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Virtual Congress

Inspiring Healthy Communities for People and Nature

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. 

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.

Our Congress sessions have concluded for the summer. If you'd like to get involved with Chicago Wilderness, including serving on any of our working committees, please contact Laura Reilly

Session 1: Tue, May 12

Budburst: Community Science for Education, Research, and Action (download pdf)

Learn about 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. More recently it has expanded to include time bound research projects related to phenology and plant-animal interactions. We will 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. 

Jennifer Schwarz Ballard, Chicago Botanic Garden
Kayri Havens, Chicago Botanic Garden

What’s Agriculture Got to Do With It? 
(download pdf)

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP)'s "ON TO 2050" plan calls for identifying and protecting agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance as a key strategy for the region’s prosperity and resilience. We'll discuss how to proactively plan 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.  Panelists will also share their experiences through current projects and programs across multiple sectors. Topic Areas: Green Infrastructure, Urban Ecosystems, Regenerative Agricultural

Brandon Hayes, Bold Bison Consulting

Panelists (subject to change): 
Emy Brawley, The Conservation Fund 
Tyler Strom, Illinois Agri-Food Alliance
Janice Hill, Kane County Farmland Preservation

Session 2: Tue, May 26

StormStore: Stormwater Credit Trading
(download pdf)

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 disproportionately 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. 

Jennifer Jenkins, The Nature Conservancy
Ryan Wilson, Metropolitan Planning Council
Kimberly Du Buclet, MWRD Commissioner

Urban Soils Workshop
(download pdf)

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 webinar will discuss differences between natural and urban soils.  We will focus on free online resources provided by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.  We will explore the tools and applications available, such as the Web Soil Survey, how to assess soil health, and the benefits of building your own portable soil quality test kit.  The goal is to provide participants with science-driven resources and an opportunity to continue learning.  Additional resources: Basic Soil BackgroundWeb Soil Survey Guide and Case StudyOnline Urban Soils Resources

Michelle Catania, The Morton Arboretum
Allyson Salisbury, The Morton Arboretum

Session 3: Tuesday, July 7 

Targeted Acquisition Planning: Southeast Cook County Land Acquisition Plan
(watch webinar; first hour)

Land acquisition planning in Cook County powerpoint imageThe 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

Bridging Diverse Organizations to Help Children Learn, Heal & Grow in Nature
(watch webinar; second hour)

Bridging diverse organizations powerpoint imageRecognizing 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

Session 4: Tuesday, July 14

Environmental Gentrification 101
(watch webinar)

environmental gentrification powerpoint imageCould 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!

Gloria Orozco, Friends of the Forest Preserves
Peter Whitney, Friends of the Forest Preserves

Paula Acevedo, El Paseo Community Garden/ El Paseo Community Council
Jacky Vazquez, LVEJO (Little Village Environmental Justice Organization)
Tania Schusler, Loyola University Chicago, Institute of Environmental Sustainability

Session 5: Tuesday, July 21 

Using CMAP Tools for Conservation and Climate Resilience Planning

 (watch webinar; first hour)


Using CMAP tools for conservation and climate resilience planning powerpoint imageThrough 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

Building Advocacy Networks to Support Your Cause, Big or Small

(watch webinar; second hour) (download pdf)

Building advocacy networks powerpoint imageGallup 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

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!