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.

Place your orders online now through April 28 to shop a wider selection at a lower price.


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

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.

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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.

Indiana Dunes: America’s Newest National Park

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.

With Costs of Climate Change Rising, It’s Time to Act

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

Monarchs

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.

Gov. Pritzker Commits Illinois to the US Climate Alliance

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.

You can track Illinois’ progress on meeting our commitments here via the Illinois EPA.

New Farm Bill Signed Into Law

On December 20, 2018, the President signed into law the new Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is among the most important and comprehensive laws Congress makes. It authorizes the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), crop insurance, urban forestry, and conservation and local food programs.

Overall, the new Farm Bill does many favorable things:

  • Critically important for our communities is that work requirements on supplemental nutrition assistance recipients remain mostly unchanged.
  • Key local food offerings are consolidated into the new Local Agricultural Market Program and given increased and permanently authorized funding.
  • Beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmer supports, which are underutilized in greater Chicago, are consolidated and given permanently increased funding under the new Farmer Opportunities Training and Opportunities Program.
  • The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program has dedicated, increased funding of $5 million in each of the next five years.
  • Harmful exemptions from endangered species laws for agrochemical uses are rejected along with other damaging regulatory rollbacks.
  • Misguided forest management provisions are mostly ignored.

This Farm Bill is a mixed bag for conservation, but there are a few more highlights on the plus side:

  • The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which pays farmers to make improvements that conserve water, reduce erosion, and improve habitat, is increased to more than $2 billion.
  • The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program that permanently protects farmland is increased by 80% (to $450 million) and will allow land trusts to do buy-protect-sell transactions.
  • Regional conservation partnerships are allocated another $50 million (up to $300 million).

However, overall conservation funding remains $5 billion lower than what conservation programs received before 2014. This means that increases to some conservation programs come at the expense of other conservation initiatives. Most notably, this Farm Bill, cuts $800 million (45%) from the Conservation Stewardship Program (“CSP”). CSP is widely regarded as the most effective program for improving wildlife habitat, water quality, and “whole farm” conservation solutions. It is so popular that less than half of farmers who apply for funding currently receive it. After these cuts, only about ¼ of farmer-applicants who want to do comprehensive resource conservation will be funded.

The overall impact from this shift in conservation funding will cost Illinois roughly $14 million per year, according to staff analysis and adjustments of a report by the University of Illinois. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that CSP creates nearly $4 in economic and environmental values for every $1 it costs, leaving Illinois with a net loss of $56 million. Openlands will try to reduce this loss by leading efforts to better utilize Farm Bill resources in Illinois, such as seeking funding for agricultural conservation easements on places like Hoffmann Farm.

Thank you to all of you who made your voice heard in support of SNAP and a conservation-friendly Farm Bill. Learn more about how Openlands is working improve local food systems and protect farmland in our region.

Unpacking the National Climate Assessment and What We Can Do

On Black Friday, the White House released the much anticipated Fourth National Climate Assessment, a sweeping Federal review of the impact of climate change on the natural environment, agriculture, human health, forests, transportation, and natural resources. The report, which was authored by scientists from 13 Federal agencies and climatologists from across the country, documents in explicit terms the changes to our climate that have already occurred in the United States.

The report paints a grim future for the country and the Midwest region, going so far as to declare that, “without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property, and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”

And all of this needs to be held in light of the United Nations’ 2018 Emissions Gap Report, released on November 27, which states that even at the current pace of emissions reductions, the world is falling far short of the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement.

Climate science can be cumbersome and reading about these reports no doubt will lead to some anxiety for many of us. But we want to prepare you with information and talking points so you can advocate for climate action right now. 


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“Species and ecosystems, including the important freshwater resources of the Great Lakes, are typically most at risk when climate stressors, like temperature increases, interact with land-use change, habitat loss, pollution, nutrient inputs, and nonnative invasive species.”

Fourth National Climate Assessment, Chapter 21 — Midwest

On the whole, Illinois has actually fared somewhat well relative to the rest of the planet, which is to say that we are not experiencing the upsurge in natural disasters like the California wildfires, the devastating heatwaves in Australia, or the destructive hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The changes we have felt are more subtle, and inaction will cause those changes to accelerate exponentially over the century.

1. It’s not too late to do something

One of the most important things to always keep in mind is that it is not too late to act. The 2015 Paris Agreement created a global framework wherein signatory countries would work to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to keep global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) — 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. There is still a chance that we can reach that goal.

2. Climate projections are viewed on a scale, and we can act to reduce and prevent some impacts

Climate change reports often present their findings with both a best case scenario and a worst case scenario. For the Chicago region, the worst case scenario is we end the century with a climate similar to that of present-day Dallas or Phoenix.

