Wild Things Conference report

Yesterday I spent at the Chicago Wilderness Habitat Project‘s Wild Things conference, at the University of Illinois-Chicago Student Center.

My first impression: It’s really strange going to a conference without covering it. In my day job, I go to at least two per year and they’re massively busy—a full day of attending and then a full evening of putting together and publishing reports and videos. Plus I can be carrying up to seven cameras.

Having no formal responsibilities, I’m not planning to put together anything that involved for this one. But there was a bunch that’s interesting that I do want to share. Almost all of this was on my Twitter feed as well.

The last session I attended, and the only directly marketing-related one, was “Using Social Media” presented by Michelle Parker of Habitat 2030, Greg Neise of In Plain Sight Communications, and Joe Kantor of the Shedd Aquarium. This was more discussion than presentation, and it kind of got dominated (not that that’s inherently wrong) by people who still pronounce quotation marks around internetty things like Twitter and blogs. But Kantor did reveal that once the aquarium started sharing fan photos, people started coming to the aquarium to take fan photos so that they can be included. Also to keep in mind: The ROI on social media isn’t likely to be cash flow; it’s making people love you more. That love, of course, is invaluable; not everyone who loves you will visit or contribute or volunteer or whatever, but the more who love you, the more who will.

Pat Hayes of Orland Grassland Volunteers spoke on outreach to the public and to elected officials. More is better, not surprisingly. She suggested thinking of a letter to the editor of a paper as introducing yourself to the community.

Jim Herkert‘s keynote on grassland restoration for breeding birds discussed the complicated nature of gauging success of restoration programs. In good news: Species diversity in restorations is identical to that of a natural grassland of the same area. It’s tricky to prove that a restoration is growing the population overall, rather than just attracting individuals from other areas. Federal bird count surveys that cover wider areas suggest positive trends. In particular, restorations look to be responsible for the rebound of Henslow sparrows, whose population in Illinois has grown from about 500 to 12,000.

A couple of programs talked about the Nature Museum‘s restorations. Doug Taron and Vincent Olivares spoke about regal fritillary butterfly rearing. Overwintering is the toughest part, which I knew (Olivares had spoken to volunteers about the program as part of an introduction to an exhibit last year). Some good news, however: new cages, made of a type of plaster that stores water, seems to be providing the humidity that the caterpillars need to survive the winter.

Celeste Troon discussed the museum’s Blanding’s turtle headstarting program, which I knew very little about. The turtles are raised from an egg to 2 years, when they’re released—at about double the size of a 2-year-old turtle in the wild, and with a better chance of survival. Raising them has to be done with minimal human contact, however, and the turtles are made to compete for food much as they would in the wild.

Bill Eyring of the Center for Neighborhood Technology spoke on green infrastructure, especially for stormwater management. Well-placed trees are the most cost-effective investment, offering $600 annual savings per $1,000 investment, largely through energy savings and prevention of flood damage. Rain gardens—planted depressions that absorb rainwater runoff—are second-most cost-effective, and by far the best at preventing flooding. In 14 of 15 test sites, installations were found to be able to absorb the rainwater of a 100-year storm.

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