Yesterday’s jam-packed Openlands luncheon was an ode to trees. Trees provide shade and cool our communities, conserve energy, remove air pollution, capture rain water and reduce flooding, sequester carbon and combat climate change, provide food, and heal people. Remember the joy of your favorite tree growing up? There are more than 157 million trees growing in the seven-county Chicago region, with an estimated value over $50 billion (for environmental services). However, not all communities have adequate tree coverage and share these benefits. A quarter of these trees are invasive buckthorn, and the emerald ash borer will wipe out 13 million ash trees.

Openlands has been protecting and connecting people to nature in our region since 1963. They have planted 5,000 trees in the last 4 years, and trained 2,000 TreeKeeper volunteers to steward Chicago’s urban forest.

The Morton Arboretum, the champion of trees, and the Chicago Region Trees Initiative received Openland’s Conservation Leadership Award. They are working to expand our tree canopy coverage, increase the diversity and resilience of trees, and educate the public on the challenges and of care trees.

Keynote speaker Ed Collins, manages over 25,000 acres of open space with the McHenry County Conservation District; developed the first comprehensive mapping of oak loss in our region which inspired the Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan; and played an instrumental role in the creation of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. He shared some wise words about his lifelong love with nature – “Land is a sacred, sentient being that sings when healthy and weeps when injured.” Inspiring us on, he said, “the heart drives the fourth wave of conservationists…have courage to take the road less traveled… First it’s impossible, then it’s too difficult, then it’s done… Push forward the “extinction burst” of outdated ideas… Find the Teddy Roosevelt or the Rachel Carson within.”