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Healing War Wounds through Conservation Action

Healing War Wounds through Conservation

Chicagoland Veteran Conservation Corps

Photo: Chicagoland Veteran Conservation Corps

By
Alyssa Restaino, Associate Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations, National Audubon Society

“As a
former Marine and current restoration ecologist, I was inspired by the story of
local hero Dick Young,” says Benjamin Haberthur. “He was a World War II
Marine veteran turned conservationist who was able to overcome all he saw on
Iwo Jima to become a leader in the fight to save our region’s natural areas. 
He embodied the belief that a country worth protecting is worth preserving.”

Concurrent
with his time in the Marine Corps Reserves, Benjamin Haberthur earned his
Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from California State
University, Monterey Bay. “But my resolve to protect and restore our
American ecosystems was really solidified after witnessing firsthand the
environmental devastation wrought by the Hussein regime. They ditched and
drained thousands of acres of Iraq’s marshlands during the war.”

Benjamin
returned from Iraq in 2003. He was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon, two
Marine Corps Reserve Medals, and a Presidential Unit Citation (among other
honors). “I returned to school, anxious to get on with  my life, and
I discovered, while exploring the coastal areas of California, nature provided
a peaceful and calming alternative to the stresses of my former military life.”


 

Benjamin
saw that his personal experience with nature could become a broader experience
shared by fellow vets who may be struggling with symptoms of Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was then that he came upon the idea of
developing a Veterans Conservation Corps in the Chicago Area. His two
primary conservation targets are located at a 1,131 acre forest preserve located
in Batavia, Illinois, named in honor of veteran Dick Young.

At Dick
Young Forest Preserve, invasive weeds will be removed to restore hemi-marsh
conditions preferred by native wildlife, including turtles, birds and
plants. A 1.6 acre prairie pothole on the western side of the preserve
will be restored to resettlement conditions, which will include the planting of
native wetland species. On the eastern side of the preserve, red and burr
oak tree will be planted in an ongoing reforestation effort. One of
Benjamin’s primary methods for accomplishing this work will be to employ the
use of local veterans and volunteers.

“Time is
of the essence when working with vets,” Benjamin said. “Our community has a
high rate of untreated PTSD which can easily lead to depression, alcoholism or
suicide. It is my hope through this Toyota & 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.”

 

Learn more
about the work of EarthShare member National Audubon Society (Combined Federal Campaign number 12068) at
www.Audubon.org.  


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