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Registration today for Congress 2020!

Friday, January 24, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Laura Reilly

Inspiring Healthy Communities for People and Nature

Thursday, April 2, 2020
At the UIC Forum, Chicago, IL

Chicago Wilderness is an alliance that connects people working in conservation, business, science, education and beyond. Together we tackle challenging issues and strive to foster a resilient region in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The Chicago Wilderness Congress 2020 brings together 500+ people who represent government agencies, cultural and education institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations and more. Congress sessions are organized around the six focus areas of our work: Advocacy & Awareness, Climate Communities, Green Economy, Planning & Policy, and Science & Natural Resource Management.

We believe that when all our region’s communities and identities are represented, we can achieve our common goal of supporting resilient natural ecosystems and improving quality of life for all communities, including those impacted by environmental issues.

Scholarships to attend the Chicago Wilderness Congress are available; complete this form to apply
Interested in volunteering at the Congress? Complete this form and we will be in touch.  

Sponsor Chicago Wilderness Congress button Join Chicago wilderness button


Dr. Carolyn Finney speaker at Chicago Wilderness Conference April 2020We are thrilled to welcome storyteller, author, and cultural geographer, Dr. Carolyn Finney, as our keynote speaker. She is deeply interested in issues related to identity, difference, creativity, and resilience. She is helping to define a new vision of conservation that will carry us into the future, one that requires the cooperation and participation of all people. The Chicago Freedom School will lead facilitated discussions directly following the keynote for attendees to delve deeper into the issues, ideas and messages presented by Dr. Finney. See Dr. Finney's website or biographyPhoto by Michael Estrada.


Facilitated Breakout Discussions (10:30am-11:30am)

Led by facilitation experts the Chicago Freedom School, these honest and constructive conversations about issues of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the conservation community and enable attendees from all backgrounds to be able to share their perspectives in a brave space. To ensure that all feel welcome, comfortable, and challenged, we offer three affinity groups for you to select from. Read about affinity groups in Tolerance magazine and the Children’s Day School Affinity Groups FAQs

During registration you will select the affinity group in which you feel most comfortable participating:

1. People of the Global Majority Affinity Group: A space for people of color/of the global majority (Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islanders, etc). This group is not appropriate for people who solely identify as white to attend. 

2. White-Ally Affinity Group: A space for white identified participants looking to connect with other white people committed to supporting racial justice and equity in the environmental field.

3. Multi-Ethnic Affinity Group: A space that welcomes people of all racial and ethnic identities and backgrounds including white, Black, mixed-race, multi-racial and people of color/of the global majority.

Lunch Activities (11:30am-12:50pm)

Roundtable discussion on environmental issues in Chicago

Unscheduled Lunch: Eat, mingle, explore, relax. It's up to you. 

Roundtable Discussions: These are informal facilitated conversations on a Congress track: Advocacy & Awareness, Climate, Communities, Green Economy, Planning & Policy, or Science & Natural Resource Management.

IMPACT Forestry Edition Game: This research-based serious game teaches you to think critically and creatively about the future of natural resource management. Through play – a great way to learn – participants apply Strategic Foresight tools, thereby developing useful skills to bring to their work. Players take on an avatar with a natural resource job of the future and play impact cards based on real-world signals of change to achieve the desired future condition.

Guided Tree Campus USA walk: The University of Illinois at Chicago is among the few universities that participate in the Tree Campus USA program, which promotes effective tree management, campus community involvement, and nature connectivity among faculty members and students through forestry efforts.  The UIC Tree Walk explores a sample of the campus forest, highlighting 19 trees, explaining their name, campus benefits, and other interesting tree facts. The tour will also include highlights of several other green initiatives on campus, including sustainable landscapes and pollinator habitats, stormwater reduction features like bioswales, and the Heritage Garden, an interactive learning space to teach students about environmental and cultural sustainability.

