Two important seasons are already well underway in Illinois: the holiday donation season and deer hunting season. In October, I wrote about the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ effort to fight hunger through the Target Hunger Now Program. That program takes invasive species of Asian Carp out of our river and helps to feed the hungry in our state. The state is fortunate enough to have another well-established campaign that helps feed hungry families: The Illinois Sportsmen Against Hunger Program.
The Sportsmen Against Hunger Program is designed to encourage area hunters to donate their tagged deer to feed families in Illinois. This program was started in 1989, and since then has provided an estimated 1.8 million meals to needy families.There are 50 meat processors in the state that accept donations, including two facilities in our area. The Golden Locker in Golden, Illinois (217-696-4456) and The Butcher Block in Quincy, Illinois ((217) 222-6248) both can accept donations of tagged deer through the end of the season in mid-January. Through donations and sponsorship dollars, these two local processors are able to process donated meat free of charge. The donated venison is then distributed primarily through the Salvation Army.
Major local sponsors of the program include Rotary International, Key Outdoor Inc., Quincy Industrial Painting Company, Mays, Walden and Anastas PC, Farm and Home Supply, Independent’s Service Company, Gully Transportation, JH Concrete, Western Catholic Union, Autoshine Car Wash, Game Masters, Hilbing Autobody, and Peters Body Shop and Towing.
Everyone join me in giving the Illinois Department of Natural Resources a round of applause, because they’ve come up with one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of. The IDNR will use its program called Target Hunger Now to take the non-native invasive Asian Carp out of the river and on to the dinner plates of Illinois’ hungry.
The Asian Carp is actually not one type of fish, but three: the Silver, Bighead and Black Carp. They were originally imported from Southeast Asia for use in keeping aquaculture facilities free of plankton, algae and other microscopic organisms. Flooding at these aquaculture plants let the fish escape into our rivers and, in recent years, populations of these fish have exploded in the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers and many of their tributaries.
The Asian Carp are a major problem for several reasons. First, they’re really big fish. The carp average 30 to 40 pounds each, but the largest can be up to 7-feet long and tip the scales at up to 150 pounds. These behemoths are voracious eaters who can consume up to 20 percent of their own body weight in algae and plankton (and, in the case of the Black variety, muscles and sturgeon eggs) per day. They also are prolific breeders, so even though some predators like eagles, pelicans, herons and some large-mouth bass have been known to eat some of the juveniles, far too many of the fish reach a size where they are too large to be eaten. Due to their number, size and appetite, they simply out-compete local fish populations.
The other major problem the carp are known for is the way that they jump. Low decibel vibrations, like the noise from a boat motor, cause the fish to launch themselves in the air. I saw this first hand on Quincy Bay while I was kayaking with Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon this summer. It was really something to see dozens of fish launch into the air when a small john boat passed us — and it’s easy to imagine that if you were in a moving boat and got struck by one of these fish, you could face potential injury.
That’s why moving the carp from jumping in the rivers to jumping onto dinner plates seems like such a good idea. The fish is already a popular dinner item in parts of Asia and Europe, but Americans are just warming up to the idea. The Asian Carp can be quite tasty when prepared well. Unlike native carp species, Asian Carp feed within the water column rather than off of the bottom of the river. Anyone who has tasted a particularly “muddy” catfish will know that bottom feeders are not culinary winners. Fish that feed in the water column are also lower in contaminates like methyl mercury than bottom feeders.
Target Hunger Now has already hosted many successful events in Illinois. According to its website, more than 2,000 Illinois families took advantage of the donated venison (deer) program last year. Target Hunger Now hopes that as much as 40,000 pounds of fish can be processed daily. They also expect to distribute 100,000 pounds of venison this year through the Illinois food bank system. This equates to approximately 3.3 million protein-rich meals available free to those who are facing hunger in our communities. And a bonus: catching and processing these fish is creating jobs right here in Illinois.
There are lots of great online resources if you’d like to learn more about Target Hunger Now or the invasive Asian Carp:
- Ideas for how to prepare carp and venison: http://www.dnr.state.il.us/THN/ISAH%20Recipe%20Flyer.pdf
- Illinois Fishing Information: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/fishing/Documents/IllinoisFishingInformation.pdf
- Asian Carp and management efforts: http://www.asiancarp.org or http://www.glfc.org/fishmgmt/carp.php
- Target Hunger Now campaign: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/Pages/TargetHungerNow.aspx
Stay tuned to the Get Out blog later this month for information on the Illinois Sportsmen Against Hunger program.
Most of the time when I’m in the great outdoors, the things that are absent are nearly as important as the things that are present. Absent is my iPhone and its email, instant messaging, Facebook and Internet connection. Gone, too, are the radio, the television, the junk in my mailbox and advertisements of all shapes and sizes everywhere I look. And one thing that’s not usually there — which is especially nice considering the state of things — is politics. This week though, I had the opportunity to help guide a kayak tour for the Quincy Bay Area Restoration and Enhancement Association, the Quincy Tourism and Visitor’s Bureau and a special guest, Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. This time, I was pleased to welcome politics to my adventure.
