What We Do


Climate Change

Climate Change

Overview

Our world is changing.

Adapting to our warming planet is a challenge that must be confronted in specific ways across the globe—protecting against rising sea levels along the world's coastlines from Miami to Mumbai or tackling the impacts of drought from Australia to California. Here, where the Great Lakes meet the Great Plains, ensuring that our landscape is healthy and resilient is our great responsibility.

In the Chicago region, climate change increasingly means unusually intense weather events: winters with deeper and deeper quantities of snow, springs with torrential and soaking rainfall, and summers scorched with drought and heat.

Since Openlands was founded in 1963, our work has improved the Chicago region by connecting people to nature—inspiring generations of environmental stewards and preserving over 55,000 acres of open space. Our efforts to preserve open space and to promote an ecologically healthy region have also directly supported its adaptability. Our work has had a powerful impact on creating climate resilient and livable communities.

Wildlife Habitat

A warming region endangers the survival of plant and animal species that become trapped on green “islands” surrounded by development. As conditions on the “island” change because of increasing temperatures, more intense rain or snow, or invading plant and animal species, the native species must have paths to migrate to compatible areas. Openlands’ work to protect and restore open space and to establish greenway, river, and trail corridors between these spaces connects habitat and crucially allows species to move, breed, and ultimately to survive. These vital green connections are composed of a network of public parks, preserves, trails, and refuges Openlands has helped create. The health of these habitats is enhanced by Openlands’ restoration efforts, such as the large-scale wetland restoration projects throughout the Des Plaines River watershed and the bluff and ravine habitat restorations at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. Native wildlife and restored plant communities in these areas allow the ecosystem to recover and regenerate.

Gardens and Farmland

Farmland conservation improves the region’s hardiness by preserving our regional food system. Openlands is working on several fronts to help build and sustain a robust local food system. Growing lots of different types of food for people to eat combined with conservation practices can improve land and water health by protecting soils and cleaning rivers and streams. Farming using conservation practices can serve as a buffer to natural areas and provide habitat so that it serves as part of the web of connected green corridors vital for wildlife. Many of these buffers are protected by conservation easements, voluntary agreements between a landowner and a qualifying organization that permanently limit uses of the land to protect its conservation values. Openlands holds thousands of acres of conservation easements on private property, which are invaluable links between open space at places like Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. On a smaller scale, community gardens in urban settings also provide valuable habitat for birds and insects—including monarch butterflies—and green space for neighborhoods.

City Trees

Openlands’ tree care and tree planting programs—particularly the flagship TreeKeepers program—improve Chicago’s resilience to climate change by preserving and restoring its urban forest. Trees across the region are currently facing decline due to disease, pests, and other environmental stresses. As more carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, our atmosphere is getting hotter. The shade that trees provide reduces heat islands, areas with large amounts of concrete that retain heat, in our communities. If we lost all the trees in the seven-county metropolitan Chicago region we would lose $51 billion in residential energy savings, storm water capture, carbon storage, and pollution removal. Openlands is part of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, the largest such initiative in the nation, a region-wide partnership for coordinated action to build a healthier, more diverse regional forest.

Schoolyards

Openlands understands that the future of our planet is in the hands of children. Our programs at schools across Chicago introduce future stewards to nature in their own schoolyards and neighborhoods. Crucially, these programs also create green space for the benefit of students, neighbors, and wildlife. Space to Grow: Greening Chicago Schoolyards, a partnership led by Openlands and Healthy Schools Campaign, transforms Chicago schoolyards into inviting green open spaces that significantly reduce flood damage from torrential rainstorms. The program is made possible by a visionary public/private partnership including Chicago Public Schools, the City of Chicago Department of Water Management, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

(Images: NASA Earth Observatory (top) and Chicago Wilderness)
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