Long-gone animal returning to woods


Restoration efforts at LaBagh Woods, at Cicero and Foster avenues, are believed to have attracted species of animals which are not normally seen in Chicago.

Jeff Skrentny, who is part of the volunteer steward leadership team that is coordinating the restoration efforts at LaBagh, was the guest speaker at the Feb. 3 meeting of the North Mayfair Improvement Association at the Gompers Park fieldhouse, 4222 W. Foster Ave. "We don’t have great horned howls breeding in the city of Chicago, but here at LaBagh Woods we have a pair which is trying to set up here, and that’s one of the reasons we want to restore LaBagh Woods," Skrentny said.

Skrentny showed slides of animals that have been seen at LaBagh Woods in recent months, including a silver-haired bat, an American mink, an eastern screech owl and a common map turtle. "The mink, this is as good as it gets," Skrentny said.

In addition, the sighting of the turtle represents the first time there has been photo documentation of one in the Cook County Forest Preserve District in 30 years, Skrentny said.

Uncommon plants that have been seen recently in the forest preserve include Michigan lily, blue flag iris and nodding ladies tresses, Skrentny said. LaBagh features a mix of habitats that is unusual for an urban area, including "a raised wet prairie" that those plants require, he said.

The seeds of the plants have remained dormant for a long time, but the removal of leaf litter as part of the restoration has allowed enough sun and water to get through the soil, Skrentny said. "We have given them an opportunity to come out again," he said.

The restoration includes controlled burns which are used to rid preserves of non-native plants. Some of the trees at LaBagh are missing lower branches because invasive species such buckthorn shaded them out, Skrentny said.

LaBagh has two oak trees that are estimated to be between 250 and 400 years old, and one of them caught the attention of the namesake of LaBagh Woods in the early 1900s. "She’s the one who literally said you are not going to take down this oak," Skrentny said.

Irving Park Woman’s Club member Ella LaBagh expressed concern about trees being cut and clay being dug which in the area, in large part for the brick industry, Skrentny said. Her efforts helped to establish the forest preserve district, which now covers 69,000 acres. "It’s a massive amount of forest preserve for an urban setting," Skrentny said.

Habitat restoration in the county has been controversial at times, as some residents oppose the removal of trees, the use of herbicides and controlled burns to restore prairies, and a moratorium on restoration efforts was implemented in the mid-1990s. The forest preserve district later created a policy that requires that notices be posted before a burn starts.

The Northwest Side was the last area where the moratorium was lifted.

(Photo by Jeff Skrentny)