CHICAGO (October 23, 2019) — Today Audubon Great Lakes is announcing the completion of a new water control structure project at Eggers Grove, a Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) property. The new construction will restore the 240-acre southeast Chicago marsh by improving FPCC’s ability to control the marsh’s water levels – which have artificially remained stable for decades – thereby improving habitat for migrating birds and the region’s secretive marsh birds, which inhabit wetlands with a mixture of open water and dense emergent vegetation.
“Eggers Grove’s artificially high water levels made the area unsuitable for many birds that once nested or stopped to rest and refuel during their migratory travels,” said Bradford Kasberg, Audubon Great Lakes’ wetland restoration manager. “Native bird species that were once abundant in our region, such as Least Bittern and Virginia Rail, have been in steep decline. This completed restoration can help save these birds.”
“With this new system, we can recreate the conditions that existed at Eggers Grove before the local region became developed,” said Chip O’Leary, deputy director of resource management for the Forest Preserves. “In our urbanized landscape, it takes new techniques to restore habitats. This site can become a hemi-marsh again; adjusting water levels and applying proper vegetation management will bring back migrating birds and other wildlife.”
Increased flooding, rapid fluctuations of Great Lakes water levels, and invasive species are contributing to the rapid degradation of regional wetlands, especially of the deeper water marshes and that’s bad news for people and birds. Development has disrupted the ability of the water to naturally ebb and flow; thick carpets of invasive plants such as common reed and narrow-leaved cattail have overrun otherwise structurally diverse and dynamic marshes, while others have been converted to ponds. Half a century of neglect and degradation has taken a toll on the ability of nature to help us but has also led to a sharp decline in many bird species.
Scientists and specialists from FPCC, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Audubon Great Lakes found this to be true with Eggers Grove, which had a deteriorating and clogged drainage system. Audubon contributed $65,000, through a 2018 Wildlife Conservation Society, Climate Adaptation grant. TNC and FPCC provided funds through Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants. The newly constructed system of gates that manually open and close at three locations will create a more natural rhythm of water level change. This periodic change encourages a cycle of native plant germination that stable water levels do not provide, allowing for better wetland habitat and hopefully, more marsh birds.
Audubon Great Lakes is a regional office of the National Audubon Society, which protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at gl.audubon.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.