“The All Women’s Crew is a safe space for women to be able to focus on their work and not have to be constantly worried about their surround-ings. We have the safe space where we can enjoy being out in nature but can also work in the environment and help to improve it.”
Since BP provided initial seed funding for this program in 2015, the all-female team has continued to grow in impact and inﬂuence. In 2020, SCA provided leadership development opportunities for women in conservation by increasing programming length as well as professional networking and training opportunities.
A team of 10 members and two leaders worked on native habitat restoration in the Chicago Park District’s natural areas for six months. To help position participants for a successful future in conservation and the sciences, we provided supplemental trainings and certifications including the Chicago Wilderness Midwest Ecological Prescription Burn Crew Member Training, Safety and Woods Worker Chainsaw Training, National Association of Interpretation Certified Interpretive Guide course, as well as classes in ecological concepts and invasive management with the Morton Arboretum. All members also participated in courses in financial literacy, Google Earth basics, and professional development training in resume/cover letter writing and mock interviews.
The crew also assisted in the construction of nature play areas across Chicago’s parks and in the installation of ﬂoating native gardens and other eco-park structures with the Shedd Aquarium on the Chicago River’s “Wild Mile.” Through additional efforts led by BP, the All Women’s crew met with a virtual panel of women in leadership at BP America and had the opportunity to connect with multiple local elected oﬃcials. The work of the All Women’s Crew was critical this year as the Chicago Park District Natural Areas Department was unable to hire seasonal restoration technicians due to budget constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This young adult team consists of four members and one adult leader who plant, water, and maintain trees throughout Northwest Indiana. Despite the challenges and shortened season brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, members successfully planted 500 trees and also received training in basic urban forestry, chainsaw safety, resume and cover letter writing, interviewing skills, volunteer engagement, tree identification, and GPS tracking of ecological assets.
BP funding enabled SCA to expand our community outreach by hosting 11 public volunteer workdays for community members across NW Indiana to participate in and learn about local urban forestry efforts. The team was also able to expand their operations to offer urban forestry assistance to the new communities of Highland and Hobart, IN. The 2020 crew performed maintenance work on over 3,175 trees within the Grand Calumet and Little Calumet River watersheds, which included watering, weeding, mulching, pruning, GPS tracking, and checking for signs of damage or disease.
Among the crew’s projects were events focused specifically on tree planting with students at three elementary schools on their school grounds. SCA team members trained these youth on the importance of trees to the ecosystem as well as taught them safe tool and planting techniques. This year the SCA crew also focused on engaging local community members through residential plantings in East Chicago, Hammond, and Gary, IN. The crew planted roughly 64 trees in parkways and front yards throughout those cities, and educated residents on the proper care and watering requirements. Lastly, the SCA crew partnered with the local chapter of The Nature Conservancy to replace dead and dying Ash trees throughout widely used Gary public parks with 70 native trees of diverse species.
CHICAGO CONSERVATION LEADERSHIP CORPS (CCLC) HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAMS
The summer of 2020 brought 48 high school crew members, 11 crew leaders, and five apprentice crew leaders into the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) with a mission to improve the health of the preserves through conservation projects while gaining essential job skills and conservation education. Through a strong partnership with the Friends of the Forest Preserves as well as the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the CCLC program engages high school age youth in hands-on conservation projects such as invasive species removal, trail building, native gardening, and nature play area construction.
As a pandemic precaution, FPCC closed buildings, grounds, and trails at all nature center locations for roughly three months prior to the CCLC crews starting their work. During this time, these centers were functioning under reduced staff hours. The CCLC crews were instrumental in getting trails cleared, invasives pushed back, and more, as the centers re-opened to the public in July. Crew members cut back invasive species (like buckthorn and honeysuckle), reconstructed footbridges, planted native plugs, and built erosion control structures throughout five nature centers across Cook County. They trained as “naturalists-on-duty” at outdoor visitor stations, participated in pond dipping and insect netting, and joined in on-site as well as virtual career exploration with local conservation professionals.
Many program members were grateful to experience hands-on activities outside the home after having lived in relative social isolation for several months prior. Members reported that this experience was helpful in shaping new values for the natural world, a personal responsibility to care for it, as well as a stronger understanding of the connection with outdoors and mental health.