
Q: What is the most important issue facing the forest preserves in your district and how should it be addressed?
A: Promoting the well-being of our current and future environment is a vital issue facing the forest preserves, and each of us. Supporting biodiversity is needed to enhance the health of our land and water. Mature trees are vital to our environment and air quality; healthy mature trees should be protected, suitable new trees should be planted, and invasive plant species should be promptly removed.
We must focus on protecting and properly managing lands and forests in watershed areas to improve the quality of our water. Further, we must act now to reduce our carbon footprint.
The study, implementation, and continued enhancement of renewable and sustainable energy sources in a practical and reasoned manner must be a continuing goal as assets are maintained or replaced. Each decision must focus on the best available data and cost-benefit analyses, with a clear, long-term objective of enhancing our environment by reducing carbon emissions for the benefit of future generations.