Considering the Jackson Park fishkill

There is much to like about the plans for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Jackson Park facelift, named Project 506. We have carefully reported the details of this proposal and provided links to the plan published by the USACE on our website. All of this coverage has been done with the tacit support and encouragement of the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC).

That is to say, until last week.

“Army Corps planning fishkill” we announced last week on the front page of the Herald. Beneath this headline ran a story explaining the USACE’s plan, supported by JPAC, to annihilate the fish population in the Jackson Park lagoon. The USACE and JPAC prefer other varieties of fish to the catfish, carp and their ilk that currently prowl the waters of the lagoon. Among their crimes: they muddy up the waters with their incessant bottom trawling.

The solution? Poison the entire pond and kill every fish, say USACE representatives, and JPAC agrees.

As of last week’s press time, we had not taken a position on this strategy but found it notable enough to put on the front page. The letters you will see beginning on this page demonstrate that, by making the most interesting part of the plan front page news, we have ruffled some feathers — not from the USACE, though, but from their local partners.

At the meeting where this fishkill was announced — which was endorsed without substantive public discussion by JPAC — there was little detail provided about how the fish would be poisoned except that all fish would die and then the USACE would “clean it all up,” as one representative explained it.

It is surprising to us that, even if JPAC has more information about this procedure, more time was not taken to explain it to the public. In 2014, poisoning a whole pond to eliminate fish and replace them with more attractive varieties sounds about a half-century behind the times. It needs a more careful sell than it got.

As it stands, we cannot endorse this piece of the Jackson Park restoration plan without more information, and we encourage other supporters of Jackson Park to also demand to know more about this fishkill. What poison will be used? How can the USACE and JPAC be so certain it has no side effects? Why aren’t less dramatic alternatives being considered?

And what’s so bad about the Jackson Park pond fish? They are happily fished by families throughout the season, there seems to be a perfectly normal ecosystem at the pond and nobody is complaining about them. These are not Asian carp leaping out of the water. These are not some poisonous invertebrate stinging visitors to the pond. We have not heard a compelling explanation as to why they must be eliminated.

In our excitement to accomplish all of the good that might be done with USACE resources, let’s not compromise on the process by which we get there.