Strategic Plan 2020

Setting the direction for the Arboretum’s second century in pursuit of its long-term vision

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People need trees, and trees need people. Urbanization is increasing, biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate, and trees are threatened as the climate changes.

Urgent action is needed to sustain trees and their vital benefits to people, communities, and the environment. As The Champion of Trees, The Morton Arboretum is taking scientifically-informed action, so a diversity of people can ultimately benefit from the power of trees.

The Arboretum’s strategic plan is future-focused on pursuits identified as trees, climate, sustainability, and inclusion.

Building on nearly a century of progress, the Strategic Plan 2020 positions the Arboretum for continued impact and mission achievement in its next hundred years.

-Gerard T. Donnelly, PhD, President and CEO, The Morton Arboretum

Urban Trees and People

Urbanization continues to increase, bringing with it many challenges to the environment as well as the health and well-being of people. The resulting conditions put increased threats on trees, making it difficult for them to reach maturity and for new trees to become established successfully. When trees are not able to thrive and reach maturity, their full benefits cannot be realized. The Arboretum strives to understand how trees grow and succeed above and below ground, and influence a future where trees can deliver valuable services to communities. The Arboretum will do so by advancing expertise, strengthening partnerships, reaching critical communities, and engaging the next generation of tree champions.

Chicago’s regional urban forest provides many benefits and is a critical part of our community infrastructure–just like roads and storm sewers–but it needs attention.

-Lydia Scott, MS, director, Chicago Region Trees Initiative

Saving Threatened Trees

Biodiversity is essential for people and natural ecosystems, but it is being lost at an alarming rate. Urgent action is needed to prevent extinction of tree species, especially those of economic, ecological, and cultural importance. The oak family (Fagaceae) is one of the most important tree groups globally, and especially locally in the Chicago region, in terms of biomass, species richness, support of wildlife, and ecosystem services. But oaks and their ecosystems are threatened by rapid environmental change, habitat loss, and pests and disease. The Arboretum seeks to ensure that no oak goes extinct by advancing scientific and horticultural knowledge, and by engaging partners to plant and protect trees locally and globally.

An estimated 31% of the world’s oak species are threatened with extinction.

-Murphy Westwood, PhD, vice president of science and conservation

Resilient Trees for the Future

Trees are dependent on conducive growing conditions that support their growth and survival. Changes in growing conditions and other climate impacts are already underway and can be seen through Arboretum records over time. Trees at the Arboretum and throughout the world are at risk from these impacts. Climate change is an important influence on mission-based pursuits in science and conservation, plant collections, and public engagement. The Arboretum seeks to be a part of global solutions, through understanding how trees grow, thrive, adapt, and evolve in their environment, and by developing and introducing resilient trees into the market. By building a climate-ready Arboretum and engaging Arboretum audiences to take informed, tree-centric actions, the Arboretum will lead by modeling institutional behaviors and practices intended to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

We are thinking about climate change while developing tree collections at the Arboretum for the future. A tree that grows really well here today, may not perform well 100-years from now.

-Matt Lobdell, curator of living collections

Environmental Sustainability

Arboreta and other botanical gardens throughout the world are exercising leadership to address climate change and sustainability, with the realization that the two are directly linked. Unsustainable human resource use and impacts are damaging the environment, changing the climate, and threatening the health and survival of trees, plants, and all life on Earth. The Arboretum will commit to an optimal level of sustainability, advancing sustainable approaches throughout the organization and influencing others to adopt them. Ultimately, the Arboretum seeks to have a net positive impact on the environment at a local level through programs and direct actions, and at national and global levels through its influence and pursuit of its mission.

Transformational sustainability practices must be widely adopted by people and organizations in order to make a meaningful difference in the climate crisis. We must act now.

-Kris Bachtell, vice president of collections and facilities

Arboretum Sustainability

The Arboretum has achieved transformational growth in visitation, mission delivery, staff, and financial capacity. Given this growth, the Arboretum must respond to the needs and challenges that have arisen, and strategically position itself to continue growing in mission delivery, visitor experience, and financial sustainability. This includes investing in continued excellence in visitor experience, building physical capacity for the Arboretum’s workforce, and growing financial resources.

We aim for the highest level of excellence in every aspect of the Arboretum guest experience.

-Preston Bautista, PhD, vice president of learning and engagement

Diverse Audiences

As a nonprofit organization, The Morton Arboretum has a responsibility to serve the public good. The Arboretum’s public service role is best informed by including diverse perspectives in decision-making and carrying out its mission, which is to encourage the planting and conservation of trees for the good of all. The Arboretum seeks to reflect and welcome diverse community members to enjoy the benefits of its mission and programs. This includes welcoming and engaging a more diverse array of guests through an inclusive, accessible, and equitable on-site experience, as well as creating a culture for staff, trustees, and volunteers that is inclusive, accessible, and equitable.

Equity is essential to ensuring that everyone in the region benefits from the expansion of the urban forest.

-Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative