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Another View

Guest View: Once the Joliet Junior College fen is gone, it's gone

The Sauk-Calumet Group, a group of the Illinois Sierra Club, would like to make its views known on the proposed building of a road through the natural areas owned by Joliet Junior College.

Within those natural areas just north of the campus lies a rare geological and biological formation known as a fen.

A fen is a rare wetland area which is alkaline and which harbors rare plants and animals. The Illinois Natural Areas Inventory has estimated that there are only about 350 acres of fens surviving in the entire state of Illinois.

The Sauk-Calumet Group wants the Joliet Junior College president and Board of Trustees to know that we would greatly mourn the loss of this highly significant site, if it were lost.

We ask you, at the very least, to require the developer, Cullinan Properties, to reroute the road so that it does not impact this unique and valuable site.

The Joliet Junior College’s fen contains an assortment of rare plants and animals that depend upon it for survival. Among the plants growing there are blue flag iris, fen betony, fen thistle, great angelica, great blue lobelia, Michigan lily, swamp marigold, turtlehead, and tussock sedge.

Several of these are what are termed conservative species, meaning that they only thrive at high-quality sites, sites not greatly impacted by human interference.

Among the animals who make the fen home are bluebirds, cricket frogs, meadow voles, queen snakes, short-tail shrews, and white-footed mice. What is to become of such creatures, if we, their caretakers, continue to appropriate their habitat for our own use?

It has been suggested that another area can be created to compensate for the loss of this site, but this disregards the unique qualities of the site, both geologically and biotically.

Geologically, the site was formed by glaciers such that the waters coming into the fen now percolate through the limestone rock, making it alkaline. The only way to reproduce such a formation would be to bring back the glacier.

And, as we have said, this site harbors several conservative species which are not likely to survive in another (man-made) habitat. To think that a comparable site can be put together with some hydrology, some suitable soil, and some seed is, actually, unrealistic about what nature can and cannot do.

We understand that some of the areas surrounding the fen have some management issues, although the fen itself is in good condition. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Prairie and savanna restoration science is still in its infancy, and these areas can function as a great living laboratory for faculty and students to work with and learn from. Especially for JJC’s biology students, but also for the entire student body that visits the site, Joliet Junior College’s natural areas represent a living connection to nature that can continue to teach and inspire for as long as these areas are protected and managed.

We at Sierra Club take our responsibility as advocates for the preservation of nature very seriously. We have been to the site and have had explained to us some of the management issues mentioned above.

This is indeed a significant site, one whose beauty and rare natural diversity commend itself to us as something well worth preserving in perpetuity.

In this time of increasing human development, areas like this are becoming all that much more valuable, not only due to their rarity and the critical habitat they provide for plants and animals, but also for the recreational and spiritual services they provide to us who visit them.

Finally, we would like the president and the board to know that we understand that this is no easy decision. We realize that the college would benefit from the funds that would be gained with the sale of the land to Cullinan Properties.

These funds could be used for programs, equipment or facilities that would benefit Joliet Junior College students. We just ask the president and board to remember that, most likely in just a few years, all the funds from this sale will be expended and all the benefits that can be derived from them will be used up.

But at that point the fen will be gone forever. We think that would be a tragedy not only for the living things that inhabit the fen but also for the college, its students, and anyone who chooses to visit the site.

• Patrick Coffey is the political chair of the Sauk-Calumet Group of the Illinois Sierra Club.

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