Displaying items by tag: rivers
There is a concept known as the Commons which refers to all of the natural resources that do not belong to any single entity or individual, but belong to society as a whole.
Commons includes air, water, navigable rivers, the oceans and the like. Every living thing needs some combination of air and water to live. And rivers and oceans are in constant motion, so do not lend themselves to individual ownership.
What hasn’t always been clear is whether some have the right to pollute the Commons – or overfish the oceans, rivers and lakes – even if that spoils them for others. Before clean air and water laws, people and businesses used air and water to dumping waste because that didn’t cost anything, which was good for the bottom line. Nevermind that thick, brown smog blanketed urban areas and rivers sometimes caught on fire.
Over time, regulations were enacted to help protect the commonly used air and water so that the decisions of some to release pollution into them were balanced with the health and well-being of all people. These regulations improved life and the economy for everyone. Rivers don’t catch on fire, Lake Erie isn’t dead, and one cannot see the air in US cities.
Yet, problems persist. An “island” of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean is larger than Texas. Coal mining companies literally remove the material from the top of mountains in Appalachia and dump the rock onto the surrounding landscape to mine the coal in the mountains. Hydraulic fracturing, “fracking,” to extract natural gas that is trapped in shale formations deep underground, has resulted in polluted water supplies from Pennsylvania to Australia.
The situation is what economists have long described as “the tragedy of the Commons,” meaning that when individuals make decisions about the use of shared resources, they will act in their own self-interest, whether or not that is good or bad for the community. Another way of putting it is that people and businesses tend to make decisions based on short-term gains rather than long-term sustainability.
For those who saw “The Lorax” movie, or read the book, the story is familiar. Use and despoil the local resources so long as a profit can be made, then when the money dries up, move on and start over some place new.
Personally, I object to the term “tragedy” because it implies that there is some aspect of fate that led to the bad situation. It is tragic when a man catches the early train to get home to surprise the family, only to be killed when that train is derailed in a collision with a truck. It is not tragic when a company injects toxic chemicals into a well knowing that 5% of the well casings will fail, and the chemicals then show up in local wells and people get sick. I would not call that a tragedy – I would call it a crime.
After all, everyone needs clean air and clean water to live. No one needs natural gas to live.
“Green infrastructure" - as opposed to traditional built infrastucture like roads - includes the living systems like wetlands and woodlands that provide essential support to our communities in the form of reduced flooding, improved air quality and enhanced water quality.
The illustration shows a classic green infrastructure network of core areas linked by corridors.
The recently unveiled McHenry County Green Infrastructure Plan identifies a network of undeveloped lands that will help ensure the county’s human and natural communities can support one another in perpetuity. The plan includes recommendations for preservation of the existing wetlands, oak woodlands, prairies and streams, use of built green infrastructure like raingardens and green roofs, and the needs of green infrastructure to supports the county’s full diversity of plants and animals. A copy of the plan and maps can be found at www.co.mchenry.il.us/departments/planninganddevelopment/.
A green infrastructure vision for McHenry County is also included in the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision (CW-GIV), due for release later this month. Chicago Wilderness covers an area that extends from southeast Wisconsin all the way around the southern end of Lake Michigan and into southwestern Michigan. The CW-GIV will be a guide to “creating a region where healthy ecosystems contribute to economic vitality and a high quality of life for all residents” (www.chicagowilderness.org). Additionally, the vision will provide a blueprint for preservation of the region’s biodiversity by focusing conservation efforts on preservation and restoration of the lands and waters necessary for the full diversity of native plants and animals found in the region to thrive.
Back in 1999, Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance of more than 200 conservation organizations, published a Biodiversity Recovery Plan for the region. It may come as a surprise, but the Chicago Wilderness geographic area is home to an amazing diversity of globally rare plants, animals and natural communities.That’s right, despite a human population of more than 8 million people, plants like the prairie white-fringed orchid, animals such as the Blanding’s turtle, and natural communities that include fens, bogs and oak savannas all survive on the planet due – at least in part – to conservation efforts in the greater Chicago region.
