The leader of a Chicago-based environmental group said a “perfect storm” of funding problems will force it to close for good on Friday.
Over the past 16 years, Chicago Wilderness doled out more than $11 million in grants to nearly 200 conservation groups and businesses in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, said Chicago Wilderness Executive Director Suzanne Malec-McKenna.
The funding went toward initiatives like protecting ecosystems around the southern shores of Lake Michigan to native plant and animal conservation.
Malec-McKenna said Thursday that declines in state and federal funding forced the group to cut its five employees.
When Chicago Wilderness started as a volunteer coalition 20 years ago it got off the ground with the help of federal money. But as state and federal funding dropped, the organization struggled.
“We had to come up with a new model,” she said. “We were getting all that ready to go but the bottom fell out.”
The funding started to decline the last few years, Malec-McKenna said, largely thanks to Illinois’ state budget woes that resulted in cuts to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Malec-McKenna said when she started with the group in 2014 the budget was $1.3 million. In 2016, it was $780,000.
She said the organization knew it needed to diversify its funding sources since almost all of its money came from either the state or federal governments.
“We couldn’t make the bridge,” she said. “We couldn’t keep enough going to stay operational with all of these cuts and all the chaos that it’s causing in our community.”
Michael Puente covers Northwest Indiana for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @MikePuenteNews.