From Resolution to Action: 4 nature-based policy recommendations for Chicago’s climate resilience

By Ted Haffner, Openlands Climate Fellow

On January 15, Aldermen Matt Martin (47) and George Cardenas (12) along with 44 other Aldermen introduced a Resolution calling for the City of Chicago to declare a Climate Emergency. This resolution was a positive step, offering the most comprehensive proposal to initiate an emergency mobilization effort against climate change and its impacts. The resolution also goes the furthest in addressing environmental justice, saying that there must be “widespread conservation and restoration of ecosystems,” and that “justice requires that frontline and marginalized communities, which have historically borne the brunt of the extractive fossil-fuel economy, participate actively in the planning and implementation of this mobilization effort and that they benefit first from the transition to a climate-safe economy.”

It is now vital that we follow this step with action. The Mayor and City Council have numerous proposals before them that offer excellent opportunities to create real impact towards climate resilience. Here are just a few proposals that would bring the city a step closer to a climate-safe economy:

  • Create an Urban Forestry Advisory Board to assist the Bureau of Forestry and more adequately care for public trees and the climate benefits they provide. A study released just last week found that the historical practice of redlining has created neighborhoods with lower tree canopy cover than those wealthier non-redlined neighborhoods. A healthy urban forest is one of the most cost-effective measures to mitigate climate impacts, providing flood prevention through rainwater interception, lower temperatures via shade, improved air quality, and mental health benefits. An oversight board such as this that recommends meaningful policies is needed now more than ever.
  • Introduce legislation that promotes urban farming at a community scale. According to the resolution, regenerative agriculture is of a high priority. But Chicago is currently considering legislation that disincentivizes and restricts meaningful urban agriculture practices and businesses. It is vital for the City to support policies that might promote urban farming at a community scale, especially when that urban agriculture provides a necessary source of healthy food options for many in some of the biggest food deserts in our city. 
  • Pass habitat-friendly ordinances that support our natural ecosystems. As the most dangerous city for migratory birds, passing the Bird Friendly Design Ordinance to create a friendlier place for birds of all types, whether migrating through or staying put, will create huge impact.  And ensuring the dismissal of other proposals that seek to destroy migratory birds’ most valuable wildlife habitats, at places like Montrose Beach and South Shore Nature Sanctuary, are integral actions consistent with ending the “Sixth Mass Extinction,” as the resolution resolves to do.
  • Allow conservation at homes throughout the city. Finally, planting and maintaining native plants and pollinator gardens can be a powerful way for residents to personally act on climate change and mitigate flooding in their neighborhoods. Native prairie capture as much or more carbon than trees do, and with their extensive root systems, soak up water during rain events. Introducing a Chicago Weeds Ordinance that removes rules that disproportionately penalized property owners who plant and maintain native plant and pollinator gardens is essential.

Recycling, Air Pollution, Environmental Inspections, Transportation, the list is endless, and can seem daunting, but with the outlined solutions above, Chicago can take much needed steps towards addressing how our region will be affected by climate change. And it will be affected – in a recent event, author Dan Egan spoke about how vulnerable Chicago is to the impacts of climate change.

The resolution is only the beginning of what we hope is a new day in Chicago for climate policy, we all need to work together to ensure this powerful resolution doesn’t amount to just words. Chicagoans need action and action needs advocates.

Please join us in advocating for these and other issues by talking to your local officials, and adding your voice to our advocacy efforts to ensure a green, more climate resilient region for us all.

Planting Trees, Growing Careers: Openlands Forestry Training Program

Imagine this:

The Forestry Crew lead a Tree Planting with Niños Heroes

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.

Climbing Training at Cantigny

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.”

The Forestry Crew receives Feller I Training

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, check out the 2020 Forestry Trainee application and apply! The application will be available at the beginning of January, due February 10th!

