Someone to Know: District Ecologist Dan Thompson
District ecologist Dan Thompson has been working on growing the populations of endangered wildlife in DuPage County for many years. He especially enjoys working on the endangered Blanding’s turtle population and helping new generations hatch. He encourages residents to get out and experience the natural world’s simplicity and beauty. It’s more important now than ever for people to connect with nature to get a break from today’s tech-intensive society, he said.
What are some of your responsibilities as a Forest Preserve District ecologist?
My area of work is with wildlife. Much of the work is to monitor and survey local populations. We have a nice variety of wildlife in the county. Many species are thriving, yet some are more sensitive and struggling to survive. Most of the endangered and threatened species we have are at risk mainly due to changes in the landscape we humans have altered. Since we have created this imbalance, we should also be the ones who strive to correct this. I do spend a fair amount of time working to improve life and population numbers for some of these imperiled species. There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction in bringing a species back from the edge of extinction. However, most of this success will need to stand the test of time and require future generations to care as much as we do now.
What would you like DuPage County residents and forest preserve visitors to know about our natural areas and resources?
I would love for our residents to get out and experience the wonderful preserves we are so fortunate to have here in DuPage County. I see a frightening trend in suburbia where we as a society are becoming more detached from our natural world. Adults and children are spending less time outdoors especially in natural areas and therefore are losing their connection, understanding and appreciation for preservation and conservation. Spending time outdoors — especially in a forest preserve — can really be a rejuvenating experience both physically and mentally.
What is your favorite preserve?
I personally find it difficult to pick a favorite preserve. So many of our preserves have their own uniqueness that makes them special. I recommend visiting a number of different preserves to get a sense of their unique attributes. Everyone has their own preferences — some preserves will generate a special connection with certain individuals while others are drawn to different preserves. You can only make these connections by experiencing them firsthand.
What is your favorite forest preserve animal? Why?
Just like the preserves it would be difficult to pick a favorite animal. I find all creatures to be quite fascinating The more you learn about them the more interesting they become. I must admit I am quite partial to the Blanding’s turtle, an endangered species in Illinois. I have been working with populations in DuPage County for quite some time now, and our efforts to save this species in DuPage County have been very rewarding. It is very special to see a turtle that you hatched and raised survive to adulthood and produce a new generation of turtles. Every year we are seeing more accounts of this and the population numbers are increasing.
What inspires you in nature? Why do you like to share that with others?
I have been drawn to nature ever since I was a young child. It is very fascinating to me to see the delicate balance and the intricate way things are interconnected. I find nearly any experience I have with nature inspiring. Simple things such as a prairie in bloom, the sound of coyotes or an owl calling, a beautiful sunset, watching a hummingbird nectar, the smell of the air after a storm, the changing seasons all provide me with a special experience and feeling I can’t get anywhere else. This is our roots, and it’s very easy in our modern society to feel that we are not a part of or connected to this natural world. I want everyone to get out and experience nature and try to find some connection. This will help build better stewardship for the future. Immersing yourself in nature is a great stress relief from the fast pace of life today. The preserves have something to offer everyone, whether you are looking for mental serenity or physical rejuvenation.