Preview: Wild Things Community Seeks Expansion, Beginning with You

Lakeshore Preserve. Photo credit: Matt Bucher

All too often, we hear the Midwest referred to as fly-over states. To some, the idea of escaping civilization and heading out into nature involves hopping on a plane. I’ve been involved in ecological restoration for five years. Even after three years, I admit, I believed that to be the case. The real truth is that our area supports more plant diversity than anywhere else in the nation. Part of this is because our geologic history has resulted in the creation of several different ecosystem types that each support different species of plants. A 1400-page book couldn’t be written about a naturally boring region! We may not have oceans, but we have the lake. We may not have mountains, but that doesn’t mean we are barren of topography.

Since joining the field, I knew preserving and restoring our natural areas was important but it wasn’t until I began working higher quality sites that I really felt it. Entering those sites that are years into a managed recovery plan, or working in a remnant ecosystem, an area that has been largely undisturbed for thousands of years, has opened my eyes to the endgame of ecological restoration and the true potential of nature in our region.

This personal discovery motivates me to learn all that I can and share that with friends, family, and the Third Coast Review audience. Our own backyard contains true beauty; you just need to know where to look.

Fortunately, I am far from being alone in these beliefs. Think of your favorite parks, forest preserves, and natural areas. What draws you to them? Have you seen people working within them? Feel free to answer in the comments below. Some of the work takes place so far off trail that you may rarely see people working to preserve and restore, but they’re out there. A great deal of thought and work goes into your favorite regional natural escapes and much of it cannot be done without you.

The Wild Things 2019 Conference is calling your name. Attend and join the community dedicated to our natural areas, as big as Glacial Park, and as small as your own backyard.

A Network of Conservation Practitioners

Since 2005, the Wild Things Community has held a biennial conference to facilitate collaboration among many different environmental organizations to share what they have learned. On February 23, the conference makes a huge leap to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, doubling their 2017 capacity with hopes of bringing people into this diverse network of ecosystem warriors. Robbie Q. Telfer, media coordinator for the conference, states his goal.

The biggest goal is always increasing the human-led solutions to human-caused degradation of wildlife. So that means having to keep working to expand the choir and to do critical analysis of the make up of the choir to see who we are missing. The more society can see themselves as part of nature, part of a community, the more nature benefits, human and otherwise.

You need not be a professional in the field to have a connection with nature. The Wild Things Community as described on their website, “… are stewards, monitors, advocates, educators, Chicago Wilderness members, volunteers, and staff, all working together to promote and protect the prairies, woodlands, wetlands, wild yards, and natural parks of northeast Illinois, northwest Indiana, and southeast Wisconsin.” Stewards and monitors are largely voluntary positions. It is not uncommon for volunteers to have day jobs outside of the field; many came into the field with an interest in learning and have found themselves as site stewards all over the region, teaching others what they have learned.

If you love a good walk through the woods, you are an advocate, and the conference would love to have you.

The Lincoln Park Conservancy presents during the conference’s happy hour presentations, 2017. Photo credit: Wild Things Community

Christian Lenhart will be presenting at the conference this year. His presentation is titled People and Places: The Foundation for the Evolution of Ecological Restoration in the Midwest.

Lenhart and Peter Smiley Jr. recently released a book titled Ecological Restoration in the Midwest: Past, Present, and Future. It serves as an analysis of many restoration methods and projects in the area and discusses what the future may look like in our field. Lenhart and Smiley emphasize the importance of collaboration between the many different groups involved in the region. Collaboration is seen as an opportunity for land managers to think bigger and see where their project fits in with the activities of the rest of the region.

Perhaps groups such as the Wild Things Community may have inspired their beliefs in the importance of collaboration.

When restoring sites, the goals may vary, but a common one is to increase biodiversity. Lenhart and Smiley attribute this to a well-studied relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem stability. As an ecosystem is most stable with many different species of living things, the Wild Things Community seeks strength in diversity as well. Professional or not, anybody interested can find a way to help. Even the simple act of planting a few native plants to help pollinators is valuable. It is tantamount to an oasis in a desert and nature will thank you for it.

The Field Museum’s Peggy McNamara presents at the 2017 conference. Photo credit: Wild Things Community
Tickets may be purchased through Eventbrite. 

A Choose Your Own Adventure

With seven sessions and a lunch session with about 17 presentations each, there are about 6,975,757,441 possible combinations of presentations to choose from. With a capacity of 3000 people, there is truly a schedule that fits your interests. Check out the presentation schedule and create your own here.

Attendees choose their own adventure from many presentations from the following categories:

Greg Rajsky will be presenting Climate Change: A Tale for Our Time.
Photo Credit: Wild Things Community

Advocacy/Constituency Building/Communication
Backyards/Neighborhoods/Urban Environment
Birds/Bird Conservation
Ecological Land Management and Restoration
Ecological Monitoring/Research
Natural History of the Chicago Region
Sustainability/Climate Change
Tools for Educators
Volunteers/Stewardship/Community Engagement
Water and Aquatic Ecosystems Youth Stewardship

Are you thinking about a native garden? Consider Pam Karlson’s presentation Birds in the Garden: Tips for Creating and Enjoying a Bird Oasis.

Perhaps you’re fresh off an argumentative holiday season. Consider attending Dismantling Climate Deniers’ Arguments presented by Julie Sacco. I’ll make it a point to see this one.

If you have wondered how Lake Michigan came to be or the very land Chicago rests on. Lorrie Ward and David Dolak’s presentation Geology of the Chicago Region, may be for you.

Given the possibilities, I cannot possibly cover them all! From geology and archaeology to even improv and standup comedy, each person will leave with a new experience unique to their choices. Take some time and look through the schedule of events and purchase a ticket to see what our region has to offer on February 23 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. See you there.

Tickets for the 2019 Wild Things Conference can be purchased through Eventbrite. What presentations will you attend? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Matthew Bucher