CNH: Collaborative Research: Coupled Natural Human Systems in the Chicago Wilderness: Evaluating the Biodiversity and Social Outcomes of Different Models of Restoration Planning

The frequency of human-caused disturbance in metropolitan areas imposes significant challenges to the management of urban habitats of high conservation value. Typically these areas require active, sustained management intervention, usually in the form of restoration activities (e.g., removal of invasive species, use of prescribed fire), in order to realize the biodiversity conservation objectives set for them. Chicago Wilderness is a consortium of over 240 organizations that has as its primary goal the conservation, restoration and management of biodiversity on 360,000 acres of protected open space in the greater Chicago area. This research will use ongoing efforts in the woodlands and savannas of Chicago Wilderness as a model for investigating how the restoration and conservation planning process affects biodiversity outcomes in complex metropolitan landscapes. Several related research approaches will be utilized, including development of models to explore how interactions among different constituencies may lead to different restoration and management practices, and in turn, how these practices affect biodiversity outcomes. Documenting the range of biodiversity outcomes in woodland and savanna restoration sites across the Chicago region will permit a test of hypotheses about the relationship between distinct models of the restoration planning process (traditional, co-management, grassroots) and biodiversity. Thus, the project will research the impact of humans, via the planning process, on biodiversity in an urban context, and also the reciprocal influence of these biodiversity outcomes on different members of the human community.

The project will add to knowledge of the connections between conservation management planning and the biodiversity results that emerge from its implementation. The project will generate results relevant to the conservation of habitats of global significance (e.g. oak savanna, oak woodlands, and tallgrass prairie) while simultaneously enhancing the understanding of institutional responses to the challenges of balancing multiple objectives and incorporating heterogeneous sources of information into the planning process. The results will be broadly applicable to other complex metropolitan landscapes throughout the U.S. and the world. Postdoctoral scholars and undergraduates will be mentored and trained in this interdisciplinary research project.