It’s raining a lot more — and that’s a problem

This spring has been one of the wettest ever in northern Illinois.  

The increased frequency of weather systems that cause continuous, torrential rain and storm events that drop huge amounts rain in a very short period of time are both symptomatic of climate change in the Chicago region. Jim Angel, Illinois’ former state climatologist, recently stated that more intense storms and heavy rains that drop several inches at a time are becoming more frequent across northern Illinois.

According to the National Weather Service, three of the five wettest years on record in Chicago have occurred in the last decade, including 2018, which ranked fourth with over 49 inches of precipitation (the annual average is around 36 inches). And we are starting to see these weather patterns happen annually. During one 24-hour period in July 2017, Lake County, IL received over seven inches of rain. In 2018, Lake County was under flood conditions on six separate occasions. And this past May was the wettest ever for the month, surpassing the record set only last year. 

Flooding impacts our lives, and the increased intensity of rain is already forcing us to rethink how we design our built environment.

Photo (top), flooding in Suburban Burbank, 2014: Heather Charles/Chicago Tribune

These rain events are informing studies used to update Bulletin 70, which measures the frequency of rainfall and the intensity of heavy rainstorms in Illinois. Updating Bulletin 70 is important because it is used by engineers to properly design stormwater pipes, detention ponds, bridges above rivers and streams, and infrastructure so they can sustain expected rainfall. Having these new metrics will help us better plan for a future in a changing climate. But even as we prepare new standards for engineers to deploy, the problem of all this rain remains for older infrastructure.

Our region – everything from rural towns to densely populated urban areas, farmland, housing, routes of transportation, and schools – was not built to withstand seasonal flooding like this. For many of us, the impacts of flooding are felt during our daily commute, but for far too many of us, the effects are felt worst when water is pouring into our basements or when an entire year’s crops – and income – are lost to intense farmland flooding.

Farm fields in Illinois are currently so saturated that less than half of the typical crop of corn and soybeans, the state’s two largest crops, has been planted this year.

These are exactly the type of climate impacts on the Midwest we were warned about last year in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, and that means we need to get to work on implementing climate solutions.

Photo: Brian Casella/Chicago Tribune

As a region, we need to implement more solutions for tackling stormwater and flooding, and we need to consider climate change in all decisions. For starters, we can be much smarter with vacant and under-developed lands in urban areas. Milwaukee’s BaseTern program, for example, utilizes vacant buildings for stormwater management. We also should be incorporating natural features, such as rain gardens and trees, into public spaces. These simple features capture and hold significant amounts of rain, dramatically reducing the impact of flooding on public spaces. We should expand solutions like these and increase financial support for their long-term care.

As our region continues to grow, we need to be far more considerate when designing new developments and buildings, and we need to consider alternatives when available, including retrofitting. The Space to Grow program, for instance, redesigns CPS schoolyards into vibrant green campuses while installing stormwater management systems that can hold upwards of 750,000 gallons of rain water. Likewise, farmers can implement practices on their land that not only provide healthy food, but also stabilize the health of soil and improve ecosystem services like flood mitigation. Learn more about low-impact and sustainable design.

We also need to be much smarter at protecting existing landscapes that offer multiple benefits: farmland and natural areas, for example, are landscapes that can often mitigate the effects of climate change by sequestering carbon, mitigating flooding, and reducing temperatures. But too often, these lands are converted into new developments, resulting in new roads, buildings, concrete, and impervious surfaces, which together exacerbate the effects of climate change.

Finally, damaging floods like the ones we’ve seen over the past several years are a reminder of the future that’s to come if we fail to enact bold climate solutions. We are running out of time to act on climate change, which means 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. The Chicago region has actually managed growth in a fairly smart manner, making us an international model. But if we allow unsound growth to continue unabated and if we fail to address the root causes of the climate crisis, we’ll scrub the advantages we have in facing this challenge.

We need to rethink how we live with increased flooding, but we must also get serious about addressing the climate crisis.

Photo: the Space to Grow schoolyard at Chicago’s Wadsworth Elementary

For more than 50 years, Openlands has advocated for protecting clean water and our region’s waterways. Learn more about our efforts to address climate change in the Chicago region.

Photo: Patrick Williams

Have You Discovered Rollins Savanna?

Take a walk under open skies and through sweeping grasslands at Lake County’s Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve!

Rollins Savanna is managed by the Lake County Forest Preserves and is an excellent option for your daily walk or an entire day spent outside. At over 1,200 acres, it is one of Lake County’s largest forest preserves and it is teeming with birds and wildlife you can see as you explore the site’s trails. Be sure to check out the bird viewing area, which offers a great overlook of the site as well as installed telescopes so you can get a close-up view of some of the rare birds that call Rollins Savanna home.

