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A Natural History of the Chicago Region

In A Natural History of the Chicago Region, Joel Greenberg takes readers on a journey that begins in 1673 with Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet—the first Europeans known to have visited the Chicago region—and that we’re still on today. This is a fascinating story, told with humor and passion, of forests battling prairies for dominance; of grasslands plowed, wetlands drained, and species driven to extinction in the settlement of the Midwest; and of caring conservationists fighting to preserve and restore the native plants and animals. Intermingling historical anecdotes and episodes straight from the words of early settlers and naturalists with current scientific information, Greenberg places the natural history of the region in a human context, showing how it affects our everyday existence in even the most urbanized landscape of Chicago.

Only on the web: Greenberg’s Naturalist’s Tour of Southern Lake Michigan.

592 pages | 71 halftones, 16 maps, 15 line drawings, 10 tables | 7 x 10 | © 2002

Center for American Places - Center Books on American Places

Chicago and Illinois

Geography: Environmental Geography


"Joel Greenberg plays the role of scientist in A Natural History of the Chicago Region, exhaustively and objectively listing what was here. Sometimes with a heavy heart, and sometimes with humor, he explains who changed it, who destroyed it, who preserved it, and what we should do about it now. . . . It sticks with you when you look at the ground, or at the water in the lake (and in your glass), and at the plants and trees all around. When you go fishing, when you go hiking, when you go to work. Because you know what’s ’supposed’ to be wherever you look."


"Joel Greenberg is something of a regional treasure himself, a man with a restless mind who can walk us out into the woods confident in his ability to share some great insight about why this or that patch of wilderness is important today."


Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. The Great Forces
Ice Sculptor: Glaciation,
Fertility Underfoot: Soil,
Atmospheric Impacts: Climate,
Burned to Life: Fire,
A New Force,
2. In Quality Unexcelled: Prairie Types and Composition
Of Breezes and Braided Roots: The Grasses,
Where Spring Begins: The Gravel Prairies,
The Richest of All: The Black-Soil Prairies,
On the Bones of Earth: The Dolomite Prairies,
Dr. Clute’s Domain: The Sand Prairies of Braidwood,
3. In Quality Diminished: Prairie Settlement and Conservation
Under the Fleur-de-lis: The French Period,
The Prairie Resists: Treelessness, Fire, Disease, and Other Barriers to Settlement,
The Defenses Crumble but Some Prairie Survives,
The Turning Point for Prairie Conservation: Goose Lake Prairie,
Prairie Tales: A Few Prairies and the Battles to Save Them,
Protecting the Protected: Prairie Stewardship and Management,
4. The Nearly Vanished Transitions: Barrens and Savannas
Gone So Quickly: The Deep-Soil Shrublands and Savannas,
All Sorts of Floral Treasures: The Sand Savannas and Shrublands,
Like Nowhere Else on Earth: The Savanna of Langham Island,
5. Witnesses to History: Forests
Letting in the Light: Oak Forests,
Where Shadows Reign: Maple Forests,
Raised in Flood and Drought: Lowland Forests,
Mostly On or Under the Trees: Lichens and Mushrooms,
From Lumber to Ecosystems: Utilization and Conservation,
Knotty Questions: How Best to Treat Local Forests,
6. Of Two Worlds: Wetlands
The Pilgrims Progress to Section 404: Destruction and Conservation of Wetlands,
On a Cusp: Sedge Meadows and Marshes,
Wiggly Fields: Bogs and Fens,
7. The Last Wilderness: Lake Michigan
The Sullying of Lake Michigan: Pollution,
Floaters, Bottom Dwellers, and a Filter Feeder Run Amok: The Plankton and Benthos,
Agents of Change: Commercial Fishing and Alien Species,
Victims of Change: Native Fish,
8. Approaching the Way: Rivers and Small Lakes
Rivers in Flux,
Current Affairs: River Ecology,
River Atrophy: The Disappearing Mussels,
Like Crystals on the Landscape: The Small Glacial Lakes,
9. Casualties of a Modern World: The Marshes of the Kankakee and Calumet
Two Thousand Bends of a Silver Thread: The Kankakee’s Great Marsh,
The Marsh That Will Not Die: The Calumet,
10. Lake Michigan’s Rim: Beaches, Dunes, and Bluffs
Setting the Scene,
So Many Fine Examples of Rare and Beautiful Species: Natural Communities of the Indiana Dunes,
By Their Deeds, Ye Shall Know Them: Utilization and Conservation of the Indiana Dunes,
Steeper and More Mesic: The Dunes of Berrien County,
Not All Treasure Is at the Rainbow’s End: The Western Dunesland,
Cool Shadowy Slopes: The Bluffs and Ravines,
11. Many More Than We Know: Insects
Beleaguered Beetles, Mystery Moths, and A Rediscovered Dragonfly: A Smattering of Endangered Insects,
Flitting on the Edge: The Mitchell’s Satyr and the Karner Blue,
Mere Patches in Time and Space: The Corpse as Ecosystem and Forensic Entomology,
Conspicuous on a Large Scale: Insect Swarms,
The Musical Brood: Periodic Cicadas,
12. Survivors in Trouble: Reptiles and Amphibians
In the Soup and Pets of Plunder: Turtles,
Long and Suffering: Snakes (and Three Lizards),
Winding through History: Massasauga Rattlesnakes,
Under Cover or on the March: Salamanders,
Plight of the Choristers: Frogs and Toads,
13. Of Extinction and Resurrection: Passenger Pigeon, Prairie Chicken, Sandhill Crane, and Colonial Nesters
Remembering Martha and Her Kin: Passenger Pigeon,
A Chronicle of the Boom Times: Prairie Chicken,
Triumph of the Trumpeter: Sandhill Crane,
Changing Status of the Colonial Nesters: Cormorants, Herons, and Gulls,
14. For Everything There Is a Season: Birds through the Year
Nesting Season: Birds of Woodlands,
Nesting Season: Birds of Grasslands and Marsh,
In Passage: Migration and Vagrancy,
Thriving in the Cold: Wintering Birds,
15. Figures in Fur: Mammals
What a Time It Must Have Been: Extirpated Species,
They Fly by Night: Bats,
Burrowers, Tree Dwellers, and Engineers: Insectivores and Rodents,
Adaptable Song Dog of City and Suburb: The Coyote,
Meet the Neighbors: Raccoons, Opossums, and Skunks,
The Metamorphosis of Bambi: White-Tailed Deer,
Conclusion: Prospects for the Future
Do Go Gentle into That Good Fight: Ecological Restoration and Construction,
Sharing Space: Institutional Trends,
A Place for All: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Prairie Parklands,

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