by Nicole Ott, Lake Michigan Federation
Bringing Aquatic Habitats Back to Urban Areas
On Friday, November 3rd activists, scientists and planners came together to discuss habitat restoration opportunities along the Illinois and Indiana shoreline of Lake Michigan. Drawing upon the innovation of Chicago Wilderness’ Biodiversity Recovery Plan for terrestrial habitats, the Lake Michigan Federation obtained funding to create a blueprint for aquatic species recovery in southern Lake Michigan and its watershed. The summit was the first step in that initiative. The aim of the initiative is to improve native wildlife populations on a regional and global scale by providing area nursery and spawning habitats for Lake Michigan fish and by improving the International Migratory Bird Flyway, respectively.
The summit was kicked off with a discussion of the pre-settlement and present day biological and geological conditions of the lakefront. What did the area originally look like? How has it changed? What’s left to work with? Case studies concerning dune and swale restoration, habitat opportunities along man-made shorelines, protection of the Calumet, IL wetlands, and exotic species interactions with degraded and pristine habitats were presented. An economics study commissioned by a Federation fellowship to a University of Illinois at Chicago graduate student was unveiled for the first time. The non-use value of the biodiversity of the Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Zone was assessed by interpolation of literature-derived willingness to pay studies. The non-use value, i.e. the value that people place on a resource just for the sake of knowing it’s there or for the sake of future generations, was found to be comparable to Chicago’s Gross Regional Product, thus providing economic justification for the preservation of local biodiversity. The summit ended with break-out groups identifying site-specific restoration opportunities and providing a needs assessment for those sites.
The summit was a great success, met with substantial attendance and incredible enthusiasm. This initiative will guide the urban habitat recovery work of the Federation and its partners for years to come.