Openlands works across the Chicago metropolitan region to advance nature-based solutions to climate change, improve the health and well-being of communities, and create a more verdant region for all. Learn more about our work and how you can get involved to help make a more verdant, equitable region with Openlands.
It’s a Saturday in spring and a community group has gathered to plant the next generation of trees throughout their neighborhood. They are buzzing with excitement and groups form circles to stretch. You are leading a group and you teach them how to correctly plant the trees in front of their homes. Two kids name their trees “Barky” and “Leafy”. The community now has forty new trees to care for and steward.
The following week, you are in historic Jackson Park, overlooking Lake Michigan. Surrounded by large, mature trees, you provide mulch and water for smaller trees that were planted the previous year. As you revisit the park, you feel a sense of pride watching these young trees grow and thrive.
The next month, you work alongside a group of dedicated volunteers called TreeKeepers. You use a variety of tools to strategically cut off branches, assisting the trees in developing a healthy form and growth structure. The group gathers at the end of the workday, feeling rewarded in the work accomplished.
At the end of the summer, you sit on a tree limb forty feet high. You spent the entire day learning how to use ropes, harnesses and hitches, ascending and descending a group of trees over and over. This is the highest point you have climbed so far and you feel accomplished. Looking out over the landscape, you think, “I could get used to this view”.
Three months later, you receive a full-time job offer from a tree care company for a tree climber position.
Interested? If so, the Openlands Forestry Training Program could be the right fit for you.
Since 2018, the Forestry Training Program has provided interested individuals paid hands-on field experiences, trainings and professional development opportunities in arboriculture. Over eight months, trainees experience the full life-cycle of an urban tree by selecting trees at the nursery, planting trees, conducting tree establishment maintenance (watering, mulching and pruning), and inventorying established trees.
The community tree planting events in spring and fall are a highlight of the program. “Meeting and connecting with people from different communities was always a great time,” 2019 Forestry Trainee Glenn explains. “Everybody just has the same vision and goal in mind to help the Earth and Chicago’s green landscape.” Past trainees are currently pursuing or have obtained jobs in urban forestry or conservation.
“This program was life-changing”, Shayne expressed, “I didn’t even know I wanted to do this and now I see this as my future career.”
Trainees meet with and learn from industry professionals in commercial arboriculture, municipal forestry, and those in advocacy and research roles to help establish long-term connections in the field. By learning and engaging with experts, trainees leave the program with a well-rounded experience and confidence to pursue positions in the tree care industry.
“The coolest part of the program, was getting to work with an awesome team, meeting so many people, and getting exposed to a lot of really cool opportunities. All of the skills I’ve learned throughout this time has allowed me now to focus on where I’m going to go and what I want to do after the program.”– Shayne, 2019 Forestry Trainee
Openlands hopes to continue inspiring future arborists and advocates for Chicagoland’s urban forest through the Forestry Training Program. Whether you’re a current practitioner seeking change or a novice who just likes being outside, this program could be the right fit for you! Follow Openlands on Facebook, Twitter and, Instagram to see what the 2020 Forestry Trainees are up to! If you have any questions or inquiries about the program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The entire Openlands family was saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Botts, a one-time fellow Openlander whose impact on conservation in the Chicago region and throughout the Great Lakes was profound.
A native of Oklahoma who moved to the Chicago region in 1949, Lee was a leader in the effort to create Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (now Indiana Dunes National Park) in the mid-1960s. In 1969, she joined the staff of Openlands (then Open Lands Project), where she founded the Lake Michigan Federation as a special project. Lee was a strong advocate for Great Lakes issues, and her work at the federation helped lead to the banning of phosphates in laundry detergents in Chicago, the passage of the U.S. Clean Water Act, and a national ban on PCBs. Ultimately the federation became an independent organization and is now the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
Lee worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and headed the federal Great Lakes Basin Commission. She later taught at Northwestern University, and she helped establish the City of Chicago’s Department of the Environment and the Dunes Learning Center at Indiana Dunes National Park. Not one to slow down, in her 80s she served as executive producer on the Emmy-nominated documentary, Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability, about the Indiana Dunes.