Woman leads a fun roundtable discussion at Chicago Wilderness conferenceSession 1 (1:00pm-1:50pm)

1. Artecito: Co-created by and for the Community (Advocacy & Awareness) 

Artecito is a co-created program between Lincoln Park Zoo and OPEN Center for the Arts, a nonprofit arts organization in the Little Village Community of Chicago. Artecito uses the arts to inspire curiosity for wildlife and the natural world. In this hands-on workshop, attendees will learn how both organizations designed the program and continue to evolve their partnership in response to community needs and interests. Attendees will also have the opportunity to engage in program activities and see firsthand how the partners use dance, theater, music, painting, and/or crafting to inspire care for wildlife and our planet. This will be a bi-lingual interactive workshop led by teaching artists from OPEN Center for the Arts and educators from Lincoln Park Zoo. Topic Areas: Education, Wildlife

Workshop leaders:
Eduardo Camacho, Lincoln Park Zoo
Luis Crespo, OPEN Center for the Arts
Cari Bermudez, OPEN Center for the Arts
Alma Dominguez, OPEN Center for the Arts

2. Drawdown, Sunrise and You: Stories of Collective Climate Action (Climate)

As the climate crisis intensifies, we can work together to build solutions in our region.  We'll share stories of climate action that strengthens connections among communities, nature and the built environment. Illinois Green Alliance will review action ideas from Project Drawdown, a collection of 100 strategies that, when implemented at scale, can help reverse global warming. Sunrise Movement will share insights from creating a youth-led, diverse and inclusive movement-- through storytelling, direct action, and transformative climate legislation. Participants will share ideas for inspiring and supporting each other as we create resilient, safe, healthy and just communities in our urban wilderness. Topic Areas: Climate outreach and training, Environmental Justice, Education

Dejah Powell, Sunrise Movement
Laura Kruke, Sunrise Movement
Katie Kalunzy, Illinois Green Alliance
Susan Ask, animilia project

3. Empowering Communities through Monarch Conservation & Nature-Based Experiences (Communities)

For over 15 years, El Valor and the US Forest Service have partnered to use the monarch as a strategic tool to connect diverse audiences with nature and to spark dialogue about what a community actually wants. The butterfly almost plays a secondary role. Community-determined priorities are addressed while strengthening local organizations and individuals alike. This long-term approach fosters awareness, inclusivity, and the ability to participate in conservation programming on one’s own terms. A focus will be placed on the Monarch Ambassadors Program where adults with intellectual disabilities create habitat for monarchs while learning independence through social interaction and educational programming. Topic Areas: Culture, Environmental justice, Urban neighborhoods

Michael Rizo, US Forest Service
Jillian Gonzalez, El Valor
Maria Campaigniac, El Valor
El Valor Monarch Ambassadors

4. How Did We Get Here: Anecdotes and Advice for Green Jobs in the Region (Green Economy)

One of the hardest things to do in life is to connect with people, to understand others and to feel understood. Luckily, the communication gap has narrowed with the advances in technology. Join this moderated panel with interactive software component. Audience members will have the opportunity to vote on polls that will impact the content of the session. The session will start with an introduction of panelists and an explanation of the software. With the moderator setting the pace, the panelists will give a backstory of their journey in the conservation field and how their diverse backgrounds have been an asset. The results from the polls will dictate what topics will be focused on in real time. Topic Areas: Natural Resources Management/Restoration, Environmental Advocacy, Education

Dontae Battle, Chicago Park District, Natural Areas
Tyrone Murdo, Chicago Park District, Natural Areas
Isaiah Ballinger, Chicago Park District, Natural Areas
Daiva Gylys, The Student Conservation Association
Zach Taylor, Friends of the Forest Preserves


5. Using CMAP Tools for Conservation and Climate Resilience Planning (Planning & Policy)

Through the development of the ON TO 2050 regional plan and the agency’s local planning activities, CMAP has created several tools and datasets practitioners can use to further their conservation and climate resilience planning. Staff from CMAP and the Nature Conservancy will present publicly available tools and data on stormwater, water demand, and natural resources in northeastern Illinois and share some ways partners have applied them.Tools to be discussed include CMAP’s Conservation Areas Local Strategy Map and Flood Susceptibility Index, a guidebook on integrating climate science into local plans, and the Nature Conservancy’s Chicago Greenprint. Topic Areas: Green Infrastructure, Stormwater Management, Science-based Decision Making for Natural Resources

Brian Daly, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
Nora Beck, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
John Legge, The Nature Conservancy

6. Community and Citizen Science Monitoring of Pollinators and Pollinator habitat within Chicago Wilderness (Science & Natural Resource Management)

