The Wetlands Initiative had a big presence at Wild Things 2019—from the breakout sessions to the poster presentation. Grants Manager and Development Associate Vera Leopold was involved in two different sessions and, with Ecologist Anna Braum and Development and Communications Assistant Phoebe Thatcher, also exhibited a richly detailed poster on TWI’s 2018 BioBlitz at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge. Their poster showcased all the hard work that went into planning and executing this successful event, and it provided inspiration for other environmental nonprofits planning their own BioBlitz in the future.
Before the poster session, Vera served as an expert panelist for the breakout session “Telling the Conservation Story—Best Practices in Traditional and Social Media.” Openlands Director of Communications Brandon Hayes moderated the panel, which included Stacina Stagner from the Forest Preserves of Cook County and Gelasia Croom from The Nature Conservancy in Illinois. Originally brought together by Veronica Hinke, Public Affairs Officer with the U.S. Forest Service at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the panelists each shared a communications success story and during the interactive session fielded audience questions on how they talk about conservation and restoration with constituents.
Vera said, “It was really neat to do the panel with our peers in the conservation field because, not surprisingly, we deal with a lot of the same challenges and use some similar strategies in communicating about our work.”
The biennial Wild Things conference, a full-day convergence of the Chicago region’s conservation community and nature enthusiasts, took place on February 23. This year’s event offered more than 130 educational sessions, 60 conservation-minded exhibitors, and dozens of poster presentations. With nearly 2,500 attendees, it lived up to TWI staff’s description of the event as “Woodstock for nature.”
One of the sessions was put together by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) to highlight their different grant opportunities for conservation organizations. They invited Vera to describe TWI’s experience as a grantee under their Community Stewardship Challenge Grant program for the Oak Ridge restoration project at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge. Vera described how TWI leveraged ICECF’s grant to recruit volunteers and engage new and lapsed donors to support the project.
Wild Things concluded with the “Poster Session and Happy Hour.” Vera, Anna, and Phoebe presented their poster to share their experience planning the Dixon Refuge BioBlitz last year and the impressive results from this 24-hour “nature scavenger hunt.” Their poster garnered a lot of interest from attendees. Anna said, “I talked with quite a few people who were interested in organizing their own BioBlitzes, which was really inspiring!”
TWI staff set aside an entire Saturday to mingle and learn from other conservationists at Wild Things. This cross-pollination exposed everyone to new ideas and ways of thinking. Phoebe loved the session on the biodiverse environment of the Calumet region before European settlement, while Anna enjoyed a thought-provoking talk titled “Habitat Potential of Post-Industrial Landscapes.” For both of them, the sessions were relevant to their TWI work in the Calumet region. Everyone came away feeling even more excited about TWI’s projects and the work of their environmental peers. Plus, they felt honored to have the opportunity to share their own knowledge through panels and the poster session.
Although Wild Things 2021 is two years away, our staff is already looking forward to it!