Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

Chicago Wilderness Survey Shows Hope for Threatened Grassland Birds

An Eastern meadowlark (Seri Douse / Great Backyard Bird Count)

A first-of-its-kind survey of the Chicago area’s remaining grasslands could be good news for several species of threatened birds that once thrived across Illinois.

DryHop, Lincoln Park Zoo to Release IPA Inspired by Rare New Zealand Bird

A male hihi bird on Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand (Duncan Wright / Wikipedia)

For the second time this year, Chicago’s DryHop Brewers is joining forces with Lincoln Park Zoo in the name of wildlife conservation, this time for a rare and endangered New Zealand bird.

EPA Finds Lead Contamination in Southeast Side Soil – In Addition to Manganese

A map of the zones included in the EPA’s soil testing on the Southeast Side (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

The ongoing probe into harmful levels of brain-damaging manganese on Chicago’s Southeast Side has turned up another, more familiar neurotoxin: lead.

Field Museum Begins 3-Year Renovation of Native American Hall

| Marc Vitali
Field Museum conservation technicians Ellen Jordan and J. Kae Good Bear work on the care of cultural materials in the Regenstein Lab. (© Field Museum, photo by John Weinstein)

Many of the displays in the museum’s Native American Hall have gone unchanged since the 1950s. Now, Native American scholars and tribal members will work with the museum to “better represent” these stories.

Ex-Gymnastics Coach Faces 18-Count Indictment in Sexual Assault Case

Jose Vilchis (Will County Sheriff)

Jose Vilchis, who was charged in October with sexually assaulting a teenage gymnast in south suburban Channahon, now faces additional charges of criminal sexual assault and sexual abuse, according to a grand jury indictment.

Nine Mexican Wolves Leaving Brookfield Zoo for New Homes

A group of Mexican wolves at Brookfield Zoo (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

They are one of the most successful packs within the nationwide Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, but nine of the 10 wolves will leave Chicago for new homes as part of a plan to help save the endangered species.

Fall Colors Are on Full Display at Chicago Botanic Garden

The Bulb Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. (Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden)

Sunny days and cool nights have helped produce a vivid display of fall colors this season. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, thousands of trees are at their peak.

Chicago Plans to Expand Bike Sharing to ‘100 Percent of City’

A $2.5 million award to address climate change will help Chicago expand bike-share programs to all parts of the city, according to the mayor’s office.

16,000 Chicagoans Had Water Cut Off in Single Year, Study Finds

(Steve Johnson / Flickr)

An estimated 15 million people in the U.S. – including thousands of Chicago residents – experienced water shutoffs in 2016, in many cases because they failed to pay their water bills. 

Walmart to Install Solar Panels at 21 Sites in Illinois


The mega-retailer says plans to install solar panels at nearly two dozen sites across Illinois will represent a 25-percent increase in the state’s current solar capacity.

Durbin Calls for Increased Monitoring of Illinois Pork-Processing Plant

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin appears on “Chicago Tonight” on Feb. 21, 2018.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is calling for federal action following a report that identified an Illinois meat-processing plant as the worst-polluting plant of its type in the country.

Chicago Group Gets $1M to Plant Trees, Combat Climate Change

(Laura Marie / Flickr)

Chicago-based environmental group Openlands has received a $1 million grant to address climate change by planting new trees and recruiting residents to protect them. 

EPA Settles With Chicago-Area Company Over Lead Paint Allegations

A warning sign on a tool factory in Rockport, Massachusetts. (Ben+Sam / Flickr)

A Bensenville-based home renovation company has agreed to pay nearly $53,000 for alleged violations of federal laws designed to protect against exposure to lead-based paint. 

Brookfield Zoo Rhino Celebrates Birthday After Surviving Life-Threatening Infection

Layla, an eastern black rhinoceros at Brookfield Zoo (Courtesy Chicago Zoological Society)

The 2,300-pound rhinoceros, Layla, logged an important milestone this week, celebrating her eighth birthday just months after overcoming a near-deadly infection.

New Group Targets Overlooked Stretch of Chicago River

The Lathrop Riverfront Group holds a kick-off paddle along the Chicago River. (Courtesy Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago)

The Lathrop Riverfront Group was formed to promote the section of riverfront near the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, a Chicago Housing Authority project that is being redeveloped into a mixed-income riverfront community. 

Field Museum Offers Free Entry in Exchange for Help Digitizing Collections

A taxidermy mount of the foot of a Cooper’s hawk at the Field Museum (Courtesy The Field Museum)

From Thursday through Sunday, volunteers who help transcribe labels from the museum’s massive collection of physical specimens get free admission for the day and a behind-the-scenes tour.

Chicago-Area Gymnastics Coach Arrested on Sexual Assault Charges

Jose Vilchis (Will County Sheriff)

More than two decades after first being accused of sexual abuse, a longtime Chicago-area gymnastics coach was arrested Monday on charges of sexually assaulting at least one teenage girl who trained with him in the far southwest suburbs. 

Field Museum Exhibit to Toast Chicago’s Immigrant-Driven Beer History

| Paul Caine
Interior of a Chicago saloon, 1905 (Chicago Daily News negatives collection / Chicago History Museum)

Visitors to the Field Museum this fall will have a chance to soak up Chicago’s rich beer history, with a focus on the immigrant communities that established the city’s first breweries.

Diabetes Drug Could Prevent Deaths from Air Pollution, Study Finds

(SD-Pictures / Pixabay)

An inexpensive drug for Type 2 diabetes also decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes caused by air pollution, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Illinois Has Worst-Polluting Meat-Processing Plant in US, Study Finds

A beef-processing plant (istanbulimage / iStock)

A pork-processing plant in western Illinois released an average of nearly 2,000 pounds of harmful nitrogen per day into a tributary of the Illinois River last year, according to a new report.

Activists Call on McDonald’s, Whole Foods to Clean Up Meat Supply Chains

Environmental activists pose for a photo during Wednesday’s protest in downtown Chicago. (Courtesy Mighty Earth)

According to a new report, McDonald’s and Whole Foods sell meat from agribusiness companies that are responsible for mass deforestation and pollution.

EPA Collects Soil from 100 Properties on Southeast Side for Manganese Testing

(Google Maps)

Soil samples have been collected from more than 100 properties as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to assess the threat posed by brain-damaging manganese emitted from nearby industrial sites.

Adoptable Chicago Dogs Appear on Dating App Bumble

Copa is a 1-year-old male dog available for adoption through Chicago's city-run animal shelter (Chicago Animal Care and Control)

Swiping right could help you find a new furry best friend, if not a date for the weekend.

Shedd Aquarium to Extend Hours for Guests with Disabilities

A mother and daughter explore Shedd’s Sensory-Friendly App, designed for guests with autism or a sensory processing disorder, in front of the aquarium’s Caribbean Reef exhibit. (Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

On Oct. 16 and Nov. 14, registered guests will be able to explore all of Shedd’s exhibits in a “comfortable and accepting environment” as part of a new “Calm Waters” program.

Storms Prompt Sewage Discharge into Chicago River Near Edgebrook, Lawndale

A section of the North Branch of the Chicago River in Edgebrook on Oct. 2, 2018 (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

Overnight storms brought more than 1.5 inches of rain in parts of the Chicago area Monday night, prompting sewage discharges into several local rivers.