Community and citizen science programs provide valuable data throughout the Chicago Wilderness region.These programs also create an important point of scientific engagement for community members from a variety of backgrounds.This roundtable brings together practitioners from monitoring programs focused on pollinators and pollinator habitat to discuss how our projects intersect and identify gaps. After a brief introduction, the discussion will center on how we can support and learn from each other.There will be special attention paid to how participants are recruited and trained and how we can all recruit and retain a diverse group of monitors. Topic Areas: Natural Resources Management/Restoration, Volunteer Stewardship, Priority Species (animals, plants and fungi)

Roundtable Leaders: 
Erika Hasle, Conservation Ecologist, Field Museum
Jessamine Finch, Budburst Manager, Chicago Botanic Garden
David Zaya, Plant Ecologist, University of Illinois
Doug Taron, Chief Curator, The Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Session 2 (2:00pm-2:50pm)

Natural areas staff talking with volunteers at Chicago Wilderness conference1. Building Advocacy Networks to Support Your Cause – Big or Small (Advocacy & Awareness)

Gallup polls tell us that more Americans are concerned about the environment now than at any other time in the last 30 years. But during the same time, the percentage of Americans who identify as ‘environmentalists’ has never been lower. We have a unique opportunity to engage concerned Americans by empowering them to advocate effectively. During this session, professional advocates will discuss tools they use to grow advocacy networks – volunteer training programs, online platforms that organize grassroots campaigns, harnessing ‘big data’ to identify sympathetic voters (and lawmakers) – as well as how Chicago Wilderness members can more effectively deploy these tools. Topic Areas: Environmental Advocacy, Government Relations, Marketing and Outreach

Andrew Szwak, Openlands
Viviana Gentry Fernandez-Pellon, Advocates for Urban Agriculture
Tucker Barry, Illinois Environmental Council
Ashley Maybanks, The Nature Conservancy - Illinois Chapter


2. A Climate for Conversation (Climate)

Climate scientists say that climate action begins with conversation. Conversation is at the heart of Third Coast Disrupted: Artists + Scientists on Climate. Third Coast Disrupted is a convergence of local, cutting-edge artists and scientists, focused on climate change impacts and solutions in the Chicago area. They've embarked on a yearlong dialogue that will inspire new artworks, some created with the help of local residents. An art exhibition and special programs will prompt more discussion. The panel will introduce this interdisciplinary approach to cultivating climate action, share insights from participants, and offer resources for talking about climate change. Topic Areas: Climate Action, Communications, Art

Gavin Van Horn, Director of Cultures of Conservation, Center for Humans & Nature
Christine Esposito, Terracom/The Ex.Change Project
Liam Heneghan, DePaul University
Rosemary Hall, Transdisciplinary Artist
Daniel Horton, Northwestern University


3. Bridging Diverse Organizations to Help Children Learn, Heal & Grow in Nature (Communities)

Recognizing that the health of our ecosystems is deeply connected to the health of our children, this panel explores the ways that diverse organizations across the Chicago Wilderness region create opportunities for children to learn, heal, and grow in nature. We hope to inspire other nature organizations to engage in new community partnerships, and re-imagine their roles in the communities that they serve. This panel features a diverse set of organizations who are successfully collaborating with their communities. Topic Areas: Health/Wellness, Education, Culture

Dani Abboud, Program Coordinator, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods
Kimberly Waller, Cool Learning Experience
Liz Chavez, Nuestro Center
Jonathan Arenas, Lake County Public Health Center’s Child and Adolescent Behavioral Services
Debra Williams, The Nature Conservancy Indian Boundary Prairies

4. What’s Agriculture Got to Do with It? (Green Economy)

CMAP’s ON TO 2050 calls for identifying and protecting agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance as a key strategy for the region’s prosperity and resilience.  Join this moderated panel for a lively, interactive community discussion about proactively planning for agricultural lands to remain part of our regional fabric, and the many benefits farmland can provide within a green infrastructure framework, including a base land supply for a diversified agricultural economy, food security in the face of climate change, biodiversity and habitat, and carbon sequestration.  As an introduction, panelists will share their experiences through current projects and programs across multiple sectors. Topic Areas: Green Infrastructure, Urban Ecosystems, Regenerative Agricultural