Simon is a stalwart advocate for the rivers, lakes and streams of Illinois. Last year, her office established the Mississippi River Coordinating Council to address specific needs of the river and its tributaries in regards to environmental protection, flood mitigation, tourism and development and commerce. The Council is also tasked with identifying sources of funding for Mississippi River resource management projects.
Quincy Bay is a unique resource on the Mississippi. Besides providing a sheltered backwater for boating traffic, the bay also has untapped potential for tourism development projects, like Kayak Quincy. It is also an ecologically diverse area that provides vital habitat for wildlife, migrating birds and more. The Bay, however, is in great need of maintenance. Silting — or the process by which sediment fills up previously navigable channels — is one of the main problems facing Quincy Bay. It’s estimated that it will cost around $6 million to dredge the bay and add four feet to its depth. This dredging is crucial to the long-term success of any management plan or development the City of Quincy hopes to have on the riverfront.
Simon explained some of the nuance in river management to me while we paddled our kayaks. “It’s interesting because we often think of rivers as boundaries between counties or states or even countries.” she said. “They often lie in more than one political zone. That makes the coordination of efforts from every level extremely important.”
I was enjoying hearing about plans to help community, state and federal organizations work together on projects like Quincy Bay when our conversation was abruptly interrupted by a large Asian Carp, which launched itself through the air and hit the lieutenant governor’s kayak with a loud thud.
“And… we probably need to invest in the study and management of invasive species too?” I asked, hopefully.
“Yes,” the lieutenant governor, clearly startled by the flying fish, replied. “Yes, we do.”
I don’t know what will come out of our day kayaking with the lieutenant governor. Money is tight at both the state and federal level right now, and it’s hard to say when we might see action to preserve Quincy Bay. I am heartened, however, to have met Ms. Simon. She’s clearly an outdoor enthusiast herself, and she cares deeply for the natural resources of our state. It’s important to remember that it takes passionate people to protect and develop our waterways, state parks and recreational areas, and I am encouraged that we have advocates at all levels of government that are doing their best to address problems facing these assets.
Click to read more about Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and the Mississippi River Coordinating Council. To learn more about Kayak Quincy and to book your own Kayak adventure, click here.
America the Beautiful. It’s a standard folk song that we all know by heart. Lyrics speak of purple mountains majesty above the fruited Plains, and unite us all under a banner from sea to shining sea. For a country with so many great landmarks, the ones that most capture our imaginations are the mountains, rivers, canyons, waterfalls, geysers and other areas of expansive wilderness.
The recognition of the value of these vast areas of natural beauty came early in our democracy. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed a federal land grant to the state of California that set aside large tracts of land for preservation of the natural beauty of the wilderness. This was the first land ever in the world to be set aside by a federal government for the common enjoyment of its citizens. While many of the natural riches of Europe were privately held by wealthy aristocrats, Lincoln and other early leaders saw these assets as too grand to be owned, and too glorious not to share with the citizenry of the United States.
The first official National Park was created in 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed in to law protections for the 2.2 million acre the area known as Yellowstone. The land that Lincoln first set aside was later incorporated with the surrounding area, and Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks were formed in 1890. Later, President Theodore Roosevelt became one of the staunchest proponents of the National Parks. He created five new parks while he was in office, and also secured additional land in Yellowstone specifically for the preservation of the migration routes of the American Buffalo.
There are now 58 National Parks in the United States, along with a mind-boggling 6,624 State Parks, and countless other protected recreation areas or nature reserves. There are around 1 billion visits to these parks in the United States annually, and even so, I think we sometimes take these areas for granted. I hope this Independence Day, you get the chance to visit one of these great areas. The parks of this country are something we all own a little piece of, or perhaps more accurately, they own a little piece of us. They are a uniquely American idea, and they embody the limitless sense of adventure so fundamental to the spirit of this great nation.
For me, the parks have become a refuge from the bustle of life, a place I go to restore my soul, to challenge my body, and to quiet my mind. I never feel more whole than when twigs are crunching under my boots out in the wild places of the United States. Every vista I’ve seen, each trail I’ve traversed, and each river I’ve navigated, add immeasurably to my sense of my place on the earth as it rolls round the sun. And the parks, certainly, make me proud to be an American.
“The parks do not belong to one state or to one section. … The Yosemite, the Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon are national properties in which every citizen has a vested interest; they belong as much to the man of Massachusetts, of Michigan, of Florida, as they do to the people of California, of Wyoming, and of Arizona … Who will gainsay that the parks contain the highest potentialities of national pride, national contentment, and national health? A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possession; contains the antidote for national restlessness. … He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.” — Stephen T. Mather, National Park Service Director, 1917-1929