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Chasing the “Blue Whale of Freshwater”

by Alicia Jacobs 

The Eco Youth Reporters pose during their tour of Notre Dame. Photo by Kari Lydersen.

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

“The blue whale of freshwater” – that’s how Chris Jerde, research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, describes Asian carp. Among the 185 invasive species in the Great Lakes, Asian carp has been the biggest problem. The various species of Asian carp open their mouths and eat “anything” in their path, as Jerde said, growing up to 100 pounds and leaving everything else behind to starve or just barely survive.

But no one can seem to find Asian carp.

That’s where Jerde’s eDNA test comes in. As Jerde showed us atthe Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility on a bright, hot, empty yet peaceful spot at St. Patrick’s Park, the eDNA test begins by filtering water through something that looks like a coffee filter. It sorts out the rocks and other things in the water, giving him a pure sample of organic particles. The eDNA test looks for DNA from fish and other organisms that he can trace. You can trace the DNA if an Asian carp has been in the water, even if you can’t physically find the fish.

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Frack Attack in Illinois

by Tyreshia Black 

Anti-fracking activists in Boulder, Colo., during a recent protest. Photo by Kari Lydersen.

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Urban Youth International Journalism Program, which is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation. – See more at: http://wethepeoplemedia.org/#sthash.4O2DVbp7.dpuf

The Illinois legislature passed a bill the last week of May that would regulate fracking, the controversial practice for getting natural gas and oil by injecting water and chemicals into shale formations. The bill is being called the strictest package of fracking regulations in the nation. But many people disagree with it. That’s because they think there should be a moratorium or ban on fracking. The bill will become law if Gov. Pat Quinn signs it. Right now there is no fracking in Illinois. But if the bill passes, fracking is expected to start. The bill does have some safeguards but critics say that fracking can never be safe.

Industry, of course, is all for the fracking in Illinois. They say it will bring jobs and needed energy. But concerned activists like Annette McMichael and Beverly Walter disagree with the idea of fracking because they are worried it will cause serious pollution of our drinking water and air. They are backing a proposed bill that would put a moratorium on fracking, which would mean no fracking for the next two years, while more studies are done. That bill was introduced in the state General Assembly by state Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago).

McMichael is a member of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE). She has had personal encounters with industry representatives near her home.

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Pilsen Gets Environmental Justice

by Jasmine Hunt 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

Dvorak Park is a very grassy, wide expanse of trees and benches, a playground for young children with an outdoor pool located in the Pilsen neighborhood, which is home to many Mexican immigrants. Rising above the park is the tall, light-colored brick smokestack of the Fisk coal power plant. Next to the smokestack is the red brick building where coal was burned to produce electricity for 109 years.
Since 1903, the plant has provided power for Chicago. And for many years, it was the number one source of pollution in the city, according to reports in the Chicago Tribune.
Jerry Mead-Lucero is a founding member and organizer of the group Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reformation Organization (PERRO). We met with Mead-Lucero in August 2012 on the day after the Fisk power plant had been closed and the Crawford coal-burning power plant a few miles away in the Little Village neighborhood was scheduled to close the next week.
There have been 55 premature deaths each year linked to the power plant, along with hundreds of asthma attacks and people hospitalized because of pollution from the plant, according to a study by a scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2001. Respiratory issues are frequently caused by coal, fly ash, soot, mercury, lead (which is a neurotoxin) and other particles emitted from the coal plant, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Read more »

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Preserving History and Ecology

by Jasmine Hunt 

Eco Youth Reporters Jasmine Hunt and David Cal interview a passerby at Harry Palmisano Park. Photo by Kari Lydersen.

 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

The Bridgeport and Pilsen neighborhoods on Chicago’s Near South Side are heavily industrial, with factories, highways, railroad tracks and warehouses. The area used to be famous for the stockyards and slaughterhouses depicted in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Bubbly Creek, which runs through the area, got its name from the decomposing bodies of animals from the slaughterhouses.
But in the middle of all this industry there are pockets of nature where people enjoy the outdoors.
On Halsted Street in the Bridgeport neighborhood – home of Mayors Richard M. and his father Richard J. Daley – Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park is an oasis created on a former limestone quarry and landfill. To the north you can see the smokestack of the Fisk coal-burning power plant, which closed down this year. When you enter the park from Halsted, you see limestone boulders where fossils are located. There are also native plants with deep roots that hold large amounts of water in the soil. During rain storms the native plants hold the water and prevent it from flooding or contaminating other areas. A drain pipe sends storm water into a wetland in the park, where the plants clean the water as it filters through. Metal stairs align parts of the park near a pond created by part of the quarry with steep walls. Rabbits and monarchs inhabit the park. Attention-grabbing graffiti on a park wall proclaims “I Love you! Don’t you ever question that” with a big painted heart. Read more »

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Chicagoans Will Fish, Contamination or Not

by Tyreshia Black 

 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen, Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

Contaminated fish, sediment and water can be dangerous to one’s health but that doesn’t keep hungry Chicagoans away from the water at Canal Park and the Canal Port River Walk on Ashland Avenue south of Cermak Avenue in the Pilsen neighborhood.