Both the Fourth National Climate Assessment and the landmark report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued in October 2018 emphasize the importance of what are known as mitigation and adaptation tactics to address this crisis.

Mitigation is the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing efforts to pull greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Adaptation refers to the actions we can take to prepare for the impacts and reduce the risks of climate change.

Openlands believes our response to the threat of climate change must be two-fold, embracing both of these strategies, and using solutions based in nature to put carbon back in the ground. As Chicago’s regional land trust, Openlands is uniquely positioned to leverage land conservation with community climate action and to ensure that our region seizes the opportunity to pioneer innovative solutions to the climate crisis.

3. Forests and land conservation are more important than ever

Both the report from the Federal Government and IPCC stress the importance of forests and land conservation as central elements in preventing climate change from wreaking ecological devastation. Large, healthy woodlands with hardy native species and vast sweeping prairies filled with grasses and deep-rooted plants suck in and absorb massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere while providing havens for wildlife.

The National Climate Assessment states that, “species and ecosystems, including the important freshwater resources of the Great Lakes, are typically most at risk when climate stressors, like temperature increases, interact with land-use change, habitat loss, pollution, nutrient inputs, and nonnative invasive species.” The good news is that so many of these risks can be avoided today.

For one, we know how to protect clean water resources: we know that plants and open space can manage stormwater, removing harmful pollution and keeping adjacent waterways healthy. Trees in urban areas not only pull pollution and carbon from the air, but also lower temperatures on the ground, but across the region we need to care for these resources better and plant many more trees. And we know that restoring natural areas leads to healthier landscapes that mitigate greenhouse gases more efficiently. Ecological restoration has additional benefits beyond absorbing carbon, which include flood relief, pollution reduction, controlling invasive species, improved water quality, and better habitat for wildlife.

Focusing our efforts on protecting existing forest preserves and parks, restoring natural areas, and using these nature-based solutions all help mitigate emissions and adapt our neighborhoods and communities to a changing climate.

Chicago Neighborhoods

4. Heat, Humidity, and Human Health

Unfortunately, we have to expect that increased temperatures will unleash new complications to human health in our region. Higher temperatures and higher humidity increase the risk for heat stress, the ferocity of storms, mold and fungal disease such as oak wilt, and the potential for poor air quality resulting from smog. We can expect to see these hazards affecting those with asthma and chronic health conditions.

In both the best and worst case scenarios, we can expect greater occurrence of painful 100-degree days. This undoubtedly will result in higher utility bills and strain on transportation infrastructure. Increased heat and humidity will further impact human labor, particularly in sectors tied closely with the climate such as agriculture.

5. Agriculture in the Midwest is at Risk

The United States produces nearly $330 billion in agricultural commodities annually. Agriculture is vulnerable to direct impacts on crops and livestock from changing climate conditions and extreme weather events, as well as indirect impacts like new insects and diseases. While heat stress on crops in the Midwest has been minimal, increased spring rainfall has made planting more challenging and wet conditions in the fall can impact the timing and quality of a harvest.

Central to every study of the agricultural impacts of climate change is the assumption that farmland will always be available. While more than 80% of land in Illinois is farmland, keep in mind that we have some of the best soil in the world for growing food. We need to think of this soil as a key natural resource — and protect it like one.

Openlands is working right now to ensure that the farmland in our region stays as healthy farmland, rather than being sold off for another big box store. We also work with farmers to implement adaptive practices on their land. Integrating native prairie plants into row crops, for example, has been shown to reduce sediment and nutrient loss from fields, as well as improve biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as flood control and carbon sequestration.

6. Water Levels in the Great Lakes

There have been lots of news stories this year showing how water levels in Lake Michigan are at near-historic highs and there’s a temptation to claim prematurely a link to climate change. The reality is that we are not sure what is going to happen with water levels in the future. We can expect the Great Lakes region will get warmer and to experience warmer winters, meaning there will be greater evaporation from the lakes year-round. But we are also expected to receive far more precipitation than we have historically; therefore, water inputs to the lakes will be higher. We are unsure how climate change will impact the stable cycle of evaporation and precipitation that has governed the Great Lakes for millennia. You can read more about that here.

7. Climate change is felt most by the most vulnerable

Much like poverty, disease, crime, or debt, climate change can affect anyone, but the effects are concentrated among those who are most vulnerable. Children, elderly adults, and frontline communities will feel the health impacts of a changing climate the most. Frontline communities are often low-income and communities of color and tend to face disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards, pollution (such as congested highways or power plants), inequitable access to green space, and poor air quality leading to higher rates of asthma.

In 1963, Openlands was founded as a social justice organization charged with the purpose of preserving green space because nature is vital to the well-being of all people. Since that time we have steered our region towards sustainability and now we are committed to guiding our region through climate change. We can’t do it without you.


