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Migratory bird habitat threatened by firing range plan

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Environmental groups are opposing a Chicago Police Department plan to build a firing range in a Southeast Side wetland area that’s a habitat for rare migratory birds.

The first and possibly last public hearing in the community on the subject – announced just four days ago – takes place at noon tomorrow (Saturday, October 30) at the UAW Hall at 13600 S. Torrence.

Despite having recommended that the area remain as open space in the Calumet Land Use Plan, the city is seeking a 39-year, $10-a-year lease from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for the 33-acre site, located in a larger area owned by the district along the Little Calumet River and south of 134th Street.

Two ponds in the MWRD property, the O’Brien Lock Marsh and Whitford Pond, are designated as National Wetlands by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Judith Lihota, president of the Calumet Ecological Park Association [2].  The shooting range would be right next to Whitford Pond and nearby the site where Ford is planning to build an environmental center.

The range would have capacity for 40 shooters and be operated from 8 a.m.  to 8 p.m., according to a noise study done for the city.

On a recent tour of the area with city and state officials, Lihota saw blue herons and white egrets.  The shooting will certainly drive off the birds, further reducing limited nesting options for migratory and wetland birds in the area, she said.

There are many abandoned industrial properties where a shooting range could be sited without disturbing sensitive wildlife areas, according to the Southeast Environmental Task Force in a blog post [3].

Residents learned of the plan when the proposal appeared on an MWRD board agenda in June, Lihota said.  She said the city and police department have refused requests to do a wildlife study of the area they want to take over.

MWRD is expected to vote on the proposal November 4.