Our thoughts are with Lee’s family and friends as we remember her remarkable career.
To learn more about Lee’s great work or to share a remembrance, please visit this site set up in her honor.
(Photo: Lee Botts with Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Park, at the Openlands Annual Luncheon in 2014; credit: Chris Murphy)
On August 8, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the Land and Climate Change report, which details the impacts of land use on the climate and the impacts of climate change on land. The report is upfront in its message: the ways humans use land impact the climate, and now we have the choice to either change our behavior to avoid catastrophe or double-down on our current efforts. Either way, the report indicates both tremendous risk and peril to our global livelihood and ability to adequately produce food and shelter.
This report adds to the increasingly clear message that the climate equation is far more complex than greenhouse gas emissions and reduction strategies. Yes, we need to decarbonize the global economy; dramatically reduce consumption patterns; and limit new extraction of natural resources. But we also need to fundamentally transform how and where most of our basic economic activities – such as farming, transportation, and housing – take place.
One of the key takeaways from this report is the reminder that land and the ways we use land have a very precarious relationship with the climate. Land can offer tremendous benefits towards influencing the climate by mitigating air temperatures and pulling carbon from the atmosphere, for example. But land, when mismanaged and abused, can also make destructive contributions to emissions, particularly when we convert natural areas and natural resources for the development of things like highways, sprawl, or mining. We have completely reshaped global landscapes and ecosystems to support our production of food, timber, clothing, and energy, and those combined land-uses now contribute about 22% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
The particular focus on emissions from land use in this report is alarming. As global populations continue to grow, become more affluent, and change consumption patterns, emissions from land uses are only expected to rise, which presents the need to overhaul how we produce food, how we manage natural resources, and how we protect land.
Land as a part of the ecosystem
Both the science and the task are daunting: how to undo arguably 250 years of emissions, still maintain the quality of life found in wealthy industrialized nations while providing for gains sought by poorer nations? In the search for answers, land and nature can lead the way.
In a truly functioning ecosystem, no resource is wasted, and every square inch provides a service – sometimes with ruthless efficiency. Simply, land and land use in a truly functioning ecosystem provides several functions: food, shelter, clean water, waste receptacle, and so on. While humans have technologically advanced since the industrial revolution, we have gone backwards in many ways and must look to nature for both inspiration and answers.
In terms of the IPCC report, humans no longer have the luxury of viewing land and land-use for single functions and to provide single benefits. Instead, land-use must mimic nature and provide two if not three essential functions or benefits in order to begin to solve our climate problems. For example, dwellings and structures should not only provide housing, offices, commerce, or manufacturing sites, but also include vegetation rich structures like green roofs that lower ambient air temperatures and serve as habitat. Urban forests, likewise, shade structures and intercept rainwater, while providing myriad other benefits like providing oxygen and helping improve the mental health of residents. Ideally, agriculture should not just provide food for humans, but also provide a symbiotic habitat for bugs, birds, and pollinators, and serve as a greater carbon sink than they currently contribute.
What’s striking about the recent UN report is the recognition that we don’t have unlimited land where these activities can take place, so we need to get much better at doing several things at once.
We know the solutions we can enact both for reducing our global emissions and for using land to our advantage against the looming climate crisis, but we face enormous societal, economic, and political challenges. Protecting and stewarding natural areas, supporting sustainable agriculture, and expanding the urban forest are all cited as solutions in the IPCC report. Similarly, these are all priorities for Openlands, and we will continue to lead on a regional scale. To do so, however, we need our elected officials to get serious about addressing this crisis by devoting the necessary resources to sustaining a healthy, habitable climate. Those resources and that leadership cannot come soon enough, and we are all responsible for holding our leaders accountable to deliver them.