Part of the ecological success is due to more than 370,000 acres of land that has been preserved by local, state and federal government agencies. However, the vast majority of land in the region is owned by individuals – it always has been and always will be – and the decisions those landowners make to preserve, restore or develop their land will determine the character and environmental health of the region.
When one looks at the portion of Chicago Wilderness that is in Illinois, there is one county that stands out for the remnant natural communities that exist – and natural areas that could be restored: McHenry County.
For those who live here, that fact is no surprise. Local rivers and streams, including the Nippersink and Kishwaukee, are among the highest quality in the entire state. The local oak woods – while greatly diminished from the 1830’s – are the most substantial remaining oak woods in northeastern Illinois. A great diversity of wetlands from sedge meadows to fens and seeps are still found here. Plus, more than half of the land in the county is farmed, so many of the wetland areas that were drained for farming 80 or more years ago are still farmed today, meaning that there is an opportunity to restore those areas someday.
Private landowners have left an amazing legacy in McHenry County – in some cases by accident, in others, by design. The green infrastructure plans articulate a clear vision that all landowners, conservationists, local governments and developers can follow to ensure that the future balance between people and natural resources in McHenry County is not left to chance, but is preserved by design.
The word infrastructure brings to mind roads, power lines, sewers and other built systems that support the human population. But there is also a natural, living infrastructure that is often overlooked: “green infrastructure.”
One definition of green infrastructure is “strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.” (The Conservation Fund, www.greeninfrastructure.net).
While a growing number of city planners view the trees, prairies, forests, rivers, creeks and wetlands as vital parts of a community’s infrastructure, there is still some discrimination in our society when it comes to infrastructure. Specifically, those things that cost a lot to build and maintain (e.g. roads, sewers, electric grids) are often given preference over the living systems that have been here for centuries.
How often have I heard someone say: “If we want reliable electricity, then the power company needs to cut the trees”? Or how about this one: “That tree creates a hazard for drivers on the road, so needs to be removed”? Why does the conversation always seem to pit the built systems against the living ones? It’s concrete versus trees, and tile lines versus wetlands.
Fortunately, financial realities of these times are causing communities to give the living parts of infrastructure greater consideration. The City of Crystal Lake has a green infrastructure plan, the City of Woodstock is developing a plan and the McHenry County Board will soon consider a countywide vision of green infrastructure.
One reason for the growing interest in green infrastructure is that a healthy natural system makes important contributions to society while requiring minimal maintenance. Rake up some leaves, keep pollution out of the creeks, allow sufficient buffers around wetlands, and generally the living infrastructure will work just fine. And, the living infrastructure provides a multitude of services to people for generations without having to be torn up and replaced like a road.
Consider that in the course of each day, a tree helps reduce the rate of storm water run-off, cleans the air by filtering particulate matter, provides shade, adds market value to our homes, provides habitat for many birds, insects and mammals, absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.
Won’t it be wonderful one day when all infrastructure is treated equally?
There are several efforts nearing completion to define Green Infrastructure in McHenry County as well as the region.
The McHenry County Department of Planning is creating a Green Infrastructure Plan for the County. The plan’s main goal is to describe a desired network of interconnected natural lands along with appropriate buffers to help reduce future land use conflicts between people and the essential natural connections. The plan also will offer policy recommendations to support the network. After several months of working with many conservation professionals, municipal park managers, and trail planners from throughout the area, the plan is nearing completion. Please check the Department’s website for the latest information. http://www.co.mchenry.il.us/departments/planninganddevelopment/Pages/GreenInfrastructure.aspx
Chicago Wilderness is set to release a Green Infrastructure Vision for northeastern Illinois as a guide to “creating a region where healthy ecosystems contribute to economic vitality and a high quality of life for all residents” (www.chicagowilderness.org). Additionally, the vision will provide a blueprint for preservation of the region’s biodiversity by focusing conservation efforts on preservation and restoration of the lands and waters necessary for the full diversity of native plants and animals found in the region to thrive.