Brandon Hayes, Bold Bison Consulting
Emy Brawley, Conservation Services Midwest, The Conservation Fund 
Tyler Strom, Illinois Agri-Food Alliance
Janice Hill, Kane County

5. Riverwoods Tree/Woodland Protection Ordinance and Ecological Cost Share Programs (Planning & Policy)

The Village of Riverwoods is a unique community built into remnant oak woodlands along the Des Plaines River in Lake County, Illinois. Many challenges arise as residents and businesses interact with the woodlands. The Village’s unique "Woodland & Tree Protection Ordinance" protects against unnecessary removal of desirable native trees & shrubs, limits removal of "Protected Woodland" on a lot, and requires woodland stewardship rather than applying tree removal mitigation fees. In addition, the Village works with its residents to be good stewards through a Village-funded Ecological Cost Share Program. Topic Areas: Science-Based Decision Making for Natural Resources, Oak Ecosystems, Natural Resources Management/Restoration

Cheryl Chamberlain, Village of Riverwoods
Steve Zimmerman, Applied Ecological Services, Inc.
Doug DeWitt, Tallgrass Restoration, Inc.

6. Urban Soils Workshop (Science and Natural Resource Management)

Soils are an integral part of any ecosystem, yet are often overlooked. Urban soils are very heterogeneous; that is they can vary tremendously over a short distance.  Many urban soils have been subjected to repeated damage from construction, contamination, and neglect, and therefore behave unlike natural soils. Promoting healthy communities for people and nature starts at the ground, with the soil. This workshop will delve into differences between natural and urban soils, diagnosing physical and chemical concerns, while providing hands-on learning activities. The goal is to provide participants with science-driven techniques for creating healthier, more productive urban soils. Topic Areas: Natural Resources Management/Restoration, Science-Based Decision Making for Natural Resources, Urban Ecosystems

Workshop Leaders: 
Michelle Catania, The Morton Arboretum
Allyson Salisbury, The Morton Arboretum

SESSION 3 (3:00pm-3:50pm)

Chicago Wilderness Congress participants1. Environmental Gentrification 101 (Advocacy & Awareness)

Could a park, a forest preserve, a green space have negative impacts on a community? This moderated panel invites an open discussion about Environmental Gentrification and its relation to natural areas management and planning in the Chicago Wilderness area. Panelists will start from a shared working definition, share perspectives from a community member directly impacted by Environmental Gentrification in Chicago, give context through current research, and share lessons learned from an organization on the frontlines of advocacy. Learn about local issues, consider tough questions, and join the conversation! Topic Areas: Environmental justice, Urban neighborhoods

Panelists: Information coming soon. 

2. Budburst: Community Science for Education, Research, and Action (Climate)

This session will provide an overview of Budburst, a community science project of the Chicago Botanic Garden, including the mission and history, participation and partnership opportunities, and research outcomes. Budburst was founded to connect people with the local impacts of climate change by monitoring the timing of plant life cycle events (phenology) in their communities. The goal of this session will be to introduce the project, teach attendees how to participate, and illustrate the value of these data. Budburst builds healthy communities by connecting people with plants, increasing scientific literacy, and contributing to our understanding of global environmental change. Topic Areas: Climate outreach and training, Education, Climate research

Jennifer Schwartz Ballard, Chicago Botanic Garden
Jessamine Finch, Chicago Botanic Garden

3. Engaging Diverse Communities in Wetland Conservation (Communities)

Session Description: Coming soon

Troy Peters, Audubon
Bradford Kasberg, Audubon
Jennifer Johnson, Wild Indigo
Matt Beaty, The Nature Conservancy 

4. StormStore: Stormwater Credit Trading (Green Economy)

Our region is faced with more frequent and consequential impacts from urban flooding. Excess stormwater degrades water quality of our river systems and burdens people, often with lower-income individuals and communities of color disproportionally enduring the worst impacts. TNC and MPC have worked with MWRD to assess the feasibility of stormwater credit trading as an innovative tool for encouraging more strategic and equitable distribution of natural stormwater infrastructure. This session will explain the functionality and benefits of stormwater credit trading models; introduce MWRD’s pilot program; identify pathways for participation; and showcase how stormwater credit trading might be applied through scenarios. Topic Areas: Stormwater management, Green infrastructure, Urban neighborhoods

