Mission: To restore the wetland resources of the midwest to improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and reduce flood damage. The wetlands initiative seeks to conduct and support high-quality restoration projects through direct, on-the-ground work and by forming larger partnerships to demonstrate innovative ways to finance large-scale wetland restoration, such as water quality trading markets. With a focus on science-based, economically sustainable projects and collaborative work with public agencies, the organization's goal is to develop restoration methods and models that others may copy.
Programs: On-the-ground restoration - in 2017, the wetlands initiative (twi) worked to restore high-quality habitat on new ground at the dixon waterfowl refuge and midewin national tallgrass prairie while building on a strong collaboration to tackle urban wetland restoration challenges in the calumet region. At twi's dixon refuge in north-central illinois - one of only 38 ramsar wetlands of international importance in the country - twi completed the second year of restoring globally rare sand oak savanna, sand prairie, and other native habitats on former farmland at sandy hollow. Twi acquired this 283-acre upland tract in late 2014 to expand the refuge and buffer its sensitive seep wetland from disturbance. Grassland and savanna birds of conservation concern and other rare wildlife are already returning to the habitats-in-restoration at sandy hollow, which will open to the public in 2018 with an extensive trail network. At midewin national tallgrass prairie, the largest protected open space in the chicago metropolitan region and the nation's first national tallgrass prairie, twi built on its award-winning public-private partnership with the u. S. Forest service and the national forest foundation during 2017. A youth field restoration crew overseen by twi ecologists completed the first year of on-the-ground work on a massive seven-year restoration project that will transform 1,800 acres on midewin's west side back to diverse native prairies and wetlands. Twi also began a unique milkweed seed production effort at both midewin and the dixon waterfowl refuge to benefit the declining monarch butterfly. Finally, in partnership with audubon great lakes, twi carried out invasive management and native planting work in 2017 to restore indian ridge marsh, a site in the urban and industrialized calumet region on chicago's southeast side. Indian ridge marsh was prioritized early on in a conservation planning effort carried out by twi and other partners to assess the remnant wetland sites in the calumet for potential to be restored to valuable hemi-marsh, which will benefit rare wetland-dependent birds and other wildlife. In 2017, twi expanded this site assessment effort to new remnant wetlands on the indiana side of the calumet region with audubon great lakes and other partners. The findings will be used to pursue new restoration possibilities in this heavily degraded area to realize the calumet region's great conservation potential as the "everglades of the midwest. "
innovation of new strategies - the wetlands initiative's "growing wetlands for clean water" project expanded to reach even more farmers in 2017 in new agricultural watersheds in illinois. This effort seeks to advance the use of small, farm-based constructed wetlands to naturally reduce nutrient runoff into local waterways and ultimately into the gulf of mexico. Over 2017, a new field outreach specialist dedicated to recruiting farmers to implement the constructed wetland practice joined twi's team. She carried out one-on-one outreach and assisted with educational events in the big bureau creek watershed in bureau county and the vermilion river headwaters in livingston county, illinois, successfully expanding the footprint of twi's farmer outreach. Through continued water quality monitoring at an existing constructed wetland site, project partner the university of illinois at chicago found that nitrogen removal efficiency increased significantly in the wetland's first full year of operation. Meanwhile, twi further built relationships with influential ag-sector groups like the illinois soybean association that can assist in widely disseminating the wetland practice to farmers as a practical solution to nutrient loss.