Evanston celebrates trees, certification as Community Wildlife Habitat


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

A healthy grove of oak trees near the Evanston Ecology Center.

Hannah McGrath, Reporter

As it begins to feel like fall, Evanston residents gathered to celebrate trees and the city’s designation as the first National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat in Illinois.

Natural Habitat Evanston put on the event, named “OAKtober,” on Saturday morning at the Evanston Ecology Center. Residents enjoyed music, food, family activities, a giveaway of 115 trees and shrubs, and they browsed informational displays about trees and other environmental issues.

Tiffany Carey, a representative from the Great Lakes regional office of NWF, formally presented the city with its certificate.

“Evanston has truly stepped up to the plate,” Carey said.

The city joins 127 communities across the U.S. as a Community Wildlife Habitat. To receive this honor, a community must have a number of Certified Wildlife Habitats: properties like schools, parks and even backyards that support nature by providing food, water and shelter to raise young animals. Evanston had 220 of these certified properties throughout the city.

Jerri Garl, a committee member for Environmental Justice Evanston, said although Evanston residents are aware of environmental issues, the city has struggled to adopt an environmental justice plan overall. Environmental Justice Evanston aims to ensure that no neighborhood bears a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards. Issues like air, water and soil pollution don’t affect all areas of Evanston equally, she added.

“There is a very specific definition for environmental justice put out by the EPA” Garl said. “We want to expand our definition to include real environmental benefits. We want people to feel respected and acknowledged.”

Garl also hopes that the city can provide more concrete responses to its residents’ environmental concerns, as well as more opportunities for meaningful public involvement, with events that occur when more working residents, children and families can attend.

At the event, Evanston mayor Steve Hagerty said the accomplishment was an “inspiring and positive effort on the part of citizens.” He said becoming a Community Wildlife Habitat on a list of 144 action items for the Climate Action and Resilience Plan, a city initiative to address the impacts of climate change. But he also acknowledged that the community has a long way to go.

Hagerty stressed that as the climate is changing, it’s more important than ever to protect wildlife and reduce our environmental impact. This certification, while a testament to Evanston’s various environmental efforts, is just one of many future plans.

“We all know how fragile the ecosystem is,” Hagerty said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

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