In years past, factories and slaughterhouses used to dump waste in the Chicago River and the canals which connect to it. That contaminated the water and the fish. Pilsen’s coal plant, Fisk, contributes contamination to the water also. It releases lead, mercury, and other contaminants into the air which fall into the river.

Since President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act in the early 1970s, factories can’t dump waste right into the river and there are limits on what plants and factories can emit into the air. But there is still a strong possibility of water contamination in the Chicago River because the City of Chicago discharges its sewage into the river, about 1.2 billion gallons every day. The sewage and other industrial waste is only partially treated. Starting in 2014, it will be disinfected to kill viruses and bacteria but right now, that is not done. In 2011, the national group American Rivers named the Chicago River one of the country’s 10 Most Endangered Rivers.

And yet people still fish there. We visited the area where the Chicago River meets the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal at Canal Park on a muggy afternoon in early August. Near a grove of huge trees, I met Scott, a 34-year-old man who asked his last name not be used and who regularly fishes in the shallow, calm water flowing through this spot. I asked him some questions about river contamination and previous factory dumps.

“I’m not for sure if it’s contaminated but I love coming here for the scenery and I love fishing,” said Scott.

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Making a college visit count

by Tyreshia Black 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in partnership with Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood.

The student editor of Michigan State University's State News shows off recent editions of the publication during a visit this fall to the academic institution's campus. Photo by Tyreshia Black.


Every year, high school students across Chicago start preparing to attend a college or university. The effort is a big undertaking, and it is easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many different types of higher education institutions to choose from, and a lot of students don’t know what they’re looking for.

One important way that many students figure out what they want from a college is through a campus visit. During a visit, prospective students tour the campus, talk to professors, and learn about student life.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” said Tametrius Files, a 16-year-old Simeon High School student who has visited Eastern Illinois University, DePaul University and other schools.

Experts say it is important to make the most out of college visits.

Betty Weinberger, a college consultant at a Glencoe-based company called North Shore College Counseling Services, said in an e-mail interview that students must make realistic and appropriate plans in order to ensure their campus visits are worthwhile.

“You might begin by asking yourself the following questions,” she said. “Do you like a large school or small? Do you want to be in the city in an urban environment or do you prefer a suburban or even small town environment?”

Ms. Weinberger added that students should also think about college activities while on a campus tour as well as their fields of interest.
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Residents’ Journal Reporters talking about Current Youth Articles

by Mary C. Piemonte 


Click on the image to view the fourth episode of this season’s “RJ TV,” on August 1, 2011.

Watch Residents’ Journal’s reporter Quintana Woodridge talking with UYIJP student Tyreshia Black talking about her reports on the environment and a trip she took to the Shedd Aquarium this summer.

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A Toxic Tour of Little Village

by Carlos Jordan 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our first-ever Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen, Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

On July 13, 2011 we went to Little Village for a “Toxic Tour.” There were five teenagers and one grown woman taking us on a tour to show us the Crawford coal plant, the plastics recycling company MRC Polymers, Meyer Steel Drum and a garden at a school, so they could tell us what environmental issues are going on around Little Village.

The organization is the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO). Our tour guides were Brenda Becerra, 18, Maira Galvan, 17, Viviana Galvan, 19, Daniela Jurado, 19, Hannah Weinstein, 20, and Carolina Macias, 18.

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A New Start for the Indiana Dunes

by Cornelius Jordan 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our first-ever Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen, Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

Cornelius Jordan poses at the Indiana Dunes. Photo by Quintana Woodridge.

Birds, water, grass, rocks, squirrels, raccoons…it looks like a forest, but it is the Indiana Dunes State Park. There is a campground and lots of trees. And a parking lot under construction. That’s because the parking lot is being partly removed to return the space to its natural state.

Standing near the parking lot and a creek that runs into Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes State Park property manager Brandt Baughman said that in 2005 the flooded creek waters were as high as the people standing there. That was partly because where the creek is now used to be a huge parking lot.

As a way of restoring the natural surroundings, they took out the parking lot and restored the creek to its natural path. Before the creek had run under the parking lot. Now fewer people can park in the dunes but Baughman said it is worth it. He said it cost $7,000 to remove the parking lot, but “it turned out to be a good project.” Read more »

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Shedd Aquarium Showcases Invasive Species

by Tyreshia Black 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our first-ever Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen, Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

An Asian Carp. Photo by Tyreshia Black.

I got a chance to visit the legendary world of wonders at the Shedd Aquarium recently. The aquarium holds multiple exhibits of all types of fascinating animals. When my colleagues, journalism teacher and I arrived at the aquarium, we were introduced to Melissa Kruth, the public relations manager and Jillian Braun, a new intern. The two polite employees walked us through the huge crowds of busy people trying to view the beautiful creatures in each exhibit.

Braun and Kruth directed us to Kurt Hettiger, the senior aquarist at the Shedd Aquarium. He has worked there for approximately 19 years, two years as an intern and 17 years as a full-time employee. Hettiger has been working with mainly invasive species and endangered native animals including fish. Invasive species have been invading and intruding into large open areas of Lake Michigan. The most recent invasive fish categorized as an invasive species is the big head carp, which is a kind of Asian carp.

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