Openlands honors Adele Simmons on October 21


By Judy Carmack Bros.

Adele Simmons, the second president of the MacArthur Foundation and an early and consistent voice in the fight against climate change, will receive the Conservation Leadership Award at the Openlands Annual Luncheon on October 21 at The Palmer House. Still the largest gathering of the conservation community in the State of Illinois, the annual Openlands Luncheon recognizes the accomplishments of our region’s environmental leaders and celebrates the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship in our region and the world.

Adele Simmons

Marshal Johnson

Marshall Johnson, Director of Curatorial for the National Audubon Society, will deliver the keynote address. Johnson leads the strategic direction of hemisphere-wide conservation work at Audubon to address the unprecedented climate change and biodiversity crises facing birds. James L. Alexander and Shaun C. Block are luncheon co-chairs.

jerry adelman

“The importance of our region’s grasslands is immense, providing wildlife habitat, flood retention and a natural climate solution for our region,” said Jerry Adelmann, President and CEO of Openlands. “That’s why we’re honored to have Audubon’s Director of Curatorial, Marshall Johnson, with us for the annual Openlands Luncheon. His work with ranchers and the farming community to adopt conservation-friendly practices on working lands across the United States is truly groundbreaking. He is a perfect complement to our award recipient, Adele Simmons, who has been an early and consistent voice in the fight against climate change. She is a champion of nature-based solutions, providing seed funding during her time with the MacArthur Foundation that helped make Midewin, the nation’s first national tallgrass prairie, a reality.

Marshall Johnson with the other two people and the birdhouse

From his home in Fargo, North Dakota, Johnson talked to us about his goals for his Oct. 21 speech, as well as the peace he finds when he’s out on the prairie. A Houston native who spent his teenage years in Southern California, he was drawn to the University of Minnesota not only to play football, but also to be close to nature. What seemed like a six-month assignment in North Dakota has now turned into over 13 years on the Prairies.

“I grew up surrounded by asphalt. The fact that I live in the Prairie region, which includes North and South Dakota and Montana, which is one of the best bird nurseries, is one of the main reasons I stay,” said Johnson said. “Fifty percent of the duck population in the lower 48 comes from this area.”

He told us the message he wants to convey.

“I want people to use their unique superpower. Through our votes, our creations, our spending and all the commitments we make, we can act on behalf of nature,” he said. “We have a lot in common even though there are a lot of things that divide people in our country. We can make choices every day about nature and wildlife.

Johnson told us that there are over 46 million bird watchers in the United States today. “There are more birdwatchers than registered Republicans or Democrats. It’s a powerful lobby,” he said.

Pronghorn Ranch, part of Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Program, Converse County, Wyoming, June 7, 2018. Western Meadlowlark

“We have Audubon projects ranging from the tree forests of Canada to the coastal areas of Latin America, but we must recognize painful realities. We have lost 3 billion birds since 1970, including 2.5 billion migratory birds. This is mainly due to habitat loss, the proliferation of pesticides and chemicals, and climate change. We must all become environmental ambassadors. We have to save the birds to save ourselves.

Whether supporting the creation of the nation’s first metropolitan greenway and trail plan or championing the early planning efforts that led to the creation of Midewin, Simmons has always been a leader and fighter for environmental issues.

We recently caught up with Simmons about his early love of nature and how it manifests today.

Baby Adele Simmons with her family

“Nature was very important to my family. My mother was an ornithologist who worked as a professional volunteer at the Field Museum for years and headed the bird department during World War II when trained ornithologists traveled to Washington to work on radar,” she said. declared. “During the school holidays, I went to the museum with her, helped her sort the birds and explored the museum behind the scenes. We had a cabin on the DesPlaines River near Brushwood where we went every Sunday for picnics, long walks and wonderful canoe trips. And we spend our summers in Canada where we have to take boats to see our friends, buy groceries and explore nature.

Child with Adlai Stevenson

For Simmons, his connection to Openlands is natural.

“I don’t know when I first got involved with Openlands, but there’s no doubt his work is extremely important to Chicago and the region,” she said. “I want my grandchildren to grow up where they can breathe clean air, take walks in the woods and explore nature, watching trees, birds, animals and flowers. Whenever I am with them we take walks in the woods and they show me their favorite flowers, trees and animals.

Simmons first focused on climate when she served as the first female president of Hampshire College.

“We were building an arts center and I decided we should use solar panels to provide heat and electricity. They were among the first solar panels in the United States and weren’t perfect, but what we learned from them led to significant improvement in solar panels,” she recalls.

“When I came to the MacArthur Foundation, one of the challenges was to make the climate a bigger issue in Chicago, in the United States and around the world. Ecosystems which has funded work in the United States and many countries including Madagascar, India, Nepal, Laos, China, East and Central Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, etc

“In 2008, together with Mayor Daley and his team, a group of us put together Chicago’s first climate action plan. At the time, I was based at Metropolis 2020 and we engaged over 200 partners, including scientists, business leaders and policy makers, to identify cost-effective actions that could dramatically improve the quality of the world. air in the city. These included planting trees, encouraging people to use public transport instead of driving, and increasing the energy efficiency of homes. The city has diverted thousands of tons of soil from landfills and more than 100 businesses have reduced their energy costs by more than $5 million. The climate action plan has been updated every year for several years, but now we need to make sure the city stays committed and fully engaged on the issue.

Adele Simmons attends a Chicago Council of Foreign Affairs meeting

Simmons spoke of the strengths gained from working together.

“It’s important that companies, universities, hospitals and many others learn from each other about what works best. This is one area where they are not in competition with each other. Currently, sustainability leaders from 24 Chicago-headquartered companies meet quarterly to learn from each other, as do sustainability leaders from colleges and universities across the city. And the message gets through. My building has a green committee. This includes making sure residents know what they can do on a daily basis to save energy and encouraging the building to take steps to make the building greener.

“Chicago can do more. Building owners can explore the possibility of solar panels and encourage everyone in their buildings to turn off lights and reduce heat or air conditioning when buildings are not in use, such as at night. Policy makers must encourage energy saving, and every citizen must ensure that they do everything they can every day to save energy.

“Chicagoans can visit many places to enjoy nature: the beaches of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes, the DesPlaines River and the city’s many parks. We can watch the moon rise over the lake and the stars at night. We have Daniel Burnham to thank for much of what we appreciate. And it is important to visit the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Alder Planetarium to learn more about nature.”

This year, the Simmons Center for Global Chicago was established to bring globally active organizations to Chicago that focus on international issues. By co-locating in a common space, nonprofits can better learn from each other, collaborate, and save through shared services. Virtual members participate in programs and enjoy a mission-aligned community.

Simmons is a graduate of Harvard University and received her PhD from Oxford University in African Studies. She has lived in Oxford, Mauritius, Kenya and Tunisia.

“I can’t wait to hear more about the work that Marshall Johnson does and how he was able to engage so many people,” Simmons said.

The combination of Simmons and Johnson’s determined goals and achievements for nature and those of The Openlands will make October 21 a powerful event for the environment.

For more information about the event, visit:


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