Restoring Illinois’ Tallgrass Prairie: SUST Major Tiffany Mucci Reports on Her Spring 2016 Internship at Midewin

This spring 2016 semester, several students in the Sustainability Studies Program here at Roosevelt will report and reflect upon their sustainability-related internship experiences. Here’s the first such post from Tiffany Mucci, a senior SUST major interning in plant conservation and ecological restoration at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Will County, about 50 miles SW of Chicago.

Midewin signSituated between an active landfill and the nation’s largest inland multi-modal port, and dissected by the Illinois Route 53 highway, lives an anomaly to the typical Chicago metropolitan landscape. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is about an hour’s drive southwest of the city, near Wilmington IL, and at 30 square miles in size it stands as Chicagoland’s largest protected contiguous open space. Pronounced mih-dey-win, the park’s name references the traditional healing arts of the American Indian tribes indigenous to this region, and denotes its mission to rehabilitate the land to the tallgrass prairie ecosystem that was once a defining feature of the North American continent.

"Placing Pellets in Booster Cups" (source: Illinois Digital Archives)

“Placing Pellets in Booster Cups” (source: Illinois Digital Archives)

Looking back through history, we find this region had been settled and farmed by the Euro-Americans in the mid-1800s. Nearly a century later, with the start of WWII, the land that is now Midewin (as well as the surrounding area) became the site of the Joliet Army Ammunitions Plant (JOAAP), which was a major explosives manufacturing facility maintained for over 50 years until it was fully decommissioned in the 1990s. A toxins-laden ghost town at this point, the JOAAP became the subject of two Superfund National Priorities List sites. After a successful clean-up by the U.S. military, Midewin was made possible by the Illinois Land Conservation Act and the support of forward-thinking people, and was designated the property of the U.S. Forest Service in 1996.

Midewin has partnerships with many other organizations in order to carry out its programs, and also relies on the hard work and dedication of its many volunteers. The prairie restoration work is carried out year-round, each season bearing its own set of tasks, projects, or activities. As any experienced gardener knows, winter is a season of planning and seed selecting. Here at Midewin – conceivably a very large, native garden plot — there is an enormous amount of seed to consider. According to their Facebook page, “Volunteers and staff clean up to 1500 pounds of native prairie seed annually” (United States Forest Service – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, 2016). Seed cleaning and organizing is a job that involves heavy machinery, precise documentation, and painstakingly calculated formulations, not to mention lots of helping hands, in preparing the seed mixtures for each of Midewin’s restoration fields.

Small Clipper machine used for seed cleaning inside Midewin's horticulture building. (photo: T. Mucci, January 2016)

Small Clipper machine used for seed cleaning inside Midewin’s horticulture building. (photo: T. Mucci, January 2016)

Much of the seed has been collected from the park’s property, either having grown wild or having been cultivated in seed beds, and additional seed is purchased from an outside source to supplement the homegrown collection. A crucial step in the prairie-making process is seed cleaning, a task that takes weeks, even months, to finish. Even with the advantage of industrial-strength machines, separating as much chaff (the husk or other unwanted plant parts) as possible from the seed is time consuming and involved.

One such machine, called a Clipper, uses screens, vibration, and airflow to remove the chaff. The dried, uncleaned seed is fed through the top of the Clipper – only a tablespoon or two at a time – and is shaken down through screens and chutes to separate and direct the plant parts to six different outputs. One or two of these outputs will have gathered the seeds, while twigs, floccus, and other undesirable bits will have been filtered into the other receptacles. Still, the first run-through of a batch of seed will not necessarily yield a perfectly refined product.

Smooth blue aster seeds, fresh from the Clipper. (photo: T. Mucci, January 2016)

Smooth blue aster seeds, fresh from the Clipper. (photo: T. Mucci, January 2016)

With particularly small seeds, it is important that at this stage we take samples from the outputs for closer examination under a low-power microscope. Sometimes we are looking at a mixture of seed and chaff to determine whether an output has collected a sufficient amount of seed for further refinement; other times we are evaluating the quality or integrity of the seeds. After running the batch through the Clipper several more times, a hand screen may also be used to remove any straggling chaff. Once cleaned, the seed is weighed, bagged, labeled, and sent to a cooler for storage.

Volunteers and staff patiently hand-clean swamp milkweed seeds (photo: T. Mucci, January 2016)

Volunteers and staff patiently hand-clean milkweed seeds (photo: T. Mucci, January 2016)

Other seeds are cleaned by more primitive methods, as is the case with milkweed, which is tediously picked apart by hand. Inside each milkweed pod is a neat bundle of seeds and their pappi (the parachute-like fluff that carries individual seeds on the wind) which inevitably becomes a downy mess as each grain is plucked away. As a participant in the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, Midewin recognizes milkweed’s integral role in the lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly, which relies on this plant as a host for their eggs and food source for larvae. Going to such lengths to clean, weigh, and document the multitude of seeds found at Midewin provides quantitative data for the research being done in this long-term restoration project.

