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Bolingbrook firefighters free heron tangled in fishing line at Whalon Lake

Firefighters work to free a great blue heron that was tangled in fishing line.
(Photo courtesy of the Bolingbrook Fire Department)

Bolingbrook firefighters were at the right lake at the right time on Wednesday, Aug. 2, to rescue a great blue heron tangled in fishing line. 

Two Forest Preserve District volunteers who were monitoring dragonflies from kayaks at Whalon Lake saw the heron attempt to eat a fish that was tethered in the lake by improperly disposed of fishing line. They knew what was going to happen but were powerless to stop the bird. 

The heron became stuck when the fishing line wrapped around its right wing, said Jeanne Golec, who was volunteering with Sharon Sullivan. 

“The heron couldn’t go very far,” Golec said. “The heron grabbed a fish, but the fish was attached to the line.”

Golec and Sullivan were in the process of working with Forest Preserve staff to assist the bird when they saw Bolingbrook firefighters performing annual water rescue training on the lake. One firefighter was in the water and others were in an inflatable boat. Sullivan paddled her kayak over to them to ask if they would help the heron. 

“The firefighter in the swimming gear approached from the water,” Golec said. “The heron was standing near the shore when he approached, and the other firefighters were in the boat.”

The firefighters in the boat landed on shore and the team worked together to cut away the fishing line and free the bird. 

“The heron flew away and he looked perfectly fine,” Golec reported. “It brought a tear to my eye. We were so lucky those guys were there. It was a beautiful great blue heron.” 

Firefighter Brandon Trower said when the volunteers asked for help, firefighter Jack Jans, who was in the water wearing a swift water rescue suit, waded over to the heron and was able to grab it and bring it to shore. The fishing line and a hook embedded in the bird's right wing were removed. 

"I have 23 years in the fire service and we rescue ducks and goslings in drains, but this blue heron was a new one for me," said Trower, who also is a paramedic. "We were glad we were able to assist. Animals are unable to call for help, but it worked out perfectly." 

Fishing line problem

The heron rescue highlights the problem with improperly discarded fishing line at area lakes and rivers. The Forest Preserve District has installed fishing line recycling tubes at all of its fishing lakes. 

Fishing line segments carelessly left behind or tossed away can result in devastating effects on wildlife by ensnaring their feet, wings, necks or bodies and causing injuries or death when they struggle to be free. The Forest Preserve has documented many cases where animals were injured or killed by fishing line. 

Anglers are encouraged to cut discarded fishing line into small segments of less than 6 inches and dispose of them in monofilament recycling containers or covered trash containers to protect wildlife.

Chicago Bird Collision Monitor volunteers have rescued at least a dozen birds in the Whalon Lake-Hidden Lakes Trout Farm area so far this year. The creatures were tangled in fishing line and/or had hooks in their legs. 

“The Forest Preserve District is so very appreciative of Wednesday's wildlife rescue efforts by the Bolingbrook Fire Department and our volunteers and the ongoing assistance by Chicago Bird Collision Monitor volunteers,” said Cindy Cain, the Forest Preserve’s public information office. “But the best-case scenario is for there to be no fishing line remnants in the environment that can harm creatures. We ask for everyone’s help in making this goal a reality.”