Adopting Societal Approaches for Land Management
To some, this notion that land must now have multiple uses or provide multiple benefits may be foreign, but once again, we can say that we know the answers needed here. In terms of agriculture, what’s generally good for long-term farming is also good for the climate. As the IPCC report indicates, conservation practices build soil health in a way that holds carbon and puts it into crops, and crops are fuller and healthier because of it. But building soil health is an investment that sometimes takes years to pay for itself and farmers who are selling into globally competitive commodity crop markets can’t always afford to invest in their soils today. That’s where policies like the Federal Farm Bill need to incentivize conservation practices in order to bridge this affordability gap. Unfortunately, by failing to even acknowledge climate change and by cutting $5 billion from conservation-friendly programs, the 2018 Farm Bill did nowhere near enough to address the circumstances outlined in the latest UN report. Since farmland is key for these considerations not only because it’s where we produce food, but also because it’s the vast majority of land in the Midwest, we must change our societal approach, relationship and perception to both farming and our food.
The IPCC report also explicitly calls for better protection and stewardship of forests, which play a key role in mitigating climate. Countries like China, India, and Ethiopia have answered this call and are each planting billions of trees this year alone. They recognize that healthy forests are key to keeping carbon out of the atmosphere and prolonging a hospitable climate. Consequently, they are prioritizing precious public resources to re-establishing the forests they’ve lost, even when so many competing and dire needs exist. The Chicago region must follow the examples of those like China, India, and Ethiopia as well as the recommendations of the IPCC report. We must conserve and protect more natural areas, restore more ecosystems to health to strengthen carbon mitigation and climate resiliency, prevent further conversion of natural and agricultural lands to development, and localize our food systems to reduce emissions from food production.
While the continuing onslaught of news in the IPCC report on the climate is again grim, it is important to remember that we still have the ability to prevent a climate crisis. We as a society need to do a better job at protecting forests, assigning uses to and managing land, and producing food. And yes, as the IPCC report indicates, changing our dietary habits to local sources of food and eating less meat are important steps to take to reduce our personal carbon footprint to a sustainable level. But there is hope. The IPCC executive summary concludes by stating:
“Actions can be taken in the near-term, based on existing knowledge, to address desertification, land degradation and food security while supporting longer-term responses that enable adaptation and mitigation to climate change…”
Near-term action to address climate change adaptation and mitigation, desertification, land degradation and food security can bring social, ecological, economic, and development co-benefits. Co-benefits can contribute to poverty eradication and more resilient livelihoods for those who are vulnerable. With record spring rains in the Midwest, heatwaves in Europe, devastating wildfires in the Amazon and across Central Africa, and the warmest month ever recorded this past July, we are all looking a little vulnerable right now.
Despite those challenges, it is comforting to know that the authors of the IPCC report, as well as the United Nations delegates who can veto any portion of the executive summary, think we can handle this.
Photo: Patrick Williams
Read more about Openlands’ efforts to address the climate crisis or email email@example.com for more information.
On May 6, the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released their summary of an upcoming 1,500-page report on the state of biodiversity on Earth. The findings of the report are sobering and paint a bleak view for one million wildlife species now at risk of extinction due to human activity.
A three-year study by the IPBES finds that nature is experiencing an ‘unprecedented’ decline. This decline threatens terrestrial and aquatic species — including birds, insects, amphibians, mammals, trees, plants, marine life, and terrestrial life — and erodes the social and economic foundations of human civilization. It also finds unequivocally that human activities are to blame, especially ones that drive land use change, species exploitation, climate change, pollution, and competition from invasive species.
Some especially astonishing facts revealed by this study include:
- Three-fourths of the planet’s land-based habitat, and two-thirds of its ocean habitat, has been significantly altered by humans;
- One-third of the planet’s land and three-fourths of its freshwater are used by agriculture; and
- The footprint of urban areas more than doubled since 1992.
The report from the UN reminds us again that as a planet, our current efforts to protect nature are nowhere near enough. Without ‘transformational changes’, the situation will worsen.
But that doesn’t have to be our future.
Openlands believes that nature is vital to all humans, and so we have an obligation to sustain nature not only for its own sake but also for our own wellbeing. To counter these troubling global trends, Openlands acts regionally to advance changes that are models for transformations which safeguard our region’s wildlife, sustain human communities, and support a healthy equilibrium between them.
- Our work to establish greenway corridors and our landscape-scale land protection at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie set the stage for wildlife to migrate and flourish.
