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Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI)

Chicago’s regional forest is a critical asset that needs protection. Trees clean our air and water, reduce flooding, improve our property values, create habitat for wildlife, and provide significant social and health benefits. In short, trees improve our quality of life.

But trees need our help. They face threats such as invasive plants, including buckthorn and honeysuckle; the death of ash trees due to emerald ash borer; and a lack of funding for proper tree care. These issues are having significant impacts on the health and survival of our regional forest.

The Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI) is a partnership for coordinated action on key issues facing trees. It is the largest such initiative in the country, with leading organizations and agencies from across the seven-county metropolitan region working together. CRTI is leveraging funding, knowledge, skills, and expertise to build a healthier, more diverse regional forest.

A Vision With Outcomes

The Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI) was established in 2013 as a collaboration of Chicago-region partners to develop and implement a strategy that builds a healthier and more diverse urban forest by 2050. This strategy is being developed based on findings from Urban Trees and Forests of the Chicago Region, a regional tree census conducted by The Morton Arboretum and the U.S. Forest Service. Agency, industry, and community representatives are working together to expand knowledge, skills and resources.

The vision of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative is to ensure the following:

  • The region’s tree population is broadly understood and valued.
  • Collaborative management opportunities are identified and enacted.
  • Measurable improvements toward the health and vigor of the region’s trees are identified and established.
  • Public awareness and support is developed to maintain our urban forest and enhance its health for the future.

Partners and Collaboration

The Morton Arboretum, its key collaborator Openlands, and other leading organizations from across the Chicago Region have formed a partnership to build a healthier and more diverse urban forest by 2050 and to leverage resources - financial, knowledge, skill, and expertise.

The issues identified by CRTI require considerable information gathering, analysis, and consensus to develop a strategy that is pragmatic, actionable, measurable, and supported by a broad range of forest managers. Partners across the region, both in the public and private sectors, including landowners and managers, must engage and take ownership in the steps necessary to ensure a healthy forest for the region.

Thirteen key organizations, including Illinois Green Industry Association, form the leadership of CRTI. These organizations were chosen to lead CRTI due to their exemplary track records and existing programs supporting the regional forest and their shared missions advocating for trees. This partnership will enable all thirteen organizations to amplify their effects on the region by sharing resources and expertise. Representatives from the lead organizations form the Executive Advisory Council charged with steering the critical efforts of CRTI through topic-driven work groups which have representation from many regional agencies.

Critical Issues

The USDA Forest Service's Urban Trees and Forest of the Chicago Region, describes the regional forest as in a “state of transition”. The following critical issues support this statement and make it clear that our urban forest is in need of help.

  • Significant presence of buckthorn and other invasive woody species (31.3%)
  • Loss of ash due to emerald ash borer (8.1%)
  • Recent economic downturn resulting in reduced funding and care for trees
  • Lack of regeneration of native oaks in naturalized woodlands
  • Increased development and impervious ground cover
  • Limited species and age diversity of publicly owned trees
  • Lack of education and outreach to private property owners who manage the majority of trees within municipalities
  • Changes in climate

CRTI Master Plan

Vision

The Chicago region will be the most verdant, most livable, most resilient region in North America.

Mission

Chicago Region Trees Initiative believes that trees are critical to achieving this vision. We will ensure that trees are healthier, more abundant, more  diverse, and more equitably distributed to provide needed benefits to all people and communities that live in the Chicago region.

Overarching Goals

There are four overarching goals to ensure that the region’s “trees are healthier, more abundant, more diverse, and more equitably distributed to provide needed benefits to all people and communities that live in the Chicago region.” These goals are:

• Inspire people to value trees
• Increase the Chicago region’s tree canopy
• Reduce threats to trees
• Enhance oak ecosystems

Outcomes

There are four outcomes for each of the goals resulting in increased benefits provided and improved quality of life in the Chicago region:

• Improved tree health
• Improved urban forest policy
• Increased funding for urban forestry
• Integration of science

Resources

Nursery Inventory Tool - CLICK HERE
Healthy Hedges Program -CLICK HERE
CRTI Resource Library - CLICK HERE

Get Involved

CRTI has diverse work groups that develop programs to address gaps in the care of the Chicago region's urban forest. The work groups meet individually throughout the year and come together annually for the Partner Recognition Celebration. They focus their attention on tree planting, stewardship, research, education, policy, skill and training development and resource acquisition needs for the regional forest. They are identifying and tackling these central issues:

Forest Composition Work Group: Gather and analyze forest composition and canopy cover data for the region to provide an accurate snapshot of our forest structure and to identify priority areas for planting and stewardship projects. They are also developing an interactive map to help public and private land managers.

Tree Stewardship and Planting Work Group: Organize planting and stewardship activities and forestry skill training for maximum effect. This group also coordinates the CRTI Community Tree Network and is developing a tree stewardship and planting plan for the region based on the data analyzed by the Forest Composition Work Group.

Trees and Green Infrastructure Work Group: Address gaps in knowledge, training, and policy regarding the use of trees as green infrastructure. This group also implements the Chicago Wilderness Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan, including OAKtober, and has developed Tree Preservation Ordinances.

Tree Risk Assessment and Management Work Group: Improve tree risk assessment training and practices. This group also works on identifying the biggest risks to and from trees, including climate change, invasive plants and pests, and bio-mechanical failure, and coming up with a strategy to ameliorate these threats.

Communications and Outreach Advisory Group: Share information and raise the profile of CRTI with a variety of audiences, including residents, policymakers, industry professionals, and researchers. This advisory group also collaborates with the other workgroups to create communications plans for maximum impact on projects and is developing communications pieces to help disseminate information to a wider audience. They also gather and develop resources for specific audiences to educate on the value and benefits of trees and how to care for them.

GET INVOLVED IN CRTI

 

Corporate Sustainability Program

The Corporate Sustainability Partnership Program is aimed at improving community health and environmental equity through the planting and care of trees. The program is supported by the Walder Foundation, a private family foundation based in Skokie, Illinois, focused in part on funding work in environmental sustainability. Through this program, corporations can fund projects such as community tree plantings, park rehabilitation and woodland ecosystem restoration, as well as larger, region-wide initiatives. Large projects may also be eligible for accreditation through City Forest Credits, the national credentialing registry for Carbon+ Credits and Impact Certification. LEARN MORE