All the information in this blog post can be found in greater detail in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which again was written and reviewed by 13 Federal agencies. The report is presented online in a user-friendly manner; you can find information on particular regions, issues, or themes; and we strong encourage you to take some time to read through the report. For more information, please contact climate@openlands.org.

How the 2018 Midterms Impact Conservation

The 2018 Midterm elections are (almost) over, and the results are important for conservation. New leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives, Illinois Governor’s Mansion, and on county boards throughout our region offers opportunities to re-assert conservation priorities at all levels of government. Here are a few results that are especially noteworthy:

  • Federal: The greater Chicago region will have new leadership in two House of Representative Districts: the 6th District, which encompasses Deer Grove Forest Preserve and many other forest preserves in Cook, McHenry, Kane, and Lake counties, and the 14th District, which includes Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Both winning candidates have strong backgrounds in science and healthcare.
  • Illinois: Many candidates who campaigned on environmental and renewable energy topics won statewide offices, including Governor, Attorney General, and Treasurer. A strong slate of State House and Senate candidates will also be working with Openlands and our partners to advance strong environmental policies in Springfield.
  • Other states: Wisconsin will also have a new Governor, who can re-assert wetlands and air quality protections that were waived by his predecessor. Proving that open space has national and bipartisan appeal, California, Georgia, the City of Austin, and at least 46 other state and local governments passed open space funding referenda worth more than $5.7 billion this year, according to the Trust for Public Land’s LandVote database. However, Washington State voters failed again to pass a sweeping carbon tax program.
  • Local governments: Closer to home, county boards will now include more familiar (and friendly) faces. They will also include many new names, including 6 new Commissioners in Cook County, as well as new party leadership of county boards in Lake and Will counties. Strong leaders at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District were re-elected and another long-time champion for clean water was added to their ranks.

Thank you for voting to elect such a strong slate of environmental leaders to govern us, and please turn out again during Chicago’s citywide elections on February 26, 2019. We at Openlands will continue to work collaboratively with new and returning elected officials to advance conservation issues at all levels of government. We invite you to continue telling these elected officials that conservation matters to us all!


We need you to continue making your voice heard with our elected officials, even today. Take a look at our ongoing advocacy campaigns and speak up today for our environment.

Links, Livestock, and Local Food

Openlands works to promote and protect healthy lands across northeastern Illinois. With so much of our region dedicated to agriculture, this vision must include farmland, so we support small and local farmers, interested in conservation-friendly land management practices, to secure new land for sustainable agriculture.

In late 2017, Openlands identified a unique opportunity for agricultural land protection: the Plum Tree National property, an approximately 265-acre former golf course located in rural McHenry County, just outside the small farm town of Harvard, Illinois. Abandoned golf courses typically feature vacant or naturalized areas, substantial acreage, and existing infrastructure that could support a logical transition from golf course use to agricultural operations. These features make golf course properties an attractive option for farmers looking for large tracts of land.

Openlands hoped to convert the site to agricultural grazing to help increase opportunities for sustainable local food farming. We also wanted to provide financial support for a farmer to implement the infrastructure that was required to make the business viable and profitable with the assistance of Food:Land:Opportunity.

However, when we conducted soil sampling during the initial due diligence process, we found soil contamination that rendered the property unfit for a swift and economical transition into grazing use. This meant the project couldn’t proceed, but we realized that we have learned a number of important lessons. Openlands’ experience with the Plum Tree National property revealed that golf course properties may present other unique challenges. To plan ahead for those challenges, we published a new report to assist farmers, land trusts, and other conservation agencies think through the work.

Full Report: Links, Livestock, and Local Food — Challenges of Converting a Golf Course Into a Sustainable Local Food Operation


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Although the project to create a local grazing operation on the former Plum Tree National golf course property did not come to fruition, Openlands remains hopeful about the possibilities of such land use conversions in the future. As golf courses trend towards closure and sale across the U.S., more such properties will become available in the coming years. Additionally, we hope that our experience can serve as an example for land conservation organizations across the country.

As Chicago’s regional land trust and one of the only land trusts to work in a major metropolitan area, Openlands is uniquely positioned to test innovative land protection models like this. We recognize that these lessons need to be learned and we are willing to take these risk, conduct these studies, and share the results to better inform the land trust community across the country. The story of Plum Tree can inform other opportunities for Openlands, and these lessons will help protect more agricultural land and help to localize food systems across the country.


Food:Land:Opportunity supports Openlands’ work testing new and innovative models that combine agriculture and land conservation, including the Plum Tree National project.

For more information, please contact Aimee Collins, Director of Regional Conservation at acollins@openlands.org.