- Ecological restoration projects, the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve and our school gardens programs also aim to transform human-impacted places into areas where wildlife can thrive again.
- We help private landowners place conservation easements on their property to protect important natural habitat and we work with willing sellers to add new acreage and access to existing conservation areas.
- We work to build a climate-resilient region by taking steps to reduce the number of private cars and trucks on our roads, which includes opposing shortsighted highway projects that reinforce the automobile-focused status quo and proliferate our region’s use of fossil fuels.
- Forestry, clean water, and local food programs all provide education about our natural resources so that more residents of the Chicago region value and respect them.
And while we are leading the efforts to make our region the most livable region in the country, endangered wildlife is still facing threats today and needs your voice. Right now legislation in Springfield will undercut Illinois’ ability to protect its own endangered wildlife and instead defer critical decisions to the current Federal administration, an administration that’s made a point of showing its disregard for environmental protection.
Please ask your state legislators to reject this law that would prevent Illinois from protecting its own threatened and endangered species.
We are committed to keeping you informed of the latest news and how it impacts conservation in the Chicago region, and we need your help to keep pursuing the transformation changes needed to save our planet’s wildlife. We need your support now, more than ever, to sustain our work that connects people with nature in the Chicago region.
Photos: Bill Clow (top); Marty Hackl
The 700-page Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47) was signed into law on March 12, 2019. The Act is a sweeping plan to provide Federal support for public lands and conservation across the country, and contains many major gains.
Ninety-two of 100 Senators and 363 of 435 Representatives voted for this bill. Such consensus represents a level of bipartisanship that is rare in Washington and once again demonstrates that conserving public land, wildlife, and nature is important to everyone and is good public policy!
Included in the plan is the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of the country’s most vital conservation programs, which had previously expired in 2018. Reauthorization of the LWCF happened because of such sustained public advocacy from so many individuals across the country, including you. For your time and support, we thank you.
The Natural Resources Management Act is being lauded as a major victory for conservation in the media. It is certainly big news, and as is the case with such a complex policy issue, there are significant gains, some concerning new programs, and several actionable items for our region to turn this new funding into a vibrant conservation legacy. We’ve broken that down for you here.
- Land and Water Conservation Fund: Title 3 permanently authorizes, but does not fully fund, the Land & Water Conservation Fund. This important program uses royalties from offshore drilling to acquire and protect public lands. Through this vital program, Starved Rock State Park, the Illinois Prairie Path, Deer Grove East Forest Preserve, Volo Bog, Chain’O’Lakes State Park, the I&M Canal trail system, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Illinois Beach State Park, Kennicott Grove, and park districts from Chicago to Highland Park to Naperville have all received funding.
- American Discovery Trail: Section 2503 authorizes signage, but no formal designation, of the American Discovery Trail (ADT). The ADT is the first coast-to-coast non-motorized trail. It runs 6,800 miles from Delaware to California and along utilizes four Illinois trails: Old Plank Road, I&M Canal, Hennepin Canal, and Great River.
- Invasive Species: Section 7001 imparts new authorities to Federal agencies for protecting against invasive species, like Buckthorn and Asian Carp.
- Private Land Conservation: Section 3002 creates a landowner education program that will provides information about incentives that landowners receive from conserving private lands.
- Every Kid Outdoors: Section 9001 permanently encodes the Every Kid Outdoors Act, which allows free entrance to Federal lands for fourth grade students.
The Bill also set a course for future public lands policy. Some of this new direction is concerning.
- Wildlife Management: State wildlife management decisions are given priority over Federal wildlife protections. This means that Federally protected species and their habitats can be managed in completely different ways (or not at all) in each state. This jeopardizes efforts to protect species across state lines, such as sandhill cranes in Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. With your help, we are fighting a proposal to defer Illinois’ management decisions to Federal agencies, which would create an uncertain legal framework in which neither state nor federal government is responsible for protecting at-risk wildlife.
- National Heritage Areas: Six National Heritage Areas are added (a plus) but no additional money is provided for the program, which jeopardizes support for existing Heritage Areas like the I&M Canal.
