Dr. Gerould Wilhelm and Margot Mazur
Conservation Research Institute is a private, 501c3 organization founded in 1997 by Conservation Design Forum, a dedicated and forward thinking group of design, planning, and restoration professionals working to create new possibilities for the promotion and understanding of environmentally sustainable planning and design.
White Lady's Slipper Orchid
by Dr. Gerould Wilhelm and Margot Mazur
Conservation Research Institute is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of planning, design, installation restoration, and long-term management of sustainable ecological systems in built and natural environments through applied research, education, and outreach.
In 2011, founding member of the Institution, Dr. Gerould Wilhelm, became the Institution's Director of Research and Margot Mazur became the Executive Director. Wilhelm and Mazur have over 80 years of combined experience in the fields of science, research, education, design and the arts.
Continuing along its path, Conservation Research Institute seeks to improve the understanding of citizens about the nature and consequences of our culture's relationship to the earth and its resources.
The following is a progressive awareness through history of our relationship to the earth, not as dominators and destroyers, but as respectful stewards and caretakers.
A History of the Legacy of Foundational Ideas and Applied Approaches that have Arisen out of the Chicago Region — 1620 to the present
- 1620—Western agriculture and world view arrives in North America, bringing a significant change in the relationship between human culture and the warp and weft of soil and life.
- 1634—Rene Descartes publishes The World, soon followed by other philosophical works that attempt to reduce our understanding of the world to component parts with targeted solutions. Contemporary myths are set aside in favor of the scientific method.
- 1753—Linnaeus publishes Species Plantarum, transforming the study of plants from objects of herbal interests to the discovery and naming of individual taxonomic entities following a binomial nomenclature.
- 1779—George Rogers Clark marches his small army from Kaskaskia to Vincennes across the water-filled prairies of southern Illinois, wades across the Wabash River.
- 1815—Drainage and tillage is expanded in much of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Settlers begin to notice significant differences between the overworked lands of the east and the fresh vitality of the soils of the newly secured Old Northwest Territory.
- 1816—Indiana becomes a state with the motto "Crossroads of America" due to its historic role as a main pathway of the westward movement.
- 1818—Illinois is incorporated as a state, but agricultural and western cultural approaches are limited to south of the Indian Boundary and transportation easement from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River.
- 1825—Artists of the Hudson River School, such as Thomas Cole and Asher Durand, begin to display a nostalgia for landscapes unsullied by man, propagating the idea of the "forest primeval". Although this view discounted the humanity of the "savage", it nevertheless recognized that the contemporary culture's resource-extractive doctrine provided little celebration or respect for God's creation.
- 1832—End of the Blackhawk War; Chicago soon incorporated. Opening of the beautiful prairies and open forests of still pristine northern Illinois and Wisconsin.
- 1836—Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes his essay Nature, in which he divides nature into four usages: commodity, beauty, language, and discipline. Such distinctions defined the ways by which humans use nature for their basic needs, their desire for delight, communication with each other, and an understanding of the world apart from the raw exploitation of its "resources".
- 1837—The only state bordered by four of the great lakes, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior, Michigan becomes a state.
- 1848—Wisconsin is incorporated as a state, the first year of student matriculation occurring a year later at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
- 1854—Henry David Thoreau writes of his musings on Walden Pond and in the surrounding woodlands.
- 1858—Charles Darwin publishes The Origin of Species, which demythologized creation and spoke to a "natural" ascent of man and all things.
- 1860—A 22-year-old John Muir graduates from the University of Wisconsin, captivated by the ambient natural beauty. He would later become a key figure in the preservation of natural land in national parks. Also, Jens Jensen is born, who would revolutionize the rather formal iterations of landscape architecture to reflect a more "naturalistic" scene.
- 1870—Established by Steven Forbes, the Illinois Natural History Survey begins a study of the plants and animals of the Illinois River and its valley.
- 1874—Amos Sawyer publishes an essay entitled The Reason For Climate Change in Illinois, which points at the impact of agricultural ditching and the draining of the land.
- 1891—Higley and Raddin publish the first Flora of the Chicago Region, which delineates each known species and a little about its local habitat in Cook County and part of Lake County, Indiana.
- 1896—William Wirt Calkins, through the Chicago Academy of Science publishes a Lichen Flora of Chicago and Vicinity. At the turn of the century, Chicagoans are becoming more and more interested in the natural history of the region.
- 1899—Engineers reverse the flow of the Chicago River to flow into the Illinois River. Low Lake Michigan levels combined with the increased population equivalent of the city; all life in the Illinois River was annihilated in the pollution of the 1920's. Only sewage fungus and sludge worms could survive in the waterway from Chicago to Alton.
- 1899—Henry C. Cowles, who pioneered the science of ecology from his post at the University of Chicago, publishes The Physiological Ecology of the Vegetation on the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan, soon followed by other ecological monographs.
