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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