Could U.N. prestige come with a price? Enviros look at having Chicago, its suburbs and the regions lakes, river and parks declared an urban "biosphere reserve" by the United Nations

February 2, 2003

By John Dobberstein, Staff writer, The Daily Southtown, Inc.

Think of Chicago, and you might think Al Capone.

Deep dish pizza.

Big, fat guys raising their beer glasses and toasting "Da Bears."

An environmental showcase for planet Earth?

In a city with teetering landfills, ozone alerts and exploding oil
refineries? Maybe not.

But a group of environmentalists wants to have the entire city of Chicago,
its suburbs and the region's collection of lakes, rivers and parks declared
an urban "biosphere reserve" by the United Nations.

The reserve, proposed by Chicago Wilderness, a coalition of environmental
agencies and cultural organizations, could cover all or parts of 10 counties
from southeastern Wisconsin through the Chicago metro area and into northwest

"The main reason for us wanting to do this," said Elizabeth McCance, director
of conservation programs at Chicago Wilderness, "is to bring international
attention to the great natural areas and biodiversity we have in this region.
We are unique in the quality of natural areas we have in an urban site.

"More international attention draws recognition," she added. "You get the
public excited, and that generates support for organizations trying to manage
the lands."

Since the early 1970s, the United Nations has designated hundreds of rain
forests, savannas, national parks, national forests, mountain ranges and
waterways as biosphere reserves with varying degrees of protection.

The U.N. has 425 reserves in countries around the world. In the United
States, 47 biosphere reserves can be found scattered across the country.

Local experts feel the Chicago region also has rare, environmentally
sensitive areas worth protecting.

The Lake Calumet area, on Chicago's Southeast Side, is home to dozens of rare
or endangered species of birds, plants and grasses, though the lake and its
surrounding marshes and wetlands sit in the shadow of toxic dumps, landfills
and abandoned steel mills.

Sandhill cranes that had vanished from the Chicago area years ago have
returned to the wetlands and prairies of Lake, McHenry and DuPage counties --
which collectively have a population of more than 1 million people.

Settlers eliminated big grazers like bison and elk from the landscape. But
plans are under way to bring them back at places like the Midewin National
Tallgrass Prairie in Will County, Chicago Wilderness officials said.

Those are legitimate reasons, experts argue, to have a biosphere reserve
here. Some experts believe a Chicago biosphere reserve would also support
"appropriate restraints" on land and water use and population growth.

"The reason this is important is that the majority of people on Earth are in
urban places, and so to have them attend to the environment is extremely
important," said Dr. George Rabb, director of the Brookfield Zoo and
president of the Chicago Zoological Society.

Rabb said he's been fascinated for years about the concept of making Chicago
a biosphere reserve.

"If this is brought to their awareness more forcefully in their area by being
a biosphere," Rabb said, "you have got more of a chance of their support for
the environment beyond the cities, and what's left of wilderness."

What the U.N. can do

Biosphere reserves don't give the United Nations ownership or direct control
of U.S. land. But the reserves do set land-use policies for designated areas
under the tags of "core," "transitional" and "buffer" areas.

Chicago Wilderness has assembled a steering committee, led by McCance, to
explore the pros and cons of the U.N.'s biosphere program.

Other members of the steering committee include the Chicago Department of
Environment, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, DuPage County Forest
Preserve District, U.S. Forest Service and Illinois Natural History Survey.

The steering committee is compiling information to answer a slew of U.N.
questions about how the region's environmental areas are managed. The
committee believes many environmental treasures in the region already fit the
biosphere reserve criteria.

The biosphere label would granted by the United Nation's Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), based in Paris, and the U.S.
Man and Biosphere program.

The biosphere reserves in the United States have been named mostly to protect
natural areas. In recent years, the United Nations formed an "urban network
group" to study the relationships between sprawling metropolitan area, like
Sao Paulo, Brazil or New York City, and surrounding natural areas.

