Gene Fleming, the longtime chief of the Environmental and Cultural Resources Section, retired yesterday with nearly 50 years of government service.
On Sept. 27, 1972, he was hired at the district as a biologist in Planning. Six years later, he moved to the then-North Central Division (NCD) where he worked on the review and approval of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document legislation and budget requests. There, he worked closely with the NCD districts, and worked extensively on the environmental movement which was starting to develop as a business line throughout the Corps. In 2004, he returned to the Chicago District, where his work in environmental restoration continued.
“The entire environmental program was the one business line that made a big impression on me and many others,” Fleming said. “As an agency, we were improving the quality of life for the thousands of people that lived near or visited our projects, along with the wildlife that benefited from our work.”
He added that a significant wildlife benefit from our restoration projects was for the millions of migratory birds that utilized the globally significant flyway (western shoreline of Lake Michigan) twice a year in metro Chicago/Northwest Indiana, and for many people that witnessed the migration in portions of the Artic Circle, Canada, 14 U.S. states, and Central and South America.
“All of the ecosystem projects added great value to the work we were doing in the metro area but the project that provided significant emphasis on restoration of the Great Lakes habitat was Northerly Island,” he said. “Northerly Island was a former airport, Meigs Field, and the southern 40 acres was transformed into habitat types that existed in the Chicago area. The Northerly Island project was used repeatedly as an example of successful restoration by those pushing the restoration movement for the Great Lakes. Northerly Island helped gain support for the Great Lakes restoration movement and funding from congressional members for the USEPA-managed Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”
He said that habitat restoration is important because it reverses the destruction of habitat that is causing plant and animal species density reduction. It also degrades the quality of life of those people that live near or visit the degraded areas - sites developed for farming, housing, factories, building roads, and numerous other activities often lead to degradation of habitat.
“Habitat restoration is important for aesthetics, hiking, hunting, fishing, and bird-watching,” he said. “Additionally, restoring damaged areas helps ensure cleaner water and can help control flooding. I’m honored to be a force for the restoration of the habitat.”
When Fleming came back to the district in 2004, shortly thereafter he was given the title of chief, Environmental Formulation and Analysis Section, which was eventually changed to chief, Environmental & Cultural Resources Section. In 1969, he received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and, in 1972, a master’s degree in natural resources from Chicago State University.
He said his return to the district in 2004 was timely because the restoration movement was gaining in popularity. He also said that his work on budgets and drafting legislation (GLFER, Section 125 etc.), along with connections with the NCD and other resource agencies such as the USEPA, USFWS, various Forest Preserve Districts, Urban Waters, and more allowed him to tap into other interested groups that helped get nonfederal partners to participate in the district’s restoration work.
“The district staff helped to ensure the restoration projects were formulated correctly and cost effective, and they deserve to be congratulated for their fine work,” Fleming said. “I enjoyed the work and I believed that habitat restoration was very important. Assuming the nonfederal sponsors maintain the restoration projects as they agreed to, the benefits of our restoration work will go on for many years to come.”
Sue Davis, chief of the Planning Branch, said the district owes a lot to Fleming and his commitment to the Corps.
“Gene was the driving force behind the Chicago District’s restoration program, which has resulted in the completion of 42 projects and more than 4100 acres of restored habitat in the Chicagoland area,” Davis said. “Through his drive and support, the Chicago District is a regional and national leader in habitat restoration. Congratulations to Gene on his tremendous career and we wish him well in his retirement.”
Fleming said that, in his retirement, he plans to continue restoration of his houses, enjoy his family, and spend a lot of time at his lake home. And his advice to new employees: “Work closely with all your peers including your supervisors, project delivery team members, and nonfederal sponsors. And learn from each other.”