How sprawl affects Hoo Haven—part one

Hoo Haven, located near Durand, is the largest wildlife rehabilitation complex in most of northern Illinois and all of southern Wisconsin. The reason they’re the biggest around is something Hoo Haven founder Karen Herdklotz likes to get on her soapbox and talk about. No, the high patient numbers at Hoo Haven are not because of West Nile virus or a new pesticide. Hoo Haven is the largest because of sprawl.

“This year, we’ve taken in eight first-year red-tailed hawks from the growth corridor near Highway 173 in the Machesney Park area alone,” said Herdklotz. “All the young birds were starving to death because the tree habitat they were hatched and fledged in was bulldozed in July and August. Now they should be catching their own food, but their parents’ nesting territory is gone, and young birds won’t leave that territory till fall. For these birds, fall would have been too late.”

In mid-September, a starving kestrel was brought to Hoo Haven. Despite immediate emergency treatment, the bird died in 15 minutes. Kestrels normally do well in our rural areas using highline wire perches to hunt unmowed road shoulders along county roads. However, sprawling neighborhoods popping up along country roads is destroying the wild shoulders. More and more shoulders clear up to the fence line are being mowed by the new rural sprawl residents. They think they’re in the city with all the super anal, no-weed- must-be-left-standing mentality that city ordinances pound people with. People leave the city or city subdivision seeking open spaces, but they end up making the open spaces more like the city.

People do the same thing when they build along lakefront or riverfront property. After the waterfront house or cottage is built, the lawn is then “constructed.” When the “lawn” starts looking like the old city home in Cicero or Machesney Park, you then clear away all brush to mow the grass right down to the water. By God, don’t stop there. Cut those aquatic plants, dump in some sand and open your own private biologically dead beach.

I drifted a bit to prove a point. When you sprawl, you kill wildlife, be it lakefront, rural forests, wetlands or farm land. “The very things we seek in the wild, we destroy when we build our homes in the wild,” said Herdklotz.

Hoo Haven, a nonprofit godsend—and Karen gives God much of the credit—has helped more than 500 birds and animals this year alone. Without the encroachment of civilization on all habitats, that 500 number would be much lower. Hoo Haven runs purely on donations and grants. Herdklotz has a full-time job as an R.N., but her work at Hoo Haven is purely volunteered. Karen and her husband, Steven, are devoted to caring for sick and injured wildlife. The love and compassion they feel for their patients is infectious. The critters in residence at Hoo Haven appear to be part of a big family, which lovingly includes humans.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues.

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