The trail system at Rollins Savanna includes over 5 miles of crushed limestone trails, which are approachable and pretty flat. The main loop at Rollins Savanna is 3.5 miles — perfect for walking or practicing for a 5K. Lake County’s regional Millennium Trail also incorporates the northern section of trails at the preserve. An additional 1.2-mile loop connects to both the main trail system and Fourth Lake Forest Preserve via the Millennium Trail. It’s worth adding on to your trip as you’re likely too see some wildlife on this trail segment. Plan for a two-hour trip for the main trail system and three hours if you’re adding the short loop. You can also enjoy shorter walks (approximately one mile) from the Washington Street parking lot along a boardwalk or from the Drury Lane entrance to the bird viewing area.

Rollins Savanna is well worth a visit next time you’re in Lake County and it makes for an excellent day trip from the city. Bring your family, friends, and your dog, and enjoy a day exploring this spectacular preserve. Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure!

U.N. Report Highlights ‘Unprecedented’ Risk to Endangered Wildlife

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.

  • 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

Celebrating 40 Years of North Park Village Nature Center

Nestled into the north side of Chicago is one of the city’s best natural treasures, North Park Village Nature Center. The Nature Center is managed by the Chicago Park District, and thanks to the dedicated work of the volunteer network, this vibrant natural area is home to many different habitats, trails, and educational resources.

One of the Nature Center’s most popular programs is the annual collection of maple tree sap to produce maple syrup. For over 30 years, the Park District has offered the program to residents and volunteers to help them appreciate, care for, and learn about the site’s trees. But as these trees have aged, they’ve identified the need to plant new maples to continue this tradition.

To celebrate the Nature Center’s 40th anniversary, the Chicago Park District asked Openlands to assist with a planting of 40 sugar maples. On May 8, our Forestry Team assisted volunteers from North Park Village Nature Center and the Chicago Park District in the tree planting. Check out a video from the workday:

Since 2013, Openlands has worked with volunteers and the Chicago Park District to plant nearly 300 trees at North Park Village Nature Center as part of the Park District’s efforts to steward healthy habitats. It’s truly a spectacular community resource and we strongly encourage you to check it out.

Volunteers Needed to Help Run the Native Tree & Plant Sale Pop-Up Shop

We are looking for volunteers to help set-up and staff our Pop-Up Shop for the spring Native Tree & Plant Sale. If you’re looking to volunteer your time or you just have a passion for native plants, this is a great opportunity!

When, Where, and What:

Our Pop-Up Shop is located at 31610 N. Almond Road, Libertyville, IL 60048.

We need assistance setting up the Pop-Up Shop on May 14-16 and assistance with the sale on May 17-18 and May 24-25, from 9am-3pm.

Volunteers will help set up equipment, unload inventory, and prepare presale orders for pick-up.

Please note our Pop-Up shop will be in Lake County, IL and we want to be sure you’re comfortable with the following:

  • Able to lift and carry up to 40 pounds repeatedly and push carts filled with trees and shrubs
  • Be comfortable reading plant labels and order forms that use plants’ scientific/Latin names
  • Willing to work outdoors, potentially during inclement weather
  • Able to handle plants gently

To Sign Up:

If you’re interested in volunteering, contact LakeCounty@Openlands.org by Friday, May 10 so we can schedule your shift(s) and provide any additional details.

Photo: Patrick Williams

Have You Discovered Waterfall Glen?

Hikers, runners, and bikers will want to consider visiting DuPage County’s Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. This gorgeous setting is a great choice for a day spent outdoors exploring the site’s extensive trail system, vibrant habitats, and most of all, scenic views. Waterfall Glen is a short trip from downtown Chicago and a family-friendly destination in suburban Darien.

Waterfall Glen is managed by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and open to the public year-round. The site is home to a 9.5-mile gravel trail system that winds through a hilly, wooded landscape, offering educational signage and opportunities to explore nature up close. If you’re not looking for a nearly 10-mile trip, however, don’t let the longer trail intimidate you. Waterfall Glen not only offers shorter trails throughout the preserve, but you can also make a nice trip out of the short walk from a parking area to two of the site’s most scenic areas, Rocky Glen Waterfall (pictured above) and Sawcreek Mill Bluff.

The main trail at Waterfall Glen is an approachable 9.5-mile gravel path and makes for a great workout whether you’re hiking, biking, walking, or trail-running. The main trail is mixed-use for pedestrians, bikes, and horseback riding, so be sure to share the path. The trails are also open in the winter for snowshoeing, walking, and cross-country skiing. 

For the site’s natural beauty and recreation opportunities, Waterfall Glen is well worth your visit! Consider adding it to your trip this summer or check out all our recommendations for where to get outside in the region.

Photo: Patrick Williams

Free Workshops: Beautiful Landscaping with Native Plants

Openlands is hosting two “Beautiful Landscaping with Native Plants” workshops to introduce the basic concepts of native tree and plant landscaping to anyone looking for some help selecting trees and plants. The workshops are free and will take place on Saturday, April 13 and Saturday, April 27 — both during our online pre-sale period — so you can hear from experts and make the right selections before placing your orders.