- Land and Water Conservation Fund: LWCF will be required to fund hunting access.
- Pipelines: Land protections continue to be sacrificed for oil and gas infrastructure. For example, provisions for pipeline development in National Parks, specifically in Denali, are included in the plan. This builds upon a dangerous precedent of expanding fossil fuel development and transmission in National Parks and conservation areas across the country.
- Off-road vehicle use in Federally-owned sensitive conservation areas will be expanded.
What Needs to Happen Next
Given these many pros and cons, Openlands believes Congress needs to take up the following programs to truly breathe life into the Natural Resources Management Act.
- Provide full funding for the Land & Water Conservation Fund
- Keep pipelines and off-road vehicles out of Federal conservation areas
- Increase funding for public lands programs, like National Heritage Areas, so that they can meet the needs of newly-designated conservation areas.
- Formally designate the Calumet National Heritage Area to complement the new Indiana Dunes National Park.
- Prioritize the needs of threatened and endangered species, regardless of state wildlife management authority
- Designate Discovery Trails as a formal category of the National Trails System
Openlands is committed to keeping you informed on public lands news like this. We will continue to monitor both the victories and threats to healthy lands and waters across the Chicago region. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
On February 15, 2019, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was upgraded to a National Park, the country’s 61st. The greater Chicago region now has a National Park. Members of the Indiana and Illinois conservation communities have worked for decades to bring about this important designation, and we send our congratulations to them for all their hard work.
The “upgrade” was included in a large spending bill and formally changed the name of Indiana Dunes and as well as a visitor center. But hard work remains in front of us: Indiana Dunes National Park deserves more just than a new name. It deserves to be part of a restored natural and cultural landscape that attracts visitors from throughout the world and the millions of people who live within a few hours drive.
To host such an internationally acclaimed attraction, we need to treat the Dunes like the treasure they are. We must hold industry accountable when it irresponsibly dumps toxic chemicals into surrounding waterways. We must piece back together the mosaic of dunes and swales, oak savannas and prairies, lakes and rivers that once covered this region. In doing so, we must recognize the importance of this area plays in the lives of residents – past and present – who have made their homes here.
All that takes more than a name change. It merits significantly increased and sustained funding for the Park itself by Federal, state, local, and private stakeholders. It also merits Congressional designation of the Calumet National Heritage Area – the region between Hyde Park and Michigan City, Indiana – where extraordinary natural areas and technological innovation co-evolved for generations.
We extend a big ‘thank you’ to our representatives in Congress and ask they do more to make Indiana Dunes National Park a place worthy of mention next to Yellowstone, Isle Royale, and America’s other “Greatest Places.”
Conservation efforts surrounding the Indiana Dunes and its unique ecosystems date back to 1899. The First World War halted protection due to a shift in national priorities, but in 1926 the site was designated as Indiana Dunes State Park. In 1966, the site was officially authorized as a National Lakeshore and Openlands played an integral role in this designation. We strongly encourage you to visit.
Photos from a Birds in my Neighborhood field trip to Indiana Dunes, June 2018.
Join us on March 13 for Conservation Lobby Day in Springfield!
Conservationists are gathering in Springfield to advocate for Illinois’ environment. State legislators, members of the Pritzker Administration, and other advocates will discuss Illinois’ priorities related to conservation funding, endangered species protection, and other critical issues for our community.
Please select Openlands when registering and please contact us below to coordinate travel arrangements.
Option 1: Amtrak from Union Station in Chicago to Springfield ($48)
Return: 8:45pm (estimated)
Option 2: Drive a carpool. Please contact us for help coordinating carpools.
Where to meet in Springfield: IEC Headquarters, 520 E. Capitol Avenue, Springfield, IL 60633 — 10am
- 7am: Travel. Receive issue briefings and legislator info if traveling on train
- 10:30am: Arrive at IEC’s Springfield office for orientation and instructions
- 11am: Walk to Capitol, meet with legislators (401 S. 2nd Street)
- 1pm: Lunch provided at a local restaurant
- 2pm: Continue meeting with legislators, IDNR staff (TBD)
- 4:45pm: Depart Amtrak (100 N. 3rd Street)
- 8:45pm: Arrive back in Chicago
Itinerary is subject to minor changes.