United States Forest Service – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. (2016, January 15). Volunteers and Staff Clean Up To 1500 Pounds of Native Prairie Seed Annually. Retrieved from [Facebook update].

Tiffany Mucci head shotSUST senior Tiffany Mucci is spending her spring 2016 semester interning at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington IL, working with staff and volunteers in their restoration program. During the May 2015 section of SUST 390, she authored this creative non-fiction essay about Midewin. This year Mucci is also co-editing the new Writing Urban Nature project for the Roosevelt Urban Sustainability Lab and serving as Assistant Editor of the SUST at RU blog. 

Posted in conservation, ecology, education, Illinois, internships, parks and public land, restoration, students, suburbs | Leave a comment

2016 Lecture Series at Midewin Underway

The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in southern Will County, about 50 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, is the largest tallgrass prairie ecological restoration project east of the Mississippi River, and one of the great open space resources / biodiversity preserves in the greater Chicago region. Midewin sign

Each winter, the Visitor’s Center at Midewin hosts a lecture series on conservation, ecology, and the natural and cultural history of this 19,000-acre prairie, wetland, savanna, and woodland complex between Joliet and Wilmington. These presentations are free and open to the general public.

The 2016 lecture series is underway! See below for the dates and descriptions of upcoming presentations, which take place inside Midewin’s Welcome Center on Thursday evenings at 7:00 PM. Doors open at 6:30 PM with light refreshments provided by The Midewin Alliance.

Midewin asks that you please RSVP by calling 815-423-6370 or emailing

Winter Wildlife on the Prairie
Wendy Tresouthick, Environmental Education Specialist, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

On Thursday, February 11, join Wendy Tresouthick to discover several Illinois wildlife species on the prairie and the unique winter survival strategies they implement. How can frogs survive being frozen stiff? Are there really birds that hibernate? Does snow help or hinder the survival of wildlife in the winter? We’ll answer these questions and more in a fun and interactive way.

“Privies, Privies, Everywhere”: An Historical Archaeologist ponders Three Decades of Privy Excavations in Illinois
Floyd Mansberger, Archaeologist, Fever River Research

Join Floyd Mansberger on Thursday, February 25 to learn how privies (or more appropriately “privy pits’) are one of the more common feature types encountered by historical archaeologists in Illinois. These pits are “time capsules” that represent the subsurface remains of the ubiquitous “outhouse,” which was once associated with almost every nineteenth and early twentieth century site occupied by humans for any length of time. These pits often contain a large number (and great variety) of relatively whole and/or restorable artifacts which have been deposited over a relatively short period of time. These artifacts represent a unique view of the changing quality of life of the early residents of that site. This presentation will discuss the value of the scientific investigation of privy pits and will look specifically at a selection of privy pits excavated by Fever River Research over the years.

Save the following Thursday evenings for these March and April lectures, and click here for the full 2016 Lecture Series (pdf).

  • March 10, “The Rocks and Rolls of Midewin Tallgrass Prairie,” presented by Volunteer Interpreter Keith Graham
  • March 24, “Amphibians and Reptiles of the Tallgrass Prairie,” presented by naturalist Kevin Luby
  • April 7, “National Parks and America’s Railroads,” presented by the Glenwood Railroad Museum’s Pat Thrasher
Posted in activities, biodiversity, conservation, ecology, events, history, Illinois, parks and public land, presentations, suburbs, wildlife | Leave a comment

San Diego Vows to Move Entirely to Renewable Energy in 20 Years

Editor’s note: Just days after the historic climate agreement was reached in Paris, the city of San Diego announced its own groundbreaking pledge to reduce its emissions by half and to run on 100 percent renewable energy in the next twenty years. As the first major U.S. city to come forth with a legally binding commitment in dealing with the climate crisis, San Diego sets a prominent example for cities everywhere on the importance of community participation in this global issue. 

Here we reprint a NY Times article from December 15th, 2015, which also touches on the logistic and political aspects of this substantial move to address our changing climate and energy landscape.

Angie Vorhies charged her electric car in San Diego in 2013. The city has committed to using 100 percent renewable energy, becoming the largest American municipality to do so. (Credit: Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press)

Angie Vorhies charged her electric car in San Diego in 2013. The city has committed to using 100 percent renewable energy, becoming the largest American municipality to do so. (Credit: Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press)

. . . With a unanimous City Council vote, San Diego, the country’s eighth-largest city, became the largest American municipality to transition to using 100 percent renewable energy, including wind and solar power. In the wake of the Paris accord, environmental groups hailed the move as both substantive and symbolic.

