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Virtual Congress

Inspiring Healthy Communities for People and Nature

Now Online and FREE!

We moved the Chicago Wilderness Congress online! That means you get access to the latest thinking about the region's most pressing conservation issues, while making sure everyone is safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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 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.

It's the best of the Chicago Wilderness Congress, brought straight to your computer or phone via Zoom. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for details on future sessions throughout the spring and summer. 

Virtual Congress Session 3: Tuesday, July 7 

1-3pm CST

1-2pm Targeted Acquisition Planning: Southeast Cook County Land Acquisition Plan

(Planning and 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 Vision and 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.


Chris Slattery, Forest Preserves of Cook County
Emy Brawley, The Conservation Fund, Midwest
Sonya Lewis, Rudd Resources
Chloe Gurin-Sands, Metropolitan Planning Council
Chip O'Leary, Forest Preserves of Cook County

2-3pm 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. 

Dani Abboud, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods

Kimberly Waller, Cool Learning Experience
Jonathan Arenas, Lake County Public Health Child and Adolescent Behavioral Services
Debra Williams, The Nature Conservancy Indian Boundary Prairies

Virtual Congress Session 4: Tuesday, July 14
1-2:30pm CST

1-2:30pm Environmental Gentrification 101

(Advocacy and 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 communities directly impacted by Environmental Gentrification in Chicago, give context through current research, and share lessons learned from organizations on the frontlines of advocacy. Learn about local issues, consider tough questions, and join the conversation!


Virtual Congress Session 5: Tuesday, July 21
1-3pm CST

1-2pm Using CMAP Tools for Conservation and Climate Resilience Planning
(Planning and 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.

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

2-3pm Building Advocacy Networks to Support Your Cause, Big or Small
(Advocacy and 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 interactive session, professional advocates will discuss tools they use to engage and empower new audiences– volunteer training programs, online platforms, 'power mapping'  and more. We will also explore the evolving needs of CW members and brainstorm how better advocacy can support them. 

Moderator: Andrew Szwak, Openlands

Sean Ruane, Advocates for Urban Agriculture
Tucker Barry, Illinois Environmental Council
Ashley Maybanks, The Nature Conservancy


Virtual Congress Session 6: Tuesday, July 28
1-3pm CST TBD

With appreciation to our Congress Sponsors

 Your support allows us all to view the conservation world from new perspectives and contribute to the region's green vision. Thank you!

Wilderness Patron

Conservation Collaborator

Green Advocate


Congress Supporter

Debra Shore
Commissioner of the Water Reclamation District of Chicago

Conservation Friend