2040 Goal: Thriving river ecosystems

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wildlife like muskrats could once again be commonplace in our rivers.

The culmination of decades of open space expansion, improved stewardship, investments in water treatment, erosion control, shoreline naturalization and more will lead to healthy and abundant reproductive populations of native fish, plants, mammals, reptiles, birds and smaller organisms.

Dispersed habitat creation and restoration throughout the rivers means that tree overhang, underwater shelter, instream vegetation, and natural banks will occur more consistently, enabling species mobility. Higher water quality will support more sustainable and vibrant communities of helpful bacteria, fungi and insects that form the base of the food chain. More and more, pollutants never reach the rivers, as everything from road salt to pharmaceuticals are better managed. Each distinct reach of the river system will have its own habitat restoration and improvement plan well underway.

Our rivers will finally and fully be back to what they once were: rivers.

People will play their own important role in these thriving ecosystems. The rivers and their instream and shoreline open spaces, wetlands and parks can be high quality birding spots, boosting local tourism, while providing native and migratory birds with shelter and food. Beavers and otters, ospreys and falcons, snapping turtles and largemouth bass—the highest profile of our native species—will be commonplace. Through Adopt-a-Mile programs, residents, businesses, schools and neighborhood organizations conduct regular population counts of priority species. Native communities will be abundant and healthy—some species healthy enough to eat for the first time since the 1800s.

Making it happen

  • Establish an Adopt-a-Mile program for the rivers to generate revenue, recruit stewards and collect data.
  • Create and implement habitat improvement plans for each stretch of the rivers.
  • Expand the Grand Calumet River habitat and shoreline restoration into Illinois.
  • Conduct Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management plans for the Little Calumet, Cal-Sag Channel, and Lower Des Plaines watersheds.
  • Conduct a tree canopy and streambank naturalization study for riverfront areas.

Key players

MWRD, Friends of the Chicago River, Openlands, Morton Arboretum, Shedd Aquarium, Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources, Ill. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Chicago Park District, suburban communities, environmental advocacy organizations, property owners

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