One of the first eight in nation to connect cities with National Wildlife Refuges
The National Wildlife Refuge System is a constellation of more than 150 million acres of preserved land across the United States, managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. While a surprising number of these wildlife refuges aren’t far from urban centers, many are in wilder, more remote areas. With 80% of Americans now living in cities, the Service began to recognize that to maintain support for a strong refuge system it must connect with the millions of people living in cities. Thanks to a new partnership, the Forest Preserves will serve as a vital link in that connection, and further its own mission at the same time.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently named the Forest Preserves of Cook County one of only eight Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative pilot partnerships in the nation. With $40,000 in initial funding, the partnership’s aim is to create “a ladder of nature learning and engagement opportunities that starts in urban neighborhoods and expands to the forest preserves, and ultimately, refuges.”
The program will expand on the Forest Preserves’ successful Wild Indigo Nature Explorations program, hiring “outreach fellows” from the communities they serve. The fellows drive outreach efforts and develop programs that meet their communities’ needs, while promoting nature appreciation and habitat restoration.
The partnership will also call on the community organizing expertise of Audubon Chicago Region and Eden Place Nature Center. In addition to funding, the Fish and Wildlife Service provides other kinds of support, such as a recent training that several partnership members attended in September at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.