For more information on the 2020 Forestry Program, visit this page. While applications for our 2020 cohort are now closed, if you have questions, email forestry@openlands.org

Cook County Forest Preserves Referendum

For several years we have worked together to find additional public revenue needed to fully protect and restore the Cook County Forest Preserves. A strong community support evolved, and polling showed that a majority of likely Cook County voters would support a referendum that would put the Cook County Forest Preserves on sustainable financial footing and advance the goals of the Next Century Conservation Plan.

In early October we asked that you let your Forest Preserve Commissioner and President Preckwinkle know that you support their vote that would allow a referendum to be placed on the March 2020 primary ballot. Thank you!

We want to let you know, that even though most Commissioners were in support of doing so, the matter was not advanced. We worked long and hard to get to this hopeful spot and are deeply disappointed that a referendum will not move forward. We will continue to advocate for the needs of the Forest Preserves, but it is also important to recognize that there is no easy fix.

It has never been easy to protect this unique and valuable asset. Remember that Forest Preserve founders Jens Jensen and Dwight Perkins lost repeated legal challenges. They were defeated four times, but each time they refused to give up because they were deeply committed to protecting nature for generations to come. We, too, must continue to press forward.

We are so grateful for all your efforts to date. And we hope we can continue to count on you in the years to come.

Celebrating Environmentalist Lee Botts

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)

When Thinking About Climate, Think About Land

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.


Somme Prairie

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.


Farmbill

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.


PingTom_8038

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 climate@openlands.org for more information.

Explore the Lake Michigan Water Trail with Openlands

Explore the Lake Michigan Water Trail this summer at one or more of the following free events! Enjoy the trail by paddling on Lake Michigan in large, guided, beginner-appropriate voyageur canoes, and learn about opportunities for recreation, education, and stewardship along Illinois’ northern Lake Michigan coast!

All events include beginner-friendly paddling experiences and other family friendly activities. People of all ages, skill levels, and abilities are welcome – bring your family and connect to Lake Michigan! Life vests and paddles will be provided.

Friday, August 2 | Waukegan Harbor
55 S. Harbor Place, Waukegan, IL 60085
When: 1-6pm
Kayaking and canoeing for all ages

Saturday, August 3 | North Point Marina
701 North Point Drive, Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096
When: 2-7pm
Kayaking for ages 10+ (ages 7+ with a parent)

Download the Lake Michigan Events Flyer

For more information, please contact paddle@openlands.org.

Have You Discovered the Palos Forest Preserves?

Whether it’s hiking or biking, camping, kayaking, picnicing, or more, the Palos Forest Preserves have something for everyone and are one of our region’s best recreational amenities. The expansive network of lakes, trails, and scenic vistas can be enjoyed at any pace and make the Palos Forest Preserves an excellent place to visit.

At 15,000 acres, the Palos Preserves in southwest Cook County are the largest concentration of preserved land in the Forest Preserves. Thanks to more than three decades of habitat restoration, they also hold some of the highest-quality natural areas in Cook County. These trails join many popular sites, such as the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, Pulaski Woods, Saganashkee Slough, and Maple Lake.

We’ve highlighted some of the best activities in the Forest Preserves below, and you can check out all the places to visit and things to try using the Openlands Get Outside Map.

If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagrammer, bring your camera or phone and share what you find in the Forest Preserves! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.

Illinois Tollway Ends Work on Route 53, Tri-County Access Projects

Openlands is very excited to share with you that the Tri-County Access project, which includes the Route 53 Extension, is dead.

Today, the Illinois Tollway announced that they will forgo completion of the proposed Tri-County Access project, an effort to extend new highway development from Cook County, through the middle of Lake County, and into eastern McHenry County. The proposed route included the Route 53 Extension, the Route 120 Bypass, and the Lake-McHenry Corridor. Likewise, the Lake County Board announced this past Tuesday that they will consider transportation alternatives to the project. Together, these announcements are an important milestone that moves us towards transportation solutions that allow Lake and McHenry Counties to be healthy, resilient, and competitive.

