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hen you're talking about biodiversity, ecological systems obviously don't respect political boundaries. We are an area that is very fragmented, over 1,300 units of local government in the 6-county area alone, almost 300 in municipalities, and land use decisions are made at the local level. So rivers and streams cut through this complicated political landscape -- we have to think regionally, we have to act regionally and that's the beauty of some of the initiatives that are underway, such as Chicago Wilderness, which is this broad coalition bringing together public and private players who can transcend the narrow geography of one jurisdiction and look at the big picture.
We've got to understand the interactions between one region and another, we're talking really 3 states, southeastern Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana at a minimum, this crescent of biodiversity along the shore of Lake Michigan.
We've done a lot nationally to improve water quality, and consequently our rivers and streams, the water quality has improved dramatically, but we've done little to think of them as systems, as watersheds, as opportunities for nonmotorized recreation, canoeing and kayaking, so open-lands projects partnered with the Paddling Council and with the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission to see how we could really capitalize on this remarkable network and see it as a system of over 500 miles of water trails.
It's about getting people reconnected with the waterways, so they get to understand that they're citizens of a regional watershed, and that land use decisions collectively in that watershed must be coordinated, so in lieu of regional government we really want to create a sense of regional citizenship. We feel this not only creates a wonderful new outdoor experience, but it also creates an opportunity for them to think of themselves as citizens of the region and begin to act regionally. Longterm it will lead to policy change, shortterm it creates a wonderful resource and educational opportunity that we didn't have before.
ustainability? I think we have to continually redefine it, but I think it means finding some sort of balance between the natural community and the human community, and as humans our side of the equation is understanding we have a responsibility as stewards of the land to understand the ramifications of our land use policies and decisions. We've done a lot to destroy our natural environment in northeast Illinois. Less than one tenth of 1% of the original prairie still exists in Illinois, the prairie state. We still have remarkable remnants, we have great opportunities through the stuff we protected, but we need to know how to change.
For me sustainability is that quest, that ongoing investigation that gives us that insight on how we can balance development and preservation, and have a healthier natural community as we have a healthy human community.
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