While some biosphere reserves are now bordering major cities, including San
Francisco and Warsaw, getting the Chicago region approved as a biosphere
reserve might not be easy.

Most U.N. reserves have involved far fewer agencies because the land is
managed by a sole entity.

But Chicago's application may be contingent on getting permission from scores
of agencies and private landowners to have their property become part of the

Also, biosphere reserves have come under scrutiny from property rights
owners, who during the 1990s accused the United Nations of land-grabbing and
meddling with the rights of local planners.

Others complain that the U.N. reserves are simply propaganda machines for

"(The reserves) create a mystique that makes it seem like normal aspects of
human life -- the use of land, development of roads, schools and villages --
seem in violation of the area," said Carol LaGrasse, president of the
Property Rights Foundation of America.

LaGrasse contends the U.N. tag makes it easier for preservationists to press
for more land-use regulations, or to expand them across a greater area.

She added that biosphere reserves have been used successfully as a basis for
lawsuits to stop building projects, even though the reserves have no legal
precedence over U.S. laws.

Against the U.N.

Even though the U.S. State Department agreed in 1973 to participate in the
U.N.'s Man and Biosphere Program, Congress complained during the 1990s that
there is no oversight or approval of biosphere reserves by lawmakers.

So, in 1999, both the U.S. House and Senate passed versions of the American
Land Sovereignty Protection Act to, "preserve the sovereignty of the United
States" state government and private property owners.

The proposed law required Congress to legally authorize all 47 biosphere
reserves already in place in the United States, and approve any future

Gridlock felled the act, which was never signed into law.

Critics said the bill was the product of right-wing paranoia.

"In this country, there are myths and legends surrounding the designation,
because it has to do with the United Nations," said Dale Enquist,
superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

"Some people don't think we should be involved in international endeavors."

Enquist, who is part of the Chicago Wilderness steering committee, said
Chicago's U.N. proposal would be complex "because we do need to have
concurrence of people whose land is being nominated."

But McCance insisted the program is not a sophisticated way to stop urban
sprawl, or a plot to allow the United Nations to decide how Chicago is

"It's getting back to fostering a greater understanding of where we live,"
she said. "I don't feel like we're circumventing the federal government or

LaGrasse, who was born in New York City, said she used to enjoy skating on
frozen-over swamps or picking up tadpoles while growing up on the north shore
of Long Island.

That stopped, she said, when the city filled in the swamps and shoreline with
incinerator waste. "It was all so wrong," LaGrasse said. "Some of those areas
deserved protection."

Biosphere reserves that protect vulnerable land make sense, LaGrasse said,
but such reserves could also be a "slick maneuver" to impose land-use

U.N.: No mandate, just prestige

United Nations officials have rebuffed critics.

UNESCO's Web site says the idea that the U.N. is taking over U.S. lands "is
completely false" and that biosphere reserves have only "voluntary

Federal, state and local agencies are responsible for managing the land, and
the U.N. has no international legal authority over the U.S. government,
UNESCO says.

"It's not just a matter of how humans affect the animals and the plants,"
said Dr. Barbara Weber, associate deputy chief for research and development
at the U.S. Forest Service, and chairwoman of the U.S. Man and Biosphere
program in New York.

"It's also how there are benefits that accrue -- about having a clean,
pristine environment close by, so humans can have a place to go walk in the
woods, and breathe some clean air, and see clean water and show kids what it
looks like without driving 200 miles to get there."

Weber said she wasn't aware of discussions in Chicago. But she agreed
designating America's third-largest city, with some 2.9 million people, as a
biosphere reserve would be unique.

"I think that's rather progressive on their part," Weber said from her
Washington, D.C. office.

Enquist plans to speak with officials who put together the Golden Gate
International Biosphere Reserve near San Francisco, which includes protected
lands just north of the city.

The San Francisco reserve shares similar problems, he said, with an urban
area and widely scattered, environmentally sensitive land nearby managed by
many different agencies.

