The Conservancy is launching an urban conservation program in five major cities across the country. Along with New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami, Chicago has been chosen to be part of this initiative.
Why the focus on cities now? Because by the year 2050, scientists project that the world’s population will reach 9 billion people, and two-thirds of that population will be city dwellers. As more people concentrate in cities, they will need access to fresh water, clean air, and safe coastlines, putting tremendous pressure on the natural resources that cities already use. The Nature Conservancy aims to address not only how those resources can be sustainably provided, but how they will be managed.
Here in Illinois, we have years of experience conserving and restoring urban nature that we can build upon to support this initiative. We’ve protected 22,000 acres of metropolitan Chicago land since 1958. The Volunteer Stewardship Network—which the Conservancy helped found in 1983 with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission—works with 70 volunteer stewardship groups to protect and restore 264 natural areas in the Chicagoland area. We also helped found Chicago Wilderness in 1996, which now unites more than 300 organizations for the cause of urban conservation. This pre-existing framework will serve us well as we work with partners to tackle the following urban conservation priorities for Chicago.
Protecting and Restoring Urban Biodiversity
One of the reasons Chicago is a great place for people is because, beginning a century ago, conservationists left room to make it a great place for plants and animals, too. The Conservancy’s Indian Boundary Prairies and Ivanhoe Preserve are the crown jewels of this network and the focus of our urban restoration work. As we move forward, we look to add to the amount of land we protect, and to make sure the surrounding developed areas are hospitable to plants and wildlife. We will also expand the reach of the Volunteer Stewardship Network and work to make our natural urban areas resilient to climate and other changes taking place in metro Chicago.
Reducing the Impact of Urban Infrastructure on Aquatic Biodiversity
Chicago’s infrastructure has an enormous impact on two of North America’s largest watersheds: the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. We will work to identify and help implement solutions that prevent the two-way, interbasin dispersal of all aquatic invasive species— including Asian carp.
Broadening Support for Conservation
Building support in new groups and demographics of urban populations is key to the success of all of our conservation initiatives. We will involve youth and families in conservation by re-engaging in the Mighty Acorns program, an educational nature experience for 4th-6th graders, at our preserves. Our Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program, which connects high school students to internships at our preserves, provides the kind of outdoor experiences that could pave the way to future careers in conservation. Our emerging collaboration between the Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living at our Kankakee Sands Preserve will provide organic and alternate food options on the south side of Chicago. And in collaboration with Chicago Wilderness and our other urban partners, we will advance a broader conservation agenda with urban legislators on both a local and federal level.
Additionally, the Conservancy will remain fluid and open to new ideas regarding urban conservation. We will continue to collaborate with partners like Chicago Wilderness to see how we can build on our strengths to tackle new challenges. Together, what we learn and achieve in Chicago and our four other target cities has the potential to positively affect conservation issues in cities around the world.