- 1908—The Chicago Prairie Club begins to organize hikes into the country so urban-dwellers could have sojourns of respite, relaxation, and community in the bucolic open lands and natural areas ambient to the city. It played a prominent role in the establishment of the forest preserve system, the Indiana Dunes State Park, and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
- 1909—Daniel Burnham produces the Plan of Chicago, which inspired the preservation of lands in the metropolitan region to give citizens respite from the hustle, bustle, and pollution of the city.
- 1913—Illinois Forest Preserve act is enacted, largely due to the efforts of Jens Jensen and Dwight Perkins.
- 1915—Cook County forest preserves were established throughout the county, which soon led to the establishment of similar organizations in the ambient counties of Illinois.
- 1915—Wilhelm Miller published Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening, which responded to the growing interest of Illinoisans in the beauty and hardiness of native plants.
- 1918—Post-war industrialization of agriculture accelerates soil loss and water pollution.
- 1927—H.S. Pepoon, a high school teacher, publishes a Flora of the Chicago Region, with identification keys and enhanced annotations and habitat descriptions; its region expanded from Higley and Raddin to include Lake, Du Page, and portions of Will counties.
- 1930—Donald Culross Peattie publishes the Flora of the Indiana Dunes, still a popular local guide.
- 1934—"Dust Bowl" begins, worn-out soils blow away, collapsing much of the agricultural economy of the Midwest. Soon after, numerous studies address the impact of poor soil husbandry.
- 1940—Charles C. Deam publishes his Flora of Indiana, which greatly expanded the format of floras written up to that time to include detailed geographic and habitat descriptions for Indiana plants. It even included some lists of associated species, which much inspired a young Floyd Swink.
- 1945—Post-war expansion of industrial agriculture, soon includes pesticides, fertilizer, exaggerated and mechanized irrigation, and eventually genetically modified "products". Surface and air transportation systems expand greatly.
- 1949—Aldo Leopold publishes A Sand County Almanac, which appeals to our culture to develop a land ethic that enfranchises the plants and animals into our public policies.
- 1951—The Nature Conservancy is founded to preserve land, with botanist George Fell as its first director; he, with others, conceived the approach of having remnant land purchased, stewarded, and eventually owned by private interests. It has inspired numerous other organizations to pursue similar goals.
- 1953—Floyd Swink publishes A Guide to the Wild Flowering Plants of the Chicago Region, which provided the novice naturalist with an innovative letter-coded key for identification.
- 1955—May T. Watts, student of H. C. Cowles and head of education at the Morton Arboretum, in Lisle, Illinois, publishes The Flower Finder to provide the untrained citizen with an unintimidating way to identify many local wildflowers.
- 1958—William J. Beecher, visionary educator, brings environmental and natural history studies to the Chicago Academy of Science.
- 1960—Initiatives begin in earnest to save the beauty, structure, and biodiversity of the Indiana Dunes. Perhaps headed up by another student of H. C. Cowles, Victor Shelford, an accomplished zoologist, many individuals were involved, including Floyd Swink.
- 1962—Rachel Carsen publishes Silent Spring, which awakens a nation and the world to the idea that indiscriminate use of pesticides may be generating a cascade of negative consequences that had not been, nor even could have been predicted.
- 1962—Raymond F. Schulenberg begins the restoration of a prairie in worn-out farmland at the Morton Arboretum. Within a decade it was the richest, most beautiful de novo restoration in existence—and remains so a half century later. This effort inspired hundreds of such efforts throughout the region.
- 1963—Illinois Nature Preserves Act is enacted, which leads to bordering states establishing similar legislation.
- 1963—OpenLands Project is established to preserve and steward Chicago area landscapes. A year later, headed up by May T. Watts, the first reaches of the Illinois Prairie Path are established along defunct railroad beds.
- 1965—Pepoon's flora now out of date and out of print, Herbert Lamp, of Northeastern Illinois University, asks Floyd Swink, of the Cook County forest preserves, then of the Morton Arboretum to distill a list of the plants of the Chicago region from M. L. Fernald's 8th edition of Gray's Manual, which includes all plants of the northeastern United States. This typescript "Lamp List" was soon mimeographed and in the hands of local naturalists. A growing number of students, teachers, and citizens were hungry for a deeper knowledge of the local flora.
- 1966—Mill's, Starrett, and Belrose, of the Illinois Natural History Survey, publish Man's Effect on the Fish and Wildlife of the Illinois River, which brings home the idea that our relationship with a tract of land has ramifications all the way downstream in the watershed.
- 1969—Californian, David Brower, active in the Sierra Club, founds Friends of the Earth, and goes on to establish several enlightened institutes and organizations, including Earth Day, which began as an annual celebration a year later.
- 1969—Floyd Swink, with the help of Raymond Schulenberg, publishes Plants of the Chicago Region, which detailed each species of plant in the 22-county region around Chicago, and provided annotations with regard to associated plant species. The Morton Arboretum printed only 250 copies of the esoteric treatise, unable to conceive of its immediate popularity.
