12/30/2011 12:06 pm ET | Updated Dec 30, 2011

Conservationists Battle Proposed Outdoor Firing Range Near Millennium Reserve

Chicago conservationists on Thursday expressed alarm that an outdoor firing range the city previously planned to build on undeveloped land near the Calumet River may still be in the works, even amidst plans for the recently announced Millennium Reserve: Calumet Core green space development.

Conservationists fear that the range, planned for the 2000 block of East 134th Street, will put many migratory birds, including the state endangered black-crowned night heron, bald eagles and others, who nest in the area at risk. The range is located across from the Hegewisch Marsh, in addition to other nearby wetlands known to attract birds.

Carolyn Marsh, conservation chair of the Chicago Audubon Society, said she and other conservationists were "blindsided" by the city's resurrection of a plan hers and other groups opposed last fall. Marsh criticized the 40-person, 24/7 gun range, which will be part of a 33-acre training grounds for law enforcement, as conflicting with the stated goals of the Millennium Reserve.

"Please urge the mayor to withdraw the city lease once and for all as it is not compatible or sustainable with the Calumet Core - Millennium Reserve vision for the Southeast Chicago," the group's statement read.

Last November, the group joined the Calumet Ecological Park Association, Friends of the Parks and the Southeast Environmental Task Force in opposing the range, for fear that it would disturb nearby birds as well as hinder the experience of those utilizing a nature education center and walking trails planned in the area, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Chicago Police Lt. Ray Hamilton, who is overseeing the project, told the Tribune that the conservationists who opposed the range "don't want any development in open space anywhere on the East Side." While the groups have contended they oppose only the location of the range and not the range itself, Hamilton described that argument as "disingenuous."

Nevertheless, conservationists have not backed down. Roger Shamley, Chicago Audubon Society president and retired Chicago police officer, told the Chicago News Cooperative that "these are not everyday birds. ... These are important marshland birds. I understand the police. They do need a firing range, but they don't need it here."

The vote arrives just on the heels of Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's announcement of the plans to construct the Millennium Reserve, which is slated to become the biggest urban park in the continental U.S., in the surrounding area. The 140,000-acre project is a part of President Obama's Great Outdoors Initiative, which oversees and supports community-based conservation work.

The range's lease is up for approval at a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District meeting on Jan. 5.

Photo by Lip Kee via Flickr.