GENEVA—Forest Preserve Restoration Ecologist Ben Haberthur was named one of four TogetherGreen fellowship award recipients on June 21.
TogetherGreen is a conservation initiative of the National Audubon Society and Toyota. Each year, the group selects 40 high-potential, local leaders to receive a $10,000 conservation grant. Haberthur is one of four award recipients from Illinois.
Haberthur’s project aims to help heal war wounds through conservation action. He plans to use the fellowship to create a Veterans Conservation Corps in the Chicago area, initially to focus on restoration at Dick Young Forest Preserve in Batavia.
As a former Marine and current restoration ecologist with the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, Haberthur was inspired by the late Dick Young, a World War II Marine Corps veteran and local conservationist for whom the Batavia forest preserve, as well as one in Kendall County, are named. Ben, too, is a Marine Corps veteran, having served in the Iraq war. Haberthur returned from Iraq in 2003 and later earned his environmental science degree at California State University in Monterey Bay, Calif.
Haberthur said his personal experience, as well as Dick Young, were his inspiration for the project.
“My resolve to protect and restore our American ecosystems was really solidified after witnessing first hand the environmental devastation wrought by the Hussein regime. They ditched and drained thousands of acres of Iraq’s marshlands during the war,” Haberthur said. “When I returned to school in 2003, anxious to get on with my life, I discovered, while exploring the coastal areas of California, nature provided a peaceful and calming alternative to the stresses of my former military life.”
Haberthur felt that connection with nature could become a broader experience shared by fellow vets who may be struggling with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The program’s initial conservation goals will be to remove invasive weeds and restore marsh conditions preferred by native wildlife at Dick Young Forest Preserve. The 1.6-acre prairie pothole on the west side of the preserve will be restored to presettlement conditions, including the planting of native wetland species. On the east side of the preserve, hundreds of Red oaks and Bur oaks will be planted as part of an ongoing restoration effort by the Forest Preserve District.
“Time is of the essence when working with vets,” Haberthur said. “Our community has a high rate of untreated PTSD, which can lead to depression, alcoholism or suicide. It is my hope, through this Toyota and Audubon fellowship, to court such individuals to illustrate the healing power of nature, and possibly inspire them to take advantage of their GI Bill benefits and return to school with an eye towards conservation.”
Haberthur hopes a large number of vets will volunteer for the project, although military service is not a prerequisite to participate in the program.
Executive Director Monica Meyers said Forest Preserve staff at all levels spend a lot of time researching and applying for governmental grants, and congratulated Haberthur for his efforts.
“It’s nice to see the district receive a grant that involves private-sector funding that will not only benefit the county’s natural resources but also be used to help our veterans,” she said. “I applaud Ben for thinking ‘outside the box’ and expanding research to find this hidden gem of a grant. This will ultimately strengthen our volunteer program and benefit Kane County forest preserves. The Forest Preserve District and the citizens are being well-served by having Ben on our natural resources team.”
For more information on volunteering in the Kane County forest preserves, call (630) 208-8662. For more details on the TogetherGreen conservation fellowships, visit www.togethergreen.org.