Other big cities, including New York and San Francisco, have said they intend to use more renewable energy, but San Diego is the first of them to make the pledge legally binding. Under the ordinance, it has committed to completing its transition and cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035.

The steps to get there may include transferring some control of power management to the city from the local utility. Officials said they would also shift half of the city’s fleet to electric vehicles by 2020 and recycle 98 percent of the methane produced by sewage and water treatment plants.

The mayor, Kevin L. Faulconer, said San Diego’s ocean, sunshine and other environmental attributes were “in our fabric, our DNA, who we are.”

The City Council is controlled by Democrats, but Mr. Faulconer is a Republican. He sold the plan to a conservative business base in part by saying that transforming the electric grid would drive the economy and create jobs.

“It’s not a partisan issue at all,” he said. “It’s about putting a marker down. It’s the right thing to do.”

Many details have yet to be determined, including how the new power sources will be delivered and managed. But the mayor said the key first step was to commit to a goal — to “make sure we set it and hold to it.”

The San Diego ordinance has been years in the making. But Nicole Capretz, an author of an earlier draft and now an environmental advocate, characterized it as a concrete step in the direction set by world leaders in Paris.

“We’re responding to that call,” Ms. Capretz said. “It’s up to cities to blaze new trails. We’re just laying out the pathway for how to get these massive reductions worldwide.”

Under the Paris accord, nations offered general, nonbinding plans to reduce their carbon emissions.

Officials in the United States envision reaching the nation’s goals mainly through higher fuel-economy standards for cars and a move to cleaner sources of electrical power, something states could help oversee.

This is where the actions of a city like San Diego fit in. As the city moves to renewable energy, the State of California can begin to build its bank of carbon reductions and contribute to global goals.

Evan Gillespie, director of the Sierra Club’s clean energy campaign in California, estimated that San Diego’s plan would lead to an annual reduction of seven million metric tons of greenhouse gases, a contribution to California’s broader effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Those targets are California’s own — passed by a state government that is seen as one of the most ambitious on climate change, and that is as influential as many countries given its size — and not set by the federal government.

Ms. Capretz, who wrote a version of the plan for Mr. Faulconer’s predecessor, said that much of the earlier version remained in the measure adopted Tuesday.

Echoing the mayor, she said she expected that much of the renewable energy would come from solar power. “We’re sunny in San Diego, so we’re counting on a lot of homegrown solar on rooftops and parking lots,” she said.

Mr. Gillespie said San Diego had laid down a challenge to other cities. “We need others to see this and say, ‘Game on,’ ” he added. “We need places like Los Angeles, like San Francisco and New York, to step up.”

Click here to view the original text of the NY Times article.


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Roosevelt Leadership Institute Applications Available

RU CSI imageThis semester the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) is launching its Roosevelt Leadership Institute, an eight week seminar series aimed at teaching students how to be better leaders using the social-change model of leadership. Meetings will take place on Fridays from 1 -3 p.m. in WB 317 starting on Feb. 5. Applications are now available online at Please encourage students who you feel could benefit from this program to apply by the deadline of Feb. 1 by 5:00pm. Students can also retrieve a hard copy of the application in the CSI main office, WB 323.

For questions regarding the Roosevelt Leadership Institute, please contact Chris Littrell, assistant director of CSI, at or 312-341-2244.

Posted in activities, education, events, Roosevelt, social justice, students | Leave a comment

Become LEED Accredited: LEED Green Associate Training Sessions Feb. 4th & 6th

LEED Green Associate Training
Two one-time study courses are being offered in Chicago next week.
Reduced rate for full-time students!

LeadingGreen imageThursday, February 4th, 2016 – 6:00PM to 10:00PM
University of Illinois – Student Center East (SCE) – Room 610 – 6th floor
750 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60607
Make your reservation
Saturday, February 6th, 2016 – 2:00PM to 6:00PM
Illinois Institute of Technology – Wishnick Hall – Room 115
3300 S Federal St, Chicago, IL 60616
Make your reservation

Interested in getting involved in the Green Building Industry? Opportunities are plentiful in the field of sustainable design and LEED is at its forefront.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is simply a green-rating point system, or a scorecard. The more energy efficient and sustainable a building is, the more points it will earn. To date, this course and its materials have proven to be instrumental in helping over 5,000 students pass their respective exam at a 100% pass rate. This course is offered at a quarter of the price and time as the competition and is geared at allowing students to graduate with letters after their name!

(source: Leading Green)

(source: Leading Green)

Just as buildings can be LEED certified, people in the sustainable construction industry can become LEED professionals. The LEED Green Associate (GA) credential is the only entry level sustainability designation and shows employers and clients that you have certified knowledge in the green building industry.  A new LEED rating system (V4) was introduced last month and this training course is one of the few that has been updated to teach the current rating system.

