Marine wants vets involved in Kane preserve project
By Linda Girardi For The Beacon-News July 3, 2012 5:42PM
Kane County Forest Preserve Restoration Ecologist plant tall grass in the marsh areas for the new wetlands at Nelson Lake in Batavia IL, on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 5, 2012 6:04AM
After serving on the frontlines during the Iraq war, Kane County Forest Preserve restoration ecologist Benjamin Haberthur has been on a mission to protect natural areas and help his military comrades.
“My resolve to protect and restore our American ecosystems was really solidified after witnessing the environmental devastation wrought by the Hussein regime,” he said.
“They ditched and drained thousands of acres of Iraq’s marshlands during the war.”
The U.S. Marine Corps veteran now has a mission to deploy more boots on the ground by establishing a Veterans Conservation Corps in the Chicago area, initially with focus on wetlands restoration within the Dick Young Forest Preserve in Batavia.
Haberthur is one of four recipients of a $10,000 conservation grant through the National Audubon Society and Toyota.
TogetherGreen – a conservation initiative — selects 40 high-potential leaders from across the country to be considered to receive the funding for their project.
Peace through nature
Haberthur, 33, was raised in a military family and lived all over the country, including Alaska, California and Washington State — and he finished high school in Kuwait.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves and in 2003 was deployed to Iraq as a machine gunner in Bagdad as the first activated reserve unit.
Haberthur said when he returned to civilian life and began studying environmental science at California State University in Monterey Bay, he discovered how the coastal areas of California provided a peaceful and calming alternative to the stresses of his former military life.
“It gave me a renewed sense of direction for my life after time spent overseas – I think nature can help inspire other veterans,” Haberthur said.
He believes his positive experience with nature can become a broader experience shared by fellow veterans who may be struggling with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
Haberthur said he was inspired by the work of the late Dick Young, a Kane County Forest Preserve conservationist and World War II veteran.
“He was able to overcome all he saw on Iwo Jima at 19-years-old to become a leader in the fight to save our region’s natural areas” Haberthur said of Young. “He embodied the belief that a country worth protecting is worth preserving.”
“I never met him, but he left a lasting legacy at the Forest Preserve of Kane County,” Haberthur said.
Haberthur said the Veterans Conservation Corps would help remove invasive weeds to restore marsh conditions that attract native wildlife, including endangered birds, herons and turtles. He said a 1.6-acre prairie pothole on the western edge of the forest preserve will be restored to resettlement conditions, which will include the planting of native wetlands species.
On the eastern side of the forest preserve, he plans to initiate the planting of red and burr oak trees saplings as part of a reforestation effort.
“We literally don’t have enough boots on the ground doing the work,” he said.
Haberthur said he believes with Dick Young’s passing, there is a sense of urgency for people to fill those boots.
“With invasive species, global climate change and other environmental impacts, the Nelson Lake marsh doesn’t have the resiliency that it would in a fully functioning system — it needs hands-on management.”