Enquist said Chicago has "scattered, disjunct and relatively small" pockets
of land that harbor a large amount of biological treasures, particularly

Indiana Dunes' 15,000 acres -- much smaller than some national parks with 10
million acres -- still has the highest number of vascular plant species of
any United States national park, he said.

"It's not recognized as much as it should be, and (a biosphere label) would
give it international recognition," Enquist said. "It would add to the
prestige of the city and the metro area to have that kind of a designation." or 708-633-5992.

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Launching Chicago Wilderness: A Public Education Campaign to Preserve a
Region's Rare Natural Areas

Chicago Wilderness is not an oxymoron. The metropolitan area is home to an
unusually rich and globally significant concentration of rare native plants
and animals. Chicago Wilderness encompasses more than 200,000 acres of
protected natural lands, including significant wetlands, glacial lakes,
rivers and some of the most pristine tallgrass prairies and oak woodlands
surviving in the world. It stretches from the Chiwaukee Prairie in southeast
Wisconsin, to Chicago and its collar counties, to the Indiana Dunes.

In an unprecedented collaborative effort, the Chicago Region Biodiversity
Council (CRBC) -- a group of 34 conservation-conscious public and private
organizations -- created Chicago Wilderness, a plan to help salvage and
preserve this rich natural legacy for future generations.

Understanding the importance of public support, the Council asked Public
Communications Inc. (PCI) to create a public relations campaign to raise
awareness of Chicago Wilderness and stimulate the much-needed public support
for restoration and preservation projects.

Objectives of the program were to:

Raise awareness of Chicago Wilderness and its natural areas found
nowhere else

Generate financial support for its programs

Build enthusiasm for public participation in the Chicago Wilderness programs

Before planning a public launch, PCI assisted the group in coordinating its
internal communications, often a challenge to represent the views of 34
different organizations, including local, state and federal governments,
research and education institutions, landowners and conservation groups. PCI
worked with several subcommittees assigned to approve different elements of
the program.

Those elements and tactics included:

Name & Logo Development: PCI developed the name and logo for "Chicago
Wilderness, A Regional Nature Reserve." The logo, a wild onion, represents
the once abundant wild onions that grew where Chicago now stands and the
delicacy of the natural areas now at risk because of urban sprawl.

Poster Design: PCI worked with an artist to create a poster showing an
overview of the extraordinary greenways, lake front and wildlife that pervade
the Chicago metropolitan area. The poster's colorful front incorporates the
logo, member list and threatened plants and animals native to the land. The
backside offers a telephone number through which the public could become
involved and 12 detailed examples of plants and animals that live in the

Message Development: The scope of Chicago Wilderness and the scientific
jargon often used by members to talk about preservation projects were
condensed into user-friendly language to explain the threat to these natural
areas and get the public to act.

B-roll/interviews: Controlled prairie burns administered by Chicago
Wilderness volunteers and scenery of tallgrass prairies, savannas and
wetlands highlighted the b-roll distributed to television media. Accompanying
the visuals were taped interviews with seven spokespersons filmed at various
natural areas that are part of Chicago Wilderness.

Media Kit: PCI created a comprehensive press kit, including a news release
and editorial backgrounder, fact sheet, Q&A, map, project list, summary
statements of the member organizations, glossary of ecological terms,
brochure, volunteer opportunities and information hotline.

Government Relations: Bipartisan support from government officials was
critical to ensure the long-term success of Chicago Wilderness. Key elected
and appointed officials were targeted to attend the news conference and the
program kickoff party.

Media Relations: Targeted environmental and conservation reporters were
provided advance information about Chicago Wilderness to stimulate interest
in the program. PCI also scheduled local editorial board meetings for Council

News Conference: An April 10 news conference at the Field Museum of Natural
History attracted more than 100 people. Banners featuring the Chicago
Wilderness name and logo and natural plants created a festive setting.
Trained spokespersons announced the launch of Chicago Wilderness, outlined
the program and answered media questions.