Course Itinerary:

1. All necessary course materials distributed (including study guide, charts and mock exams)
2. In-depth overview of LEED including all topics covered on the exam and a focus on heavily weighted topics
3. How to register, prepare and pass the actual LEED GA exam taken at a Prometric Center near you

Post Class (through our On-Demand website service):

1. Recorded class files, including a crash course review of all relevant LEED GA material
2. Four Mock Exams (400 Questions) to be completed and reviewed as the student pleases
3. Anytime assistance through our LEEP AP+ staff

Cost: $300 ($200 with proof of full-time student status)

If you are not able to attend either of the Chicago study courses next week, but are still interested in becoming LEED accredited, visit the Leading Green website for LEED Online Classes available anytime.  Click here to learn more about the LEED Green Associate credential.

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Summer 2016 NSF Fellowships: Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

SUST majors who have had some biology/environmental science classes are in a good position to apply for a Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) summer fellowships, offered through generous funding by the National Science Foundation. These fellowships are excellent opportunities to work directly with scientific researchers on lab- and field-based topics, gain hands-on research experience, and network with fellow undergrads from other schools. Plus they’re well compensated with a fellowship stipend of several thousand dollars. (Yes — you read that correctly.)

Chicago Botanic Garden REU Symposium 2015 (Source: CBG)

Chicago Botanic Garden REU Symposium 2015 (Source: CBG)

Here in the Chicago region there are several notable REU programs that offer multiple paid fellowships, including those at the Chicago Botanic Garden Plant Conservation Science Center, the University of WI Madison researching “The Chemistry of Materials for Renewable Energy“, and the Center for Ecology at Southern IL University in downstate Carbondale.

Further afield, check out this opportunity at Rutgers University Newark entitled “Dynamic Urban Environmental Systems and Sustainability in Newark, NJ,” from June 1 to July 29, 2016 (deadline: Feb. 15th) which offers free housing in addition to a $4,000 stipend; and the opportunities at the University of Michigan Biological Station (2016 deadline: Feb. 1st) and Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory (2016 deadline: Feb. 15th). Both are phenomenal places to spend a summer doing field-based research!

Interested applicants should also check out the NSF’s REU Students website for access to dozens of fellowships opportunities across across the US.

Check individual program sites for 2015 application materials and deadlines,
which are usually in February or March.

In summer 2012, recent SUST grad Allison Breeding (BA ’13) won a fellowship at SIU’s Center for Ecology and studied agroecology in beautiful Southern Illinois; she blogged about her experiences here and presented an overview of her research at the October 2013 Sustainability Studies Student Symposium.

Want to learn more? Check out the links above! And remember: you can’t get one of these awesome fellowships unless you apply . . .

Allison Breeding working with soil samples in the lab at SIU during her summer research fellowship in 2013

Allison Breeding working with soil samples in the lab at SIU during her summer research fellowship in 2013

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Chicago River Now Accessible With Google Maps Street View

If you’ve taken SUST 220, SUST 350, or a SUST Special Topics course, there’s good chance you’ve also participated in a guided canoe trip on the Chicago River.  Now this urban waterway can be toured from the comfort of your computer or mobile device with the Google Maps “Street View” feature.  Here we reprint the Friends of the Chicago River website’s January 19th announcement: 

(source: FCR)

(source: FCR)

Friends of the Chicago River is thrilled to announce that the Chicago River has joined some of the few rivers in the world including the Thames, the Seine, and the Hudson in being Streetviewed by Google. On an expedition initiated by Friends’ board member, Kevin Hartman, Google’s head of analytics, members of the “Streetview” team captured the mystery and the majesty of the river when drivers took their tools to the water where they traveled the Main Stem, up north around Goose Island, and down into Bubbly Creek to bring the river to life for people around the world.

The river has never been more accessible to people and Google Streetview for the river makes it even more so. It is astonishing to see the river this way and people are going to love it, said Margaret Frisbie, Friends’ executive director.

The Chicago River is emerging as a center of life in the city of Chicago and beyond. This last year, we celebrated the newly expanded Chicago Riverwalk, improvements in water quality, investments in wildlife habitat, and increased public access. By making the river healthier and more accessible, it has become a catalyst for community revitalization and economic development.

Google’s Streetview river will allow people of all ages to discover the river, see what it really looks like, and figure out how they can use the river themselves. This easy to use navigational tool is like a boat ride down the Chicago River people can enjoy at any time, from anywhere they can use a computer or mobile device. — Kevin Hartman, Friends’ board member and Google’s head of analytics.

The Chicago River “Streetview” can be accessed at or by dragging the Google Maps people icon and placing it on the river.

Google Maps Chicago River Street View: View of Friends' McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum (source: FCR)

Google Maps Chicago River Street View: View of Friends’ McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum (source: FCR)

Posted in cities, news, parks and public land, water | Leave a comment