June 13, 2005

Last Week For Comments on Shawnee Plan

If you haven't been to Illinois' only national forest, the Shawnee, it is a really special part of the state. Roadless forests, pristine streams, unique geologic formations, and more make the Shawnee an outdoor recreation mecca for the midwest, and an important ecological resource for many species of wildlife.

Sierra Club won a lawsuit a decade ago overturning a plan to allow logging, oil drilling, and mining on the Shawnee. Now the Forest Service has a new proposed plan, with some improvements, but again with provisions for logging and mining.

You have until June 20th to add your voice to Illinoisans who are asking the Forest Service to make habitat protection and passive outdoor recreation the top priorities for the Shawnee.

More information is available at:

June 03, 2005

Spring Session Brings Modest Gains For Illinois' Environment

The 2005 Spring session of the Illinois General Assembly produced some modest but important gains in environmental policy, clear defeats of all anti-environment proposals, and wins and losses in the battles over the budget. Thanks to the grassroots lobbying work of Sierra Club members and others across the state, the professional lobbying under the Capitol dome by the Illinois Environmental Council and its affiliates, and the dedication of the legislators in both chambers and parties who made clean air, clean water, and conservation among their priorities in a very busy session. All our work absolutely made a difference, and our state is better off for it.

Among the important improvements made to Illinois law that await Governor Blagojevich’s expected signature are these pollution control measures:

-A ban on two flame-retardant chemicals that are linked to cancer, reproductive damage, and other major health problems. These chemicals do not break down quickly in the environment, and can be found in the dust virtually everywhere – on our furniture, on the floor, in the air. Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who is quickly establishing herself as one of state government’s most effective environmental advocates, did an impressive job neutralizing strong opposition from big chemical polluters. She had to compromise her original proposal to study instead of ban a third chemical of concern, but that study will be underway soon.

-New authority for Illinois EPA to force immediate action to stop toxic waste dumping at contaminated sites, and new requirements for the Agency to notify residents when groundwater may be threatened by toxic waste. Credit Lt. Governor Pat Quinn for drawing attention to these weaknesses in existing law, and IEPA Director Renee Cipriano, Sen. John Cullerton, and Rep. Tom Holbrook to capitalizing on the political moment to close a longstanding loophole in the law.

-The Governor’s proposal to crack down on illegal dumps may have been born of a political clash, but the end result is another needed upgrade in Illinois EPA’s ability to immediately close down unpermitted dumping operations.

-New authority for counties in the Metro East area and the exurban counties beyond Chicago’s current suburbs to adopt the kind of local stormwater management programs that have proven successful in northeastern Illinois at reducing pollution and protecting wetlands.

The clearest trend of the session was the sound defeat of all anti-environment measures. Dirtbikers folded their campaign to open up state parks to ATVs early. There was little support for refunding pollution fees to water polluters. The Governor’s office wisely pulled the plug on a proposal to relax controls on large livestock facilities. And after “The Wetland Destruction Act” passed the Senate while opponents weren’t looking, SB 761 wasn’t even called for a vote in the House Energy and Environment Committee in the face of a storm of opposition from local governments and conservationists.

As the ink dries on the new state budget, the most striking fact is that the key land acquisition funds used by the IDNR to protect natural areas and open space were among the ONLY dedicated funds in state government spared the axe. This is a huge victory for all of us in the Partners for Parks and Wildlife coalition, and a continuing benefit of the tremendous show of support for these programs in 2004 and again this Spring. On the downside, it remains to be seen how broad raids on many funds used by the Illinois EPA will affect their ability to protect out air and water. The help for the CTA, thanks to Rep. Julie Hamos, definitely averts increases in air pollution that service cuts and more fare hikes would produce. More transit funds in St. Clair County will help, while cuts to most downstate transit districts will hurt.

Certainly there were disappointments, including the failure to move a positive wetland protection bill. State Rep. Karen May’s dogged pursuit of a consensus proposal to protect kids from the toxic mercury in car parts fell short this year. But by and large, Illinois environmentalists who were a part of this year’s legislative process can be proud that their effort made a difference for the better.

Anne Kawaters, 1936-2005

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of a great environmentalist and friend Anne Kawaters. After about 40 days of fighting ovarian cancer Anne succumbed to the disease in the St. James Hospice Unit quietly and with no perceptible pain on Monday night, May 23rd.

Anne was born in Paradise, PA (near Lancaster) on January 16, 1936. After moving from the East in 1968, Anne resided with her husband Alan in Chicago Heights, Illinois. She and Alan have two children Cassandra (Cassie) and David. They also have two grandchildren Colleen and Ryan.

