Wisconsin Union Volunteers Build Home for Displaced Birds
As dusk’s grey subtly mutes day’s blues and golds, and shadows from behind assume the foreground, a plume of earth and ash colored birds ascends from a chimney like a rush of smoke from an evening fireplace – hundreds of them. Flittering and fluttering, twisting and turning, they stalk and eat all the flying insects they can before descending back into their rooftop home for a good night’s rest of vertically-perched slumber.
The chimney swift is a species that had to adjust to dwindling habitats. Their natural roosting places were hollow trees, but as civilization expanded, these modest birds began to take refuge in chimneys. With advanced heating methods becoming more prominent, many structures aren’t built with chimneys, and numerous existing chimneys are being capped off, creating another housing crisis for the chimney swift.
As part of Work Boots on the Ground (WBG), the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s (USA) flagship conservation program, union volunteers from the Building & Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin constructed and installed an 18-foot-tall chimney swift tower at Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park in Madison, Wisconsin, on Oct. 17, 2015.
“Enhancing wildlife habitats is a key component of the Work Boots on the Ground program,” said USA Conservation Manager Ty Brown. “The chimney swift tower falls perfectly in line with our mission, so it was easy to say yes to this project.”
To complete the tower, 15 union members donated their expertise and more than 100 skilled man-hours on the project. First, they built the tower offsite, which included measuring, cutting and fastening wood materials together, staining the tower and building a stainless steel predator shroud for the top, according to Project Manager Spencer Statz, a member of Plumbers Local 75. Once constructed, the volunteers transported the tower to Cherokee Park on a trailer. They dug a 3-foot by 3-foot hole, 4 feet deep, placed rebar in the hole and erected the tower with a SkyTrak forklift donated by Ideal Crane Rentals, before pouring concrete for a secure base.
Project volunteers represented Plumbers Local 75, Elevators Constructors Local 132, Painters & Allied Trades Local 802, Steamfitters Local 601, Electricians Local 159, Iron Workers Local 383 and Operative Plasters & Cement Masons Local 599. Funds raised at the USA’s 2014 Madison Conservation Dinner covered project costs, and the idea came about when Statz approached a local conservation group called the Friends of Cherokee Marsh, who suggested the nesting tower.
“It all started when I was 6 years old,” said Statz. “My brother and I enjoyed fishing on the Yahara River, which runs through Cherokee Marsh. Over the next 30 years, I enjoyed rabbit, pheasant, waterfowl, turkey and deer hunting in the same area. When our (Building & Construction Trades Council) was looking for a project to do, it was a no-brainer for me; I wanted to give back to the wildlife area that brought me so many great memories growing up.”
Friends of Cherokee Marsh President Jan Axelson shared Statz’s enthusiasm for the project: “We were delighted when union workers came to us to volunteer,” she said. “We had wanted to build a swift tower, but we didn’t have the skills, materials or funding to pull it off, so having skilled union workers build it was a dream come true. They did a beautiful job, and we are totally pleased.”
Whether enhancing wildlife habitats, improving public access to the outdoors, restoring America’s parks or mentoring youth in the outdoors, the common denominator is community service, which is the heart of WBG.
“Our members live and work in this community,” said Statz. “So, I can’t think of a better way to give back to the places that made us who we are today.”