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Many outdoors stories to follow in 2014

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Updated: February 3, 2014 3:55PM

The area around the east end of 87th Street is a story that will live on in the new year. It’s a test site for access and use in the modern urban wilds.

That’s because of the dozens of birders coming to see the multiple snowy owls on the breakwalls of Calumet Harbor from the shoreline of Chicago Park District Park No. 523 and the hundreds of perch fishermen fishing the hottest new spot along the slip north of 87th.

With a rare real winter settling in, perch fishermen are trying techniques to release undersized fish on the iced-in slip, from Jim Saksa using an extension net to a fisherman using PVC pipe to aim tiny perch toward holes punched in the ice.

That’s just one of the modern issues encapsulated there: private property along the water’s edge (only the tip of the slip is parkland), litter, parking, access and conversion of former industrial land to wild uses.

Other wild stories from 2013 will live on in the coming year.

† In Illinois, the question about how to manage the deer hunt is more than a wildlife issue; it’s a political pothole in a year with a gubernatorial election. A historic 25 percent drop in firearm harvest — the largest outdoor activity in Illinois — needs more than lip service. Changes will come before November.

† We teeter on the edge of state wildlife professionals needing to formalize a response to the wolves, cougars and black bears arriving in or passing through Illinois.

† The latest irruption of snowy owls is historic. Though irruptions come every few years, this one is notable because it intersects with the explosion in social media. The social-media aspect in this irruption is as historic as the snowy owls themselves.

† Bald eagles have trended toward the passe in recent years. The days of having to trek to Starved Rock or the Mississippi or Wisconsin rivers to see concentrations of eagles are gone. They regularly are seen along the Calumet system, even nesting in Chicago and along the Little Cal. Dozens have been documented this winter in the open-water spots along the Fox River in the western suburbs.

† One of the side benefits to the modern world is an increased production of and access to wild art. The one that most touched me this year was George Desort’s ‘‘Fifty Lakes, One Island’’ documentary about Isle Royale. DVDs are available at

I came to a greater appreciation of art and photography around Chicago outdoors in the last year through Larry Green, Bill Peak, Mike Lewandowski, Ken Gortowski, Gary Soper and Carl Vizzone. I’ve had preliminary discussions with a gallery owner about an exhibit of local wildlife art.

Bringing art and Chicago wilds together would make my year.


Harvest figures for the first antlerless deer season aren’t available. I am curious about whether harvest will be down. Will hunters self-regulate? When they’re available, harvest totals will be posted at Stray Casts (

Stray cast

The Cubs’ rebuild feels like deer management in Illinois: threads of too many interests.

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