The Chicago Wilderness: A Model for a Three Rivers Regional Water Forum?
The Chicago Wilderness (CW) network, established in the mid-1990s to promote regional biodiversity and environmental education, could be an important model for the development of a Three Rivers Regional Water Forum. While its focus is on biodiversity rather than water, the organization and process of the CW represents an interesting precedent for an open-access, public-private consortium of regional stakeholders around a particular cluster of scientific and policy concerns. Although the CW does not per se take positions on biodiversity issues, its value lies in facilitating collaborative efforts to analyze issues and formulate recommendations for public policy by subgroups of member organizations organized as task forces.
The CW currently includes about 160 member governments, agencies, NGOs, educational institutions, and business corporations. Its geographic area loosely includes the six Illinois counties of the Chicago MSA, Kenosha County in Wisconsin, and Lake and Porter Counties in Indiana. Office space and staff resources are provided by three Chicago area organizations: the Field Museum of Natural History, the Brookfield Zoo, and the Nature Conservancy Chicago Chapter. Startup funding was provided by grants from the EPA, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for research on biodiversity.
Also known as the Chicago Region Biodiversity Council, the CW is “governed” by three leadership entities established under its policies and procedures: (1) an executive council comprising the above three organizations plus additional members that provide resources to CW; (2) a steering committee that includes representation of specified sectors and classes of governments and private interest groups; and (3) a coordinating group established by the steering committee, which holds monthly meetings open to all CW members. The coordinating group (1) implements steering committee decisions, (2) oversees the CW work plan, (3) sets agendas for meetings, and (4) represents CW at professional meetings. The CW corporate council includes participating business firms.
The CW is not incorporated and does not have 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status so it does not compete with its member organizations for funding. The work of CW is carried out through meetings of members, mission-specific task forces, a proposals committee, and a nominating committee. The CW supports ecological restoration activities through a network of citizen volunteers.
In its first few years, the CW has become a respected voice for “ecological citizenship” in the Chicago region. In addition to its web site (www.chicagowilderness.org), it has published Chicago Wilderness, An Atlas of Biodiversity (Sullivan, 1997), which describes the major ecosystems and selected species with text and graphics directed to the general public. It coordinates environmental education programs for inner city and suburban school systems and is helping to protect and restore habitat sites in the Chicago region. The CW conducts research on biodiversity through various task forces and subgroups. It participates in such related regional initiatives as the Chicago Regional Transportation Plan and the Green Infrastructure Regional Mapping Project and provides speakers for conferences in the region and around the country.