Openlands has been involved in the fight against the Tri-County Access project and Route 53 Extension since day one, and we will continue to collaborate with partners across the region to help develop and implement a comprehensive plan that increases our resiliency to a changing climate while balancing the needs of a growing region with healthy natural lands that benefit both people and wildlife.

After decades of history on this project, we celebrate that we can finally lift the specter of this project and collaborate to build a brighter, more sustainable future for northeastern Illinois.

Below are press statements from Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann:

Statement on Route 53

“As a former member of the Blue-Ribbon Advisory Council, we congratulate the Tollway and the Lake County Board for moving beyond the Route 53 Extension towards multi-modal transportation solutions that will make Lake County more prosperous and resilient to climate change.  It demonstrates that transportation projects don’t have to sacrifice our communities, our health and some of the finest natural landscapes in the country.  This decision opens the door to true consensus in how reclaiming the Route 53 corridor can offer vital linear connections and world class amenities to the county and the region.”

Statement on Tri-County Access

“Openlands commends the Illinois Tollway’s decision to forgo completion of the Tri-County Access project in Cook, Lake, and McHenry counties. The proposed route of the Tri-County Access project would have directly harmed some of the region’s most scenic and valued natural areas, including Volo Bog State Natural Area, Lake County’s Liberty Prairie Reserve, Heron Creek Forest Preserve, McHenry County’s Glacial Park, and Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. We look forward to collaborating on the creation of comprehensive, complementary transportation plans that respect the health of communities, our region’s natural heritage, and the need to increase resiliency in a changing climate.”

For more inforamtion, please contact info@openlands.org.

Media Contact

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Speak at Public Meetings on Flooding in Lake County

Residents in Lake County are encouraged to speak at one of the upcoming meetings hosted by Lake County Stormwater Management Commission regarding flooding in Lake County, IL.

As you know, Lake County is experiencing stronger and more frequent rainfalls. To better protect its residents and businesses from this, the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission (SMC) is now re-evaluating its regulations for new developments. The Commission also seeks to share helpful information with a greater number of property owners, and hear their concerns and suggestions. 

Please speak at one of the upcoming meetings the Commission is hosting on this topic. If you want stronger protections from flooding, this is the time for elected officials to hear from you.

We encourage you to share your story of how flooding has impacted you, and ask for stronger flood protections designed to handle the future storms being projected for Lake County. Please take up to three minutes.

Tuesday, July 16 | 2pm
Highland Park City Hall
1707 St. Johns Ave, Highland Park, IL

Wednesday, July 24 | 10am
Barrington Village Hall 
200 S. Hough St, Barrington, IL

State Representative Sam Yingling and Lake County Board Member Terry Wilke are hosting a floodproofing and rainfall information meeting where Lake County SMC will be the presenting agency. 

Thursday, August 8 | 6pm
Round Lake High School (Theater) 
800 High School Drive, Round Lake, IL

Learn more…

Remembering Judy Beck

The Board and staff of Openlands are saddened at the passing of Judy Beck. Her talent, passion, and dedication to ensuring a healthy environment for people and wildlife were unparalleled and resonate deeply with all of us at Openlands. She was part of our family, serving on the Openlands Policy Committee, and helped shape complex policy positions, especially those involving water quality. Drawing on her long career at the U.S. EPA, she was a compelling advisor and advocate for Lake Michigan and clean water.

At the Glenview Park District and the Grove Heritage Association, she was an advocate for connecting people to nature. The Grove is near and dear to Openlands: early in our history we worked to save this important cultural and natural resource, which dates back to the first European settlers of the region. We recently worked with Judy to expand the property to incorporate adjacent forest and wetlands. Today, it’s a destination for hundreds of school children daily, and if you haven’t visited the Grove yourself, you will not regret it. It’s a special place.

Judy was a force of nature and a force for nature. Her commitment to ensuring the well-being of the region was an inspiration to all of us at Openlands.

Thank you and we will miss you.

A memorial service is scheduled to be held July 26 at 1 pm at The Grove.

Chicago Tribune obituary.