For more information on Conservation Lobby Day, please contact email@example.com.
Illinois needs to get serious on climate change before it hits our economy hard. California’s largest utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric, has announced that they have literally been bankrupted by climate change. Faulty PG&E equipment has been cited as the source for many of the devastating wildfires that swept across California in 2017 and 2018, and facing an estimated $17B – $30B in liabilities, the company publicly announced plans to file for Chapter 11 on January 29, 2019.
Climate change is a principal factor in the intensity of those fires, and while Illinois won’t face the same threats as California, it’s only a matter of time until we are dealing with our own climate-fueled disaster. Climate change will have a different face in Illinois, and we will see the costs add up in healthcare, urban and rural flooding, crop failure, and strained infrastructure. The wrong thing to do in these instances would be to subsidize the costs, liabilities, and risks with new burdens on utility and tax payers. The right thing to do is investing in strategies that reduce our collective risks and protect our communities from the changes we must expect.
The reality is that we are starting to run out of time to act on climate change, so we need to transition our economy to clean energy, and just as importantly, we need to scale up strategies that help put carbon back in the ground. We must prioritize solutions that offer multiple benefits for each single investment.
Photo (top): Jasmin Shah
Nature-based solutions to climate change are cost-effective models that simultaneously provide environmental, societal, and economic benefits and help build climate resilience. Healthy, natural lands put carbon back in the soil, but Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources, county conservation districts, and forest preserves are starved for funding to care for their land. Money focused here would create healthier lands, provide public recreation, and build community resiliency.
Tree-lined streets and urban parks reduce both air pollution and air temperatures, together lowering the number of hospital visits, missed school days, and exorbitant energy bills. Through our Space to Grow program, for example, Openlands works in partnership with government agencies, other non-profits, and private sector entities to reduce neighborhood flooding while providing improved schoolyards and community green space. Illinois needs more thinking like this.
Land can no longer have one primary designated use, but rather must have multiple functions. We need many more public-private partnerships that provide funding, knowledge, and expertise both to implement the strategies we know will work and to pioneer new solutions that deliver multiple benefits for climate resiliency. As the PG&E example indicates, we know these costs are coming if we do nothing, and we know the actions we can take to prevent it. Gov. Pritzker has committed Illinois to the US Climate Alliance, and that’s an important start, but we need far more help if we’re going to get serious in tackling this challenge.
On January 23, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed an executive order committing Illinois to the US Climate Alliance. The US Climate Alliance is a coalition of states working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Formed after the President withdrew US support for the Paris Agreement in 2017, the coalition works to promote policies that reduce carbon pollution into the atmosphere. The United States is now the only country in the world that does not support the Paris Agreement. However, with Illinois now a member, 18 states have signed on to the US Climate Alliance, representing 43% of the US population.
This is an important step for Illinois, and Openlands applauds Governor Pritzker for taking action to address climate change so soon into his term. We now have to get to work on a plan: the Paris Agreement framework aims to reduce global carbon emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels and limit global warming to 2°C/3.6°F above pre-industrial levels. At that point, we must still expect significant changes in our climate, but we will avert catastrophe. Additionally, the Paris Agreement set the aspirational goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees (2.7 F) to create a type of safety net.
We have had numerous warnings — including the recent National Climate Assessment — that show us we are falling far behind in meeting those benchmarks. We have also been reminded of the important role conservation must play in addressing the climate crisis.
We not only need to cut emissions and transition our economy to clean energy, but we also must put carbon back in the ground. Forests, natural areas, parks, farmland, and open spaces all have the capacity to absorb large amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through plants and trees, returning carbon to the soil. We need to ensure that the existing forests, farms, and natural areas are preserved and we need to protect new ones.
Openlands is pursuing this strategy to address climate change. We welcome partnerships that address our region’s energy use and emissions, and as Chicago’s regional land trust, we are uniquely positioned to champion these land-based solutions. For the last 55 years, Openlands has guided our region towards sustainability, and we are committed to guiding our region through a changing climate.