Both workshops will be from 11am to 12 noon at REI, 901 N. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills, IL 60061 and no prior registration is necessary.


Two of the region’s leading landscape designers will teach the workshops. On Saturday, April 13 we will hear from with John Mariani of LandServe, and on Saturday, April 27 Dave Eubanks of Eubanks Environmental will be presenting. Participants will learn how to create a strong aesthetic while drawing from an attractive palette of native trees, flowers, and shrubs.

These workshops will be valuable to anyone interested in adding attractive native trees or plants, but who maybe don’t know where to start. Adding native species can not only help beautify your home or garden, but it is also an impactful way everyone can support wildlife and take meaningful action to address climate change, right at home. Native trees and plants are hardy and often require little watering. Their deep roots aid in water purification and rainwater absorption, and some even grow best in areas where water collects or flows. Native plants are also great for any landscape of any size, and there are a wide variety of species to choose from. However, the optimal location for a native plant depends on the species.

Openlands has made it easy to plant native species this year through our Native Tree and Plant Sale. Through the Native Tree and Plant Sale, the public can purchase trees, shrubs, flowers, ferns, and other plants for their homes and properties both online and at an on-site store.

Visit our Pop-Up Shop in Libertyville, Friday-Saturday, May 17-18 and May 24-25, 10am-3pm.


Openlands thanks our presenters for offering their time and to our hosts at REI. For More information please contact LakeCounty@Openlands.org

Have You Discovered Goose Lake Prairie?

Take a trip to Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area and enjoy a day outside exploring sweeping grasslands home to a wide variety of wildlife. Located in Grundy County, Goose Lake Prairie is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and is the largest remnant of prairie left in Illinois.

Goose Lake Prairie offers a great trail system that lets visitors enjoy the site in their own way. There are multiple looping trails, each of different lengths, that make for a pleasant short walk outside or a longer day hiking through the prairie. The trails are mowed grass and wander through different habitats, so you’ll get plenty of opportunities to see some of the wildlife.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources have developed an education center, which offers year-round programs such as guided hikes and lectures, and there’s a small library in the center. You can also enjoy a picnic at some of the site’s picnic areas or learn a little about the region’s history by visiting some of the site’s interpretative elements.

At Goose Lake, over 1,700 acres of prairie and marsh communities, containing a large and diverse array of plant and animal life, are present. Many birds, including Henslow’s sparrows, Virginia rails, least bitterns, northern harriers, and upland sandpipers, are known to nest or inhabit the marshes and prairies. It’s one of the best sites in the state for viewing grassland birds, so it’s an accessible place for beginner-birders and a pleasure for seasoned experts.

Goose Lake Prairie is a bit of drive from the Chicago area, but it’s a trip worth making, particularly for birders, nature buffs, and wildlife photographers. Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure!

The Passing of “TreeKeeper Jim” DeHorn

We are sad to report the passing of “TreeKeeper Jim” DeHorn. A towering legend to TreeKeepers and industry professionals alike, Jim will be remembered as a tireless advocate for trees, a passionate instructor, and an inspiration to thousands.  Beth Botts, TreeKeeper and course instructor, perhaps best captured the dual impact of his work: “Though he may talk like he’s all about trees, he wouldn’t have become the King of TreeKeepers if he weren’t, in his own way, a great people person. It’s because he has been able to spread his love of trees to people that he has helped so many trees.”

His gruff exterior and memorable beard belied his patient and personal teaching style; his background as a union organizer honed his skills at managing diverse groups of volunteers, be they TreeKeepers, students, retirees, experts, novices, or a mix thereof.

The TreeKeepers Program was launched in 1991 on the heels of the successful Neighborwoods volunteer-driven tree planting initiative. When Jim took the TreeKeepers course in 1993, no one could have envisioned the lasting impact he would have on the program.

He was hired in 1999 as the TreeKeepers Coordinator and made an immediate impression. After Asian Longhorn Beetle (ALB) was discovered in Chicago, TreeKeepers assisted the city with tree identification, the only non-municipal group to help with this critical effort. In 2006, when Emerald Ash Borer was first detected in Chicago, TreeKeepers again helped with monitoring efforts to help contain the spread of the devastation. TreeKeepers would also go on to inventory parks in Chicago. By the time the 20th anniversary of TreeKeepers was celebrated in 2011, over 1,000 people had graduated from the course. TreeKeeper Jim’s dedication, technical expertise, generosity, and gentle spirit have molded the program and its twin focus on trees and people. In recent years, he could be found volunteering at North Park Village Nature Center, continuing to inspire others and care for nature.

TreeKeeper Jim’s life will be celebrated with a ceremonial tree planting and reception at North Park Village Nature Center (5801 N. Pulaski Rd., Chicago) on Saturday, April 13 at 3:30pm. All are welcome.

The Natural Resources Management Act

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.


What’s Good

  • 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.

IndianaDunes_2019

What’s Concerning

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 policy@openlands.org.