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
February 2, 2003
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
its suburbs and the region's collection of lakes, rivers and parks
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
from southeastern Wisconsin through the Chicago metro area and into
"The main reason for us wanting to do this," said Elizabeth
of conservation programs at Chicago Wilderness, "is to bring
attention to the great natural areas and biodiversity we have in this
We are unique in the quality of natural areas we have in an urban
"More international attention draws recognition," she added.
"You get the
public excited, and that generates support for organizations trying
Since the early 1970s, the United Nations has designated hundreds
forests, savannas, national parks, national forests, mountain ranges
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
or endangered species of birds, plants and grasses, though the lake
surrounding marshes and wetlands sit in the shadow of toxic dumps,
and abandoned steel mills.
Sandhill cranes that had vanished from the Chicago area years ago
returned to the wetlands and prairies of Lake, McHenry and DuPage
which collectively have a population of more than 1 million people.
Settlers eliminated big grazers like bison and elk from the landscape.
plans are under way to bring them back at places like the Midewin
Tallgrass Prairie in Will County, Chicago Wilderness officials said.
Those are legitimate reasons, experts argue, to have a biosphere
here. Some experts believe a Chicago biosphere reserve would also
"appropriate restraints" on land and water use and population
"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
president of the Chicago Zoological Society.
Rabb said he's been fascinated for years about the concept of making
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
of U.S. land. But the reserves do set land-use policies for designated
under the tags of "core," "transitional" and "buffer"
Chicago Wilderness has assembled a steering committee, led by McCance,
explore the pros and cons of the U.N.'s biosphere program.
Other members of the steering committee include the Chicago Department
Environment, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and
Service, Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, DuPage County
Preserve District, U.S. Forest Service and Illinois Natural History
The steering committee is compiling information to answer a slew
questions about how the region's environmental areas are managed.
committee believes many environmental treasures in the region already
biosphere reserve criteria.
The biosphere label would granted by the United Nation's Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), based in Paris, and
Man and Biosphere program.
The biosphere reserves in the United States have been named mostly
natural areas. In recent years, the United Nations formed an "urban
group" to study the relationships between sprawling metropolitan
Sao Paulo, Brazil or New York City, and surrounding natural areas.
While some biosphere reserves are now bordering major cities, including
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
managed by a sole entity.
But Chicago's application may be contingent on getting permission
of agencies and private landowners to have their property become part
Also, biosphere reserves have come under scrutiny from property rights
owners, who during the 1990s accused the United Nations of land-grabbing
meddling with the rights of local planners.
Others complain that the U.N. reserves are simply propaganda machines
"(The reserves) create a mystique that makes it seem like normal
human life -- the use of land, development of roads, schools and villages
seem in violation of the area," said Carol LaGrasse, president
Property Rights Foundation of America.
LaGrasse contends the U.N. tag makes it easier for preservationists
for more land-use regulations, or to expand them across a greater
She added that biosphere reserves have been used successfully as
a basis for
lawsuits to stop building projects, even though the reserves have
precedence over U.S. laws.
Against the U.N.
Even though the U.S. State Department agreed in 1973 to participate
U.N.'s Man and Biosphere Program, Congress complained during the 1990s
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
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
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
Enquist, who is part of the Chicago Wilderness steering committee,
Chicago's U.N. proposal would be complex "because we do need
concurrence of people whose land is being nominated."
But McCance insisted the program is not a sophisticated way to stop
sprawl, or a plot to allow the United Nations to decide how Chicago
"It's getting back to fostering a greater understanding of where
she said. "I don't feel like we're circumventing the federal
LaGrasse, who was born in New York City, said she used to enjoy skating
frozen-over swamps or picking up tadpoles while growing up on the
of Long Island.
That stopped, she said, when the city filled in the swamps and shoreline
incinerator waste. "It was all so wrong," LaGrasse said.
"Some of those areas
Biosphere reserves that protect vulnerable land make sense, LaGrasse
but such reserves could also be a "slick maneuver" to impose
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.
completely false" and that biosphere reserves have only "voluntary
Federal, state and local agencies are responsible for managing the
the U.N. has no international legal authority over the U.S. government,
"It's not just a matter of how humans affect the animals and
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
pristine environment close by, so humans can have a place to go walk
woods, and breathe some clean air, and see clean water and show kids
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,
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
International Biosphere Reserve near San Francisco, which includes
lands just north of the city.
The San Francisco reserve shares similar problems, he said, with
area and widely scattered, environmentally sensitive land nearby managed
many different agencies.