Site Tours: Immediately following the news conference, media were invited to
go on one of two guided van tours of Bunker Hill Prairie/North Park Village
Nature Center or Swallow Cliff Woods/Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve and see
Chicago Wilderness at work. At each site, volunteers demonstrated restoration
work in progress, including a controlled prairie burn which provided
excellent visual opportunities for photographers and television media.

Reception: More than 400 guests attended a special kickoff party on April 10
to celebrate the launch. Chicago Wilderness T- shirts, free posters and
samples of tallgrass prairie seed mix were given away to guests.

Highlighting the completed placements were a front-page Chicago Tribune
story, editorials applauding the Council's vision in the Tribune, Chicago
Sun-Times and Daily Herald, UPI, Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine, WLS-TV,
WFLD-TV and a live Mara Tapp Show interview. In all, more than 70 placements
were completed reaching an estimated audience of 8 million people. The U.S.
Forest Service announced a $700,000 grant for Chicago Wilderness programs a
result of the launch. And hundreds of new volunteers flooded the volunteer
hotline, and many signed up to work on various Chicago Wilderness projects.

The Council believes the successful launch built a solid foundation for
securing future funding and enlisting volunteers to help complete
conservation projects vital to the area's rare natural communities survival.

Additional reading:

An Atlas of Biodiversity: Chicago Wilderness Table of Contents


Chicago Wilderness. Biodiversity Recovery Plan

The Chicago Wilderness Education Group, a part of the Chicago Wilderness
Education and Communication Team: MATRIX:

The identification of Chicago Wilderness resources and resource gaps (Step #1
and Step #2) is provided in the following matrix. Chart 1 provides an
extensive list of targeted Chicago Wilderness audiences. Existing resources
are listed next to their target audience. Blanks indicate that resources are
needed for that audience and development of such resources is a priority for
the team.
The essential components listed in the matrix are those articulated in an
internationally accepted definition of environmental education stated in the
UNESCO, Tbilisi Declaration1. It reads:

Environmental education is a learning process that increases peopleís
knowledge and awareness about the environment and associated challenges,
develops the necessary skills and expertise to address these challenges, and
fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions
and take responsible action.

Based on the research/work of Hungerford, Peyton, and Wilke2, the Education
Group has adopted the five components of Environmental Education that flow
from the definition. These five components are:

Awareness Helping people acquire awareness and sensitivity to the total
environment and its problems

Knowledge Helping people acquire a basic understanding of how the
environment functions

Attitude Helping people acquire a set of values and feeling of concern for
the environment and the motivation and commitment to participate in
environmental maintenance and improvement

Skill Helping people acquire the skills needed to identify, investigate,
and contribute to the resolution of environmental problems and issues

Participation Helping people acquire experience in using their acquired
skills in taking thoughtful, positive action toward the resolution of
environmental problems and issues

Using these essential components, resources on local biodiversity education
are checked to determine which component they achieve. It is not necessary
for each resource to achieve all components. The strength of Chicago
Wilderness is dependent on how well we utilize and build on each otherís
resources to provide a comprehensive spectrum of programs and activities.

1UNESCO. 1978 Final Report, Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental
Education. Organized by UNESCO in cooperation with UNEP. Tbilisi, USSR. 14-26
October, 1977. UNESCO ED/MD/49.
2Hungerford, Harold R., R. Ben Peyton and Richard J. Wilke. 1980. "Goals for
Curriculum Development in Environmental Education." Journal of Environmental
Education. Volume II Number 3. Pages 42-47.
A chart of the target audiences, resources and educational
components essential to Biodiversity Education
is available in Adobe Acrobat format -- (this is the URL
given, but it is incorrect).

There is even a Chicago Wilderness magazine:

History with Fire in Its Eye: An Introduction to Fire in America,
Essay-Related Links, The Use of the Land: Perspectives on Stewardship

National Humanities Center
International Scientific Products Exchange (ISPEX)
International Scientific Products Exchange (ISPEX) Ecology


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