Chicago Region Land Conservation
We offer general operating and project-specific grants that lead to landscape-scale land preservation and stewardship. We support efforts throughout the Chicago region with a current focus on five priority landscapes: Calumet, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Grand Kankakee, Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. We also encourage and participate in strategic land conservation partnerships.
To Protect and Restore
There are nearly 10 million people living in Greater Chicagoland, making it the third largest metropolitan region in the country. Nevertheless, there is a long tradition of preserving land. Currently, more than 550,000 acres of woodlands, wetlands and prairie lands are permanently protected. Chicago Wilderness – a coalition of more than 300 public and private organizations – has a goal to expand, buffer and connect those protected lands further still (see map at right). The ultimate goal is to achieve a thriving, interconnected network of approximately a million and a half acres. Occasionally, when opportunities arise to preserve lands of exceptional strategic significance, we offer Program Related Investments as bridge funding.
To Grow Stronger
Protecting more land is a big job. Stewarding it long-term is an even bigger job. That’s why we offer general operating grants to sustain land conservation organizations, as well as capacity-building grants to help them meet expanded land conservation opportunities. We also encourage partnerships and collaborations to accelerate and enhance our region's conservation goals.
To Advocate Change
Some land conservation happens with easements or acquisitions. Some with volunteers armed with loppers. Some occurs at the policy level. For this reason, we support advocacy efforts to align regional planning and on-the-ground results with established land conservation goals.
A century and a half of intensive industrialization has left its mark on the Calumet region. But there remains a unique archipelago of dune and swale habitat and morainal forest along the southern rim of Lake Michigan. In line with regional land conservation goals, the challenge is to re-knit and restore the Calumet’s natural lands strategically and sustainably.
Forest Preserves of Cook County
The largest forest preserve district in the nation encompasses 69,000 acres, or an astonishing 11 percent of the entire land mass of Cook County. The Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Centennial Plan calls for increasing the total number of acres to 90,000. Equally important is its call for greatly improving the ecological health of its forests, woodlands, wetlands and prairies.
Grand Kankakee Marsh
Originally encompassing over half a million acres, “the Everglades of the North” was one of the world’s greatest freshwater marshes. Much of this land was drained and converted for other uses. However, efforts to reclaim and restore the area’s iconic wetlands and black oak savannas have led to the possibility of establishing a landscape-scale conservation area spanning the Illinois-Indiana border.
Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge
The nation’s 561st refuge was established in 2012 to reverse the loss of grassland bird habitat. The refuge, which straddles the Illinois-Wisconsin border, is anchored by a suite of exceptional conservation lands totaling 10,000 acres. The goal is to triple the size of the refuge for the likes of bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks and other grassland birds, which are among the most imperiled bird species on the planet.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
Formerly the site of the Joliet Arsenal, Midewin was established in 2001 as the nation’s first national tallgrass prairie. The 19,000-acre restoration area marks the largest tallgrass prairie restoration effort east of the Mississippi River. Fully restored, it will anchor a 40,000-acre macrosite of high-quality conservation lands.