Enquist said Chicago has "scattered, disjunct and relatively
of land that harbor a large amount of biological treasures, particularly
Indiana Dunes' 15,000 acres -- much smaller than some national parks
million acres -- still has the highest number of vascular plant species
any United States national park, he said.
"It's not recognized as much as it should be, and (a biosphere
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."
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Launching Chicago Wilderness: A Public Education Campaign to Preserve
Region's Rare Natural Areas
Chicago Wilderness is not an oxymoron. The metropolitan area is home
unusually rich and globally significant concentration of rare native
and animals. Chicago Wilderness encompasses more than 200,000 acres
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
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
organizations -- created Chicago Wilderness, a plan to help salvage
preserve this rich natural legacy for future generations.
Understanding the importance of public support, the Council asked
Communications Inc. (PCI) to create a public relations campaign to
awareness of Chicago Wilderness and stimulate the much-needed public
for restoration and preservation projects.
Objectives of the program were to:
Raise awareness of Chicago Wilderness and its natural areas found
Generate financial support for its programs
Build enthusiasm for public participation in the Chicago Wilderness
Before planning a public launch, PCI assisted the group in coordinating
internal communications, often a challenge to represent the views
different organizations, including local, state and federal governments,
research and education institutions, landowners and conservation groups.
worked with several subcommittees assigned to approve different elements
Those elements and tactics included:
Name & Logo Development: PCI developed the name and logo for
Wilderness, A Regional Nature Reserve." The logo, a wild onion,
the once abundant wild onions that grew where Chicago now stands and
delicacy of the natural areas now at risk because of urban sprawl.
Poster Design: PCI worked with an artist to create a poster showing
overview of the extraordinary greenways, lake front and wildlife that
the Chicago metropolitan area. The poster's colorful front incorporates
logo, member list and threatened plants and animals native to the
backside offers a telephone number through which the public could
involved and 12 detailed examples of plants and animals that live
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
areas and get the public to act.
B-roll/interviews: Controlled prairie burns administered by Chicago
Wilderness volunteers and scenery of tallgrass prairies, savannas
wetlands highlighted the b-roll distributed to television media. Accompanying
the visuals were taped interviews with seven spokespersons filmed
natural areas that are part of Chicago Wilderness.
Media Kit: PCI created a comprehensive press kit, including a news
and editorial backgrounder, fact sheet, Q&A, map, project list,
statements of the member organizations, glossary of ecological terms,
brochure, volunteer opportunities and information hotline.
Government Relations: Bipartisan support from government officials
critical to ensure the long-term success of Chicago Wilderness. Key
and appointed officials were targeted to attend the news conference
program kickoff party.
Media Relations: Targeted environmental and conservation reporters
provided advance information about Chicago Wilderness to stimulate
in the program. PCI also scheduled local editorial board meetings
News Conference: An April 10 news conference at the Field Museum
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,
the program and answered media questions.
Site Tours: Immediately following the news conference, media were
go on one of two guided van tours of Bunker Hill Prairie/North Park
Nature Center or Swallow Cliff Woods/Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
Chicago Wilderness at work. At each site, volunteers demonstrated
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
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,
Sun-Times and Daily Herald, UPI, Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine,
WFLD-TV and a live Mara Tapp Show interview. In all, more than 70
were completed reaching an estimated audience of 8 million people.
Forest Service announced a $700,000 grant for Chicago Wilderness programs
result of the launch. And hundreds of new volunteers flooded the volunteer
hotline, and many signed up to work on various Chicago Wilderness
The Council believes the successful launch built a solid foundation
securing future funding and enlisting volunteers to help complete
conservation projects vital to the area's rare natural communities
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
and Step #2) is provided in the following matrix. Chart 1 provides
extensive list of targeted Chicago Wilderness audiences. Existing
are listed next to their target audience. Blanks indicate that resources
needed for that audience and development of such resources is a priority
The essential components listed in the matrix are those articulated
internationally accepted definition of environmental education stated
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,
fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions
and take responsible action.
Based on the research/work of Hungerford, Peyton, and Wilke2, the
Group has adopted the five components of Environmental Education that
from the definition. These five components are:
Awareness Helping people acquire awareness and sensitivity to the
environment and its problems
Knowledge Helping people acquire a basic understanding of how the
Attitude Helping people acquire a set of values and feeling of concern
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
environmental problems and issues
Using these essential components, resources on local biodiversity
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,
October, 1977. UNESCO ED/MD/49.
2Hungerford, Harold R., R. Ben Peyton and Richard J. Wilke. 1980.
Curriculum Development in Environmental Education." Journal of
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