Anne trained her son David and daughter Cassie early in sound conservation practices. David Kawaters remembers the races his Mother organized to get the most pine seedlings planted to control erosion on scouting outings in New Jersey.

After moving to Illinois in 1968, Anne was involved in Girl Scout of America activities as both a mother, leader, and camp director. In the late 1960’s there were numerous outings to the Girl Scouts of America camp near Elkhart, Indiana. The family humorously remembers the time when Anne was in charge of the GSA cookie distribution for all of Cook County. Answering a sharp rap at the door Anne saw their entire street filled with four highway trucks waiting to unload the cookies. Apparently on the shipping documents the ordered by and ship to address had been reversed. Anne quickly got the trucks rolling again to the warehouse location where they were meant to be delivered. The re-routing brought relief of the family who thought that they might have to unload and store that many cookies.

In 1979 and 1980 Anne organized and led family canoe camping sojourns through Quetico Park in Ontario, Canada. David Kawaters remembers picking up and carrying trash back in the canoes from campsites where users had not practiced good wilderness etiquette. About this time Anne participated and urged her family to join her in canoe races throughout Illinois and Wisconsin. The Fox River Race and Des Plaines Marathon are two races that the family remembers clearly.

Anne’s love for the outdoors and passion for conservation led her to join the Sierra Club in 1978. She was one of the early organizers of the Sauk-Calumet Group of the Sierra Club, which serves Sierra Club members in Chicago’s south suburbs. Today, the Sauk-Calumet Group has nearly 1900 members and is one of 15 groups comprising the IL Chapter of the National Sierra Club. The Sauk-Calumet Group has met continuously since 1979. Anne was elected Chair in 1987. She served in that role from 1987-2005.

Anne was a natural leader, and had a wonderful ability to facilitate meetings and bring people together. Although the Sauk-Calumet board meetings ran long, Anne allowed all members to state their viewpoints fully. She also worked hard after meetings to get those with differing viewpoints to agree on a consensus point of view after heated debate. This led to long tenures for persons on the executive board and the forming of lifelong friendships of the board members. Anne was also skilled at getting people to volunteer for tasks both large and small. And last but not least was Anne’s legendary ability to raise funds through Sierra Club Calendar sales that supported Sierra Club’s conservation work in the south suburbs and Illinois.

As one of the founding members and longtime leader of the Sauk-Calumet Group of the Sierra Club, Anne was involved and often a key leader in conservation and environmental protection efforts in the south suburbs over the last quarter century. Among them are:

-The successful campaign to establish the Old Plank Road Trail as a hiking and biking path from Park Forest to Joliet. Just a vision when Anne and her friends began to work for it decades ago, today it provides recreation opportunities for residents of the entire region, and restored habitat for wildlife.

-The establishment of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie at the former Joliet Arsenal, and the ongoing volunteer work to restore native habitat there for future generations to enjoy.

-The protection of Cook County Forest Preserve properties, including Bartel Grasslands, from commercial use proposals

-Successful opposition to garbage and tire incinerator proposals that would have brought major sources of toxic mercury and dioxin pollution to the south suburbs.

-The protection of new natural areas and open spaces by local park districs and the Forest Preserve Districts of Cook and Will Counties

-Opposition to the third regional Chicago area airport proposed at various times for the Lake Calumet region, Gary, and Peotone

-Successful effort to protect the waters of Thorn Creek from a proposed “peaker” type electric generating plant that was to be located in Chicago Heights.

Through her work conservation work Anne leaves a legacy of a cleaner and greener south suburban region, to the benefit of current and future generations.

In addition to her Sierra Club leadership, Anne was a long time member of Thorn Creek Audubon and a habitat restoration volunteer in the Bartel Grasslands. She also participated in the Chicago Heights Advisory Panel, which made regular plant visits to local chemical manufacturers to examine their safety procedures.

While Anne devoted substantial energy and hours to conservation efforts, she also had other passions, interests and contributions to her community.

She was a great advocate of the arts. Recently she gave her own presentation to the Flossmoor Art Associates about Auguste Rodin and Camille Caudette. Both Anne and her husband Alan enjoyed the annual season performances of the Lyric opera. She also presented programs on archeology at Governors State University about of the archeology in the Yucatan region in Mexico. Anne’s interest in archeology stemmed from her studies and degree in geology from Governors State University.

Anne and her husband Alan were also competitive tennis players. They followed the sport avidly and traveled to see the Wimbledon Tournament.

Anne was also very involved in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Park Forest, where she served as the Pledge Drive Coordinator as well as being a soprano in the church choir.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 12, at Unitarian Universalist Community Church, 70 Sycamore Drive, Park Forest.

There is an obituary for Anne in today's Chicago Tribune at