- 1970—The Environmental Protection Act is signed into law, which required a significant assessment of the impacts likely to result from any new proposed alterations or development of lands in the United States.
- 1972—The National Water Pollution Control Bill, known as the Clean Water Act is signed into law.
- 1973—The National Endangered Species Act is signed into law, which stimulated nearly all of the states to follow suit with their own assessments of the condition of their native species.
- 1973—Goose Lake Prairie, southwest of Chicago is the first large tract of remnant prairie land to be identified and preserved by state government, mostly through the efforts of Robert F. Betz, student of Floyd Swink and professor at North Illinois University, along with William Rutherford, of the Sierra Club.
- 1974—Floyd Swink publishes and updates Plants of the Chicago Region, which included newly discovered plants and refined associate lists, aided again by Raymond Schulenberg. 500 copies were made—nowhere nearly enough to satisfy the growing demand. Also involved in the effort was a young Gerould Wilhelm, who had worked on one of the first large environmental impact studies in the United States while in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. The study involved proposed duplicate locks and 12-foot channel on the Illinois Waterway.
- 1975—May T. Watts publishes Reading the Landscape of America, which enables one easily to see how a landscape changes in response to man's relationship with it. The public's interest in our landscape continued to burgeon.
- 1976—An inventory and assessment of the remnant landscapes of Illinois, headed up by Jack White, is initiated as the Illinois Natural Area Inventory.
- 1977—Gerould Wilhelm publishes A Natural Area Inventory of Kane County, Illinois, which included a new methodology and array of metrics for assessing and describing the habitat quality of all undeveloped landscapes.
- 1977—The North Branch Prairie Project, a volunteer group headed up by Steven Packard, is initiated to work with the Cook County Forest Preserve District to apply rehabilitation, restoration and stewardship activities to areas along the North Branch of the Chicago River.
- 1979—In response to an exponential growth in the interest of local plants and natural areas, Floyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm publish a 3rd edition of Plants of the Chicago Region. This book updated the 1974 edition but added identification keys and a much more detailed description and application of the Floristic Quality Assessment system that Gerould Wilhelm had introduced in 1977. All of the non-native species in the text were rendered in an italic type font so the still-learning user could see immediately that the area he was in was prevailingly weedy or native. About 2000 copies were printed.
- 1979—This current iteration of Plants of the Chicago Region enabled Lori Otto, Pat Armstrong, and others to identify which plants were native and which were introduced. They almost immediately started the landscape gardening idiom known as the Wild Ones.
- 1980—Gerould Wilhelm produces for the National Park Service a biological monograph on the flora and ecology of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which he updates in 1990.
- 1986—Fermi National Laboratory, under the direction of Robert F. Betz, begins the largest landscape prairie restoration to date. The chief of the laboratory once remarked that this effort may one day become the signal legacy of the lab.
- 1994—Floyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm produce, through the Indiana Academy of Sciences, an update and refinement of the 3rd edition of Plants of the Chicago Region. This 4th edition began to drift away from the 50-year-old nomenclature of the previous editions and to deploy more contemporary names and concepts. 5500 copies of the book were printed, 40% of which were immediately sold out due to a pre-publication sales offer!
- 1996—A coalition of numerous conservation groups, private businesses, and resource agencies formed Chicago Wilderness, which emphasizes through education and public awareness the aggregation of preserved and stewarded lands and waters in and about the Chicago metropolitan region.
- 1997—The first Chicago Wilderness magazine is published.
- 2017—Again in response to the public's ever more sophisticated demand for information on the local plants, animals and ecosystems, Gerould Wilhelm and Laura Rericha have produced a new flora of the Chicago Region, which adds significant new elements and fine-grained expansions of the information provided in the 1994 edition of Plants of the Chicago Region. Each genus is presented with 1-3 illustrative drawings. Species descriptions are nomenclaturally and conceptually more in line with contemporary governmental lists and current taxonomic thinking. Moreover, associate lists have expanded to include all of Rericha's records on animals, insects and others, that have more than casual contact with local plants. This latter innovation has never before been included in a state or regional flora. It makes the book of interest to biologists all over the world.
Relevant history is shown in black. Those outside of the region who have added significantly to our understanding of the land and landscape are shown in blue; contributions made by people in the southern Lake Michigan area are shown in purple; contributions made by our team are in green.
Black = Relevant history
Blue = Those outside our region who have contributed significantly to our understanding
Purple = Contributions from the southern Lake Michigan area
Green = Contributions made by our team
Board of Directors
President of the Board
Dr. Gerould Wilhelm
Secretary /Treasurer of the Board
In an effort to keep CRI's Administrative costs at a Minimum and focus funding on our projects, our staff consists of consultants who work on a project-by-project basis. Our staff includes:
Dr. Gerould Wilhelm
Director of Research,
Conservation Design Forum
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Conservation Design Forum
Director of Landscape
Infrastructure Studio ECT
Director of Science and Stewardship
The Nature Conservancy
Executive Director of Chicago Botanic Garden
Principal of Consilience, LLC