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First Person: From Outdoorsman to Conservationist

Byron Station employee shares why protecting the environment is important to him.

Jason Pitman, an online manager at Byron Generating Station, and his band of employee-conservationists, have transformed 100 acres of Exelon-owned land into thriving habitats for the various species of wildlife in his area. In his own words, he talks about what drove him to be a part of the Byron Station Conservation Club and why protecting the environment is important to him. 

An important sound from my youth is the whistle a quail makes. The high-pitched call was everywhere in the rural farming region where I grew up. It got to the point where you stopped noticing it. 

That is, until you noticed it had stopped. 

The Heartland

The Byron Generating Station sits in the middle of the Rock River Valley, in north central Illinois. I've lived here all my life. When you think of the "heartland" and America's "bread basket," you might as well be thinking about the Rock River Valley.

Pollinators4.jpgBefore the mid-1800s, the area was nothing but prairies, oak savannahs, woodlands and wetlands. Native fauna and flora flourished. Bison roamed free.

Agriculture took over by the late 1800s. Prairies were plowed for row crops, wetlands drained, woodlands cut for timber.

As recently as my own childhood, humans and natural habitats seemed to coexist in a way they don't today. Today, the whistle of the quail has quieted. A long list of plant and animal life struggle for survival.

The Surrounding Area

When Byron Station was developed, unused land to the north, south and west of the plant was leased out to local farmers. This practice continued for three decades.

Pollinators.jpgSeveral years ago, a group of us started asking about the possibility of creating a natural sanctuary on part of the land. We formed an employee resource group -- the Byron Station Conservation Club. We worked with Exelon real estate managers to reach out to the local farmers and negotiate their lease agreements, allowing us to reclaim some of the land for natural habitat development while the farmers continue to actively farm in other areas. With more than 250 acres surrounding the plant, there is enough space for everyone!

In 2014, we received approval to repurpose 60 acres just north of the plant. The following spring, we planted all kinds of prairie pollinator grasses and milkweed. We held a "tree planting day" with two dozen plant employee-volunteers and some borrowed machinery. We planted 3,500 trees, bushes and shrubs. We've planted tall grasses that protect birthing deer so their fawns aren't just dropped in the unforgiving openness of a corn field and allow the wild turkeys, pheasants and quail to nest and be protected from natural predators as they hatch their eggs.

By 2016, the fields came alive. The Gray Cone flower has yellowish drooping pedals. The Black-Eyed Susan has a yellow disc with brown center. The Foxglove Beardstongue has a wide white flower that's perfect for bees to land and gather pollen. The New England Aster, with its bright purple flower, is a late summer treat.

In 2017, we took on another 25 acres. We planted a pollinator-milkweed mix, two full acres of sunflowers to attract mourning doves and another 2,000 trees. This year we're taking over a 10-acre field to the south of the station.

In all, we've restored more than 100 acres in the last four years. We've planted 7,800 trees and spread truckloads of native grass seed. You really feel proud of the work you're doing when people start to notice and want to get involved, like when a local neighbor saw the restoration we were doing and reached out to us to see if his daughter could do a 4-H project to support our efforts. Of course, we agreed, and for two years his daughter raised 60 pheasants per year and released them into our habitat areas.

I've always been an outdoorsman; but this experience has made me a conservationist as well. As a boy, I soaked up the natural world. You'd be more likely to find me roaming the woods than watching TV. But at the time, I really didn't appreciate how fragile it all was. Or how it could vanish completely if we aren't careful. Now I'm middle-aged. I still love the outdoors. But I have a new appreciation for how much the natural world needs our care and protection. And, I'm very happy to be involved.

Pollinator1.jpgThe work has been accomplished by an incredible team of employee-volunteers who deserve to be recognized by name. Pete Oliver came to the team with previous experience in grassland restoration. Craig Walter knew all about soil preparation. Brian Ahlgrim, Steve Blackbourn, Kevin Brehm, Mark Davis, Frank Paslaski, Doug Spitzer, Jeff Spratt, Dean Rieck, Curt Howards and others played crucial roles.

And a special thanks to Heather Meyer, senior environmental specialist at Exelon Nuclear. She and her team have been our champions and helped facilitate corporate support.

Growing Support

The best part of the Byron story, and my story, is that it's not the only story. All across Exelon, the company is converting owned land and rights-of-way into habitats for endangered species. It's something we should all be proud of because we are actively fulfilling the company's purpose of "powering a cleaner and brighter future for our customers and communities."

Click here to find out more about the company's efforts to reduce our impacts on wildlife and enhance habitats and see our full reach.



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