The Environmental Defenders are dedicated to the preservation and improvement of our county’s environment and beyond.
Ancient Greece looking for an honest man had as much luck finding one would have today looking for someone not in favor of a clean environment. Everybody wants one, but not many actively work to get one. We’re fortunate, therefore, to have a group like the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, whose mission is to preserve and improve our county’s environment.
The organization thinks of its founding as a citizen’s response to the proposed Fox Valley Freeway, which would have paved over some of the most ecologically significant features within the Fox River watershed. It was four decades ago when a group of concerned citizens from the Barrington area formed the Defenders of the Fox to protect and improve the Fox River ecosystem and its tributaries. The primary goal of this group at the time was to fight the freeway.
In early 1970, a group of like-minded people from various parts of McHenry County joined the Barrington group as the McHenry County chapter of the Defenders of the Fox. At about the same time, an invitation was published in a local newspaper for people interested in environmental matters to par-ticipate in a group that eventually became the McHenry County Environmental Council.
Soon after, the council was asked to become a part of the McHenry County Defenders of the Fox. The two groups merged and incorporated as McHenry County Defenders. To more accurately describe its mission, five years ago, the organization changed its name to the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County (EDMC).
Strong Track Record
Over the years, EDMC has been successful in many of its efforts in environmental preservation. Included among them are protecting the Volo and Wilson bogs as Illinois nature preserves, banning phosphate-containing de-tergents, developing a Crystal Lake watershed protection ordinance, regulating gravel mining in McHenry County and aiding in the adoption of the McHenry County Stormwater Ordinance.
Stream protection efforts have been the focus of the organization’s Water Resources Protection Committee in recent years. Its members are working to p romote the awareness of the various waterways in McHenry County via river cleanups, canoe trips and educational programs. It is an active partici-pant in both the Fox River and Kishwaukee River Ecosystem partnerships. New projects focusing on outreach efforts in the Nippersink Creek will target the area’s municipal decision makers.
EDMC has been a strong advocate of recycling activities since its inception and is the organization that got curbside recycling started in the county. Recycling activities have long been promoted as a way to handle the solid waste problem as well as a source of funds for the defenders. Over the years, the group has operated recycling drives in all of the major cities in the county. For many years, it operated a full-service drop-off center in Woodstock for unwanted items and continues to hold monthly recycling drives in Woodstock and McHenry.
Accolades and Influence
The organization has been honored with many local as well as statewide awards over the years and has also given birth to other local conservation-minded groups.
“While the Audubon Society is the oldest conservation group in the county, every other environmental group in the county has been started through the Environmental Defenders,” said Nancy Schietzelt, the chair of the board. “For example, both the McHenry County Conservation District as well as The Land Conservancy started just after the Defenders.”
Because it is an effective group, EDMC has influence beyond the borders of the county. “While most of our activities are centered on concerns related to McHenry County, we do interact with agencies that have a wider scope,” Schietzelt said. “For example, we are allied with the Illinois Environmental Council, an advocacy group for the state of Illinois, which lobbies our state legislature for environmental groups throughout the state. We are also associated with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. This is domiciled in Chicago, but is concerned with environmental issues related to areas throughout the Midwest.”
Partnering with Businesses
Groundwater protection has long been an important issue for EDMC, which has published reports on the subject as well as worked with businesses to protect our groundwater supplies. The organization is a member of the Northern Regional Groundwater Protection Planning Committee and has served on the Steering Committee for the McHenry County Groundwater Plan.
Other members, all volunteers, have helped businesses with pollution prevention projects and prepared fact sheets on topics including solvent substitutions and pollution prevention for dry cleaners, printers and auto shops. “There are Defenders members who are active on various committees within the county concerned with environmental matters,” Schietzelt said. “For example, we have representatives on The Wind Energy Task Force, Environmental Health Programs, the Solid Waste Action Plan and the Natural Environmental Resources Committee (McHenry County Board), among others.”
Currently, EDMC is launching a recycling project that will utilize many items it takes in during its recycling drives and will also generate operating funds. The new electronics refurbishing and sales project, located on the lower level of its headquarters building in Woodstock, has students from Woodstock High School giving new life to many pieces of this equipment. “Profits from the sales will be split between the students and the Defenders,” Schietzelt said.
EDMC is moving forward with roadside naturalization projects throughout the county. The Natural Resources Preservation Committee promotes the use of native plants for roadside prairies. Starting with a workshop for county and township road commissioners 10 years ago, and through its ongoing demonstration, the committee is educating the community on the value of native landscaping.