As Chicago’s regional land trust, Openlands advocates for the protection of land in order to ensure cleaner air, cleaner water, and habitat for wildlife. From working with federal partners to establish the nation’s first National Tallgrass Prairie, to working with municipal agencies to ensure stronger protections for local natural resources, Openlands is committed to advancing natural-based solutions to ensure our region’s resiliency and biodiversity.

Connecting a Web of Healthy Landscapes

Restoration is the process of returning the land to a healthy state for nature, wildlife, and people. The retreat of glaciers 12,000 years ago and the evolution of tallgrass prairies that followed left Illinois with deep, rich soils. As more colonists moved west, wetlands were drained, much of the prairie was plowed, and farmland now covers over 80% of our state in place of natural ecosystems. Over the decades, Openlands has developed strong expertise in cutting-edge ecological restoration in order to restore the diversity and beauty of native prairie, woodland, and wetland ecosystems on all scales. From working with property owners in Lake County to practice conservation-friendly landscaping to our work in large landscape restoration at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, Openlands understands the importance of healthy, connected land and water.

Policy Priorities


Openlands remains committed to pushing for policies in the built environment that protect migratory birds. Openlands supports forest and conservation districts to increase their land protection and restoration efforts across the region. In addition, through our role in the Native Garden Registry Advisory Board, we support the cultivation of native habitats in private and community gardens through collaboration with City of Chicago departments.

In the Illinois General Assembly, Openlands helps shape and support legislation to protect our wetlands in the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that severely weakened the Clean Water Act, and we advocate for funding to advance a state greenway along the land once reserved for the Illinois Route 53 expansion, a concept which has received bipartisan support from local and state elected officials.

An aerial view of a vast field with trees, wetlands and grass.


Some of our largest opportunities for open space protection exist on the federal level, which is why Openlands continues to advocate for the protection and expansion of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, both of which we were instrumental in establishing through our partnerships. We support legislation introduced on the federal level that supports our mission, such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

Make Your Voice Heard

Openlands Action Alerts highlight urgent issues at local, regional, and federal levels, empowering you to make a difference. From advocating for clean air and water to protecting open spaces, your participation drives positive change.

Meet Our Expert Staff

Openlands Staff Emily Reusswig
Vice President of Conservation and Policy
Openlands Director of Policy Chris Kessler
Director of Policy
Policy and Advocacy Associate
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