Jennifer Jenkins, The Nature Conservancy
Ryan Wilson, Metropolitan Planning Council


5. Targeted Acquisition Planning: Southeast Cook County Land Acquisition Plan/Equity-Based Acquisition Planning:  Southeast Cook County Land Acquisition Plan (Planning & Policy)

The Forest Preserves of Cook County owns and manages nearly 70,000 acres but has ambitions goals to acquire more land in a strategic way. Learn how the Plan advances the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision adds new health and social vulnerability data and focus group feedback to identify and prioritize opportunities. The Plan also includes a concise case statement on the benefits of land protection relating to health, climate resiliency, economic development and ecosystem services and non-traditional implementation strategies that may be useful to other organizations with land acquisition goals. Topic Areas: Green Infrastructure, Data Analysis, Health/Wellness

Emy Brawley, The Conservation Fund - Midwest 
Kimberley Rudd, Rudd Resources LLC
Chip O'Leary, Forest Preserves of Cook County
Chris Slattery, Forest Preserves of Cook County

6. Identifying and Tackling Priority Aggressive Plant Species Management Needs to Support Healthy Ecosystems (Science & Natural Resource Management)

This session will launch a 2-year regional effort to bring together land managers and scientists to identify, understand, and begin to tackle priority aggressive plant species in the region. The discussion will be used to gain input from land managers (including staff ecologists and volunteer stewards) and scientists on which species and sites would benefit from a science-based decision making approach to inform future natural resource management and restoration efforts. In addition, information on existing datasets and perspectives on how additional experimentation or monitoring could better inform science-based decision making in the future will also be discussed. Topic Areas: Natural resources management/restoration, Science-based decision making for natural resources, Data analysis 

Roundtable Leaders: 
Kay Havens, Jacob Zeldin, and Rebecca Barak Chicago Botanic Garden
Rebecca Collings and Troy Showerman, Forest Preserves of Cook County

Concurrent Chicago Wilderness Visioning Workshops 

Chicago Wilderness Congress participantsMapping the Green Vision (1:00-1:50pm)

What are the most useful maps for Chicago Wilderness and its members, and how should CW provide them? The 7-year-old Green Infrastructure Vision holds crucial value. But CW needs to incorporate the great innovations in making and displaying maps, and in quickly updating them with new information that shows the region’s ecological, social, and cultural assets in detail. How can CW’s maps reflect the work, concerns, and landscapes of all its partners? This workshop explores these critical questions, and shapes the plan for CW to develop a new Green Vision Mapping tool.

Measuring Progress Toward Green Vision Goals (2:00-2:50pm)

Are there practical, effective ways to measure progress toward landscape-level green goals? Join us in a discussion of high-level indicators (ecological, sociocultural, economic) to track progress toward the Green Vision of Chicago Wilderness. Our aim is to develop a simple and visual evaluation tool—useful for all CW members—that works region-wide and in all land-use categories. The tool also will serve as an aid for setting annual and multi-year goals aligned with the mapping initiatives underway to advance regional health for our landscapes and ourselves (see Session One).

Digging Deeper into Mapping and Metrics—Next Steps (3:00-3:50pm)

This session is for all who wish to continue to discuss the issues raised in Sessions One and Two, to work out examples in sub-regions of Chicago Wilderness, and to develop next steps that transform the Green Mapping and Collective Metrics vision into reality.

Reception (4:00-6:00pm)

Rivers Empyrean performance groupAt a time when the environment is more threatened than ever with pollution and our life-giving waterways at risk, Fifth House Ensemble traces water’s life cycle from its metaphorical descent from the heavens as rain, to its long journey into flowing rivers and streams. Featuring new commissions by Patrick O’Malley and Shawn Okpebholo, commissions informed by First Peoples, conservation experts and ecological data, Rivers Empyrean asks what it would mean to return to a sacred conception in which humans are a part of nature rather than beings standing outside of its impact. Your ticket is included with your Congress registration; purchase additional tickets for $15 per person. 

Questions about the Congress or Chicago Wilderness? Contact us at