In the 20th Century, we preserved the land. In the 21st, let’s restore it.

Measuring Our Progress

By Eileen Figel
Deputy Superintendent
Forest Preserves of Cook County 

Good plans are a roadmap to the future.  They identify where you want to go and how you will get there.  But you still need to do the hard work of getting there.  You must bring strong partners to the table and keep them engaged.  Together you must translate visionary, ambitious goals into specific actions and identify who will lead and who will support each action.   You need to set short-term mileposts and measure your progress along the way.  You also have to be brutally honest about what is and isn’t working, and then make necessary adjustments to continue moving forward.  Finally, you need to make sure all your partners, advocates and other stakeholders know how things are going.

When you are implementing a plan as ambitious as the Next Century Conservation Plan (NCCP), all of this can be overwhelming.  But it can also be inspiring.   Right now, I am both inspired and hopeful.

I am inspired by the commitment of our staff, advocates, partners and volunteers.  We may not always agree on what has to happen, but ultimately we all want the same thing—to protect and restore the forest preserves for generations to come. I am hopeful because so many of these key factors—a visionary plan, a President committed to the plan’s success, devoted advocates and partners, smart and professional staff—are in place, creating a rare window of opportunity to make this happen.

I recognize that daunting challenges remain, but it is important to recognize that critical changes are already taking place.  We completed the acquisition of the 397 acre Horizon Farm site in Barrington and the 164 acre Holy Family Villa site in Palos Park—two of the biggest land acquisitions in decades and both important opportunities for restoring and protecting native habitats.   Our Conservation and Policy Council is providing civic leadership and helping us set priorities and make tough choices. In partnership with Friends of the Forest Preserves (FOTFP), Audubon, and the Student Conservation Association, we are expanding our Conservation Corps.  More than 20,000 campers have visited five new campgrounds—many of them first-time campers. And last year we adopted the Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan which provides a thoughtful, science-based framework to prioritize our restoration efforts.  As FOTFP President Benjamin Cox told me, “This is huge; we had been calling for this plan for years.”  Perhaps most importantly, NCCP has resulted in substantive changes to the way FPCC does business and works with our partners.

With any long-range plan, it is important to keep a laser focus on the vision, but also remain flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions which are sure to occur over the course of decades.  To that end, each year we will assess our progress, engage in frank and sometimes difficult discussions about the challenges we face, and make course adjustments as needed.  We will report on our progress so all of us know how it is going and can help make the proper adjustments going forward.  That is the primary purpose of this newsletter, and this issue provides updates on three priorities for 2016:  building the economic case for nature, using public resources wisely, and establishing a native seed policy.

Hard work remains, but we are on the right track.