AN INTERPRETER EXPLAINS to a group of environmentalists from China where Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie funding comes from, including partnerships with corporations like CenterPoint Properties. Prairie supervisor Wade Spang (center), said the federal government allocates $2 million for management of the facility, leasehold taxes generate about $1 million and the partnerships with corporations and organizations supply the rest of the funding for Midewin.
MIDEWIN ECOLOGIST Bill Glass (left) ran out to the prairie and brought the stem from one of last yearís plants to explain to a group of visitors from China how tall a forbe can grow. The visitors are members of an organization that is dedicated to building China's most influential platform for environmental protection and nature conservation, and to advocate ecological and social responsibility among Chinese business leaders. Joining Glass in the discussion Saturday were Allison Cisneros, Midewin volunteer coordinator, Wendy Tresouthick, Midewin environmental educator, the delegationís interpreter and Wade Spang, the prairie supervisor.
The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is truly one of a kind, and an environmental group from China learned of the many ways the facility is unique during a visit on Saturday.
The Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (SEE), is an environmental philanthropic organization. It was established by a group of leading entrepreneurs in 10 years ago, alongside a seasonal lake in Alxa Desert in Inner Mongolia.
SEE's original goal was to protect the ecology and environment by reducing or preventing desertification in the Alxa region. Now, its mission is also to build China's most influential platform for environmental protection and nature conservation, and to advocate ecological and social responsibility among Chinese business leaders.
The organization consists of two entities, the SEE Ecological Association and the SEE Foundation. It has almost 300 members, who are entrepreneurs and executives of Chinese companies.
According to the organization, China is standing at a crossroad. Air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and water and soil contamination are all becoming the most pressing challenges for China. Growth has come at a very expensive cost. Chinese people have widely recognized that this growth model is unsustainable and immediate and broad transformations are needed from both the public and private sectors.
SEE member entrepreneurs were interested in learning and sharing information about the best practices for corporate sustainable development among American/Chinese entrepreneurs, the relationship between corporates and nature, corporate conservation engagement and corporate philanthropy.
The visitors learned about the legislation that created the Midewin, the only tallgrass prairie among U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service facilities, which includes 150 forests and 25 grasslands.
Through an interpreter, they learned that the federal government provides only a small amount of funding toward the operation and restoration efforts at the Midewin.
"Each of the partners, each of the members of the alliance bring their own resources and contribute collectively, and have an impact that's greater than any single organization could have," said Bob Moseley from the Nature Conservancy. "It's an alliance, it's not a centrally funded program."
The Forest Service is part of that alliance. Moseley added that it takes a lot of work to maintain the partnerships.
Prairie Supervisor Wade Spang said the federal government supplies about $2 million toward management expenses. Lease agreements for farming and grazing generate another $1 million, about 25 percent of which goes to local governments.
"We generate a lot more, multi-millions from partnerships, with TNC and other organizations that are helping us restore the prairie," he said. CenterPoint Properties is one of those corporate sponsors, having provided $1 million in funding to the Nature Conservancy, which was used for staff that manages the volunteer force that is critical to the restoration effort.
The visitors had an opportunity to meet with executives of the corporation.
"We mix our money, our paper, and go out and accomplish it. I get to report it as an accomplishment, and they [the partners] get to report it as an accomplishment," Spang said.
Other topics of interest were the arsenal's production of munitions, the use of fire to control invasive species, and broad-leafed prairie forbes, for which the SEE members knew of no natural cousins in China.
"Without fire, the forest would move in," explained Wendy Tresouthick, Midewin's environmental educator. Fire is a natural control, and the desirable plants thrive after the earth is scorched, and also when they're trampled by bison or cattle. Tresouthick added that the Midewin also uses grazing, mowing, and on a limited basis, herbicides.
Tresouthick explained how glaciers formed the prairie, how the land was used over the centuries, how it became a recreational facility and how the staff and volunteers are healing the prairie.
In trying to explain the massive size of some of the Midewin's prairie forbes - which may be 9 feet tall with a root system just as expansive, Midewin ecologist Bill Glass ran outside and brought in the remains of a plant that was growing last year. It towered over him, and the visitors, and no further translation was needed.
The Midewin visit included a tour of the west side and the future site of the prairie learning center on the east side, near the iron bridge trailhead.
The group visited New York earlier in the week.
Over the last 10 years, SEE members have donated $25 million (U.S.) and 100,000 working hours toward desertification control in Inner Mongolia while making grants to support over 300 environmental NGOs in China.
In Alxa, by doing research, education, training, and making adjustment of the local economic activities, SEE has worked closely with partners to restore vegetation in the desert area, and improve agricultural water usage and livelihood of local communities.
With various mechanisms and over $6 million in grants since 2008, SEE Foundation has supported more than half of the domestic Chinese environmental organizations in three of its strategic areas - conservation, pollution control as well as climate change.