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Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

colorado
For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at info@asla.org.

Urban Nature: How to Foster Biodiversity in the World’s Citie
sYale e360, 1/6/14
“A few years ago in Baltimore County, Maryland, environmental staffers were reviewing a tree-planting proposal from a local citizens group. It called for five trees each of 13 different species, as if in an arboretum, on the grounds of an elementary school in a densely-populated neighborhood.”
 
What’s the Big Idea? Debating the Future of a Great Urban Park  – The Huffington Post Blog, 1/7/14
“This is an exciting time for landscape architects, urban planners, building architects, municipal officials and other professionals involved with urban parks – they’re being challenged and inspired to be more innovative, think more holistically and delve more deeply, for example, into the interplay between natural and cultural systems.”

Unveiled > Colorado Avenue Esplanade, The Architect’s Newspaper, 1/7/14
“The City of Santa Monica recently green-lighted construction on the $10.7 million Colorado Esplanade streetscape project, designed to improve public access to the Santa Monica Pier and provide pedestrian links from the soon-to-arrive Expo Light Rail line. Work will commence next year, and the light rail is scheduled to arrive by 2016.”

Is Horticulture a Withering Field?, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/7/14
“Coming from image-conscious professionals who prefer to gush about the beauty of flowers and the joys of growing vegetables, the words were downright shocking: ‘Horticulture is under siege.'”

Farm AidThe Architect’s Newspaper, 1/8/14
“In the name of urban renewal, Anaheim tore out most of its historic downtown decades ago. Where Orange, a neighboring town, restored its historic town center and parlayed it into a magnet for restaurants, shops, entertainment, and the local creative class, Anaheim replaced its historic center with a bland mix of modern office towers.”

Redesigning City Streets with a Mobile PhoneGOOD, 1/9/14
“Key to the Street is a cloud-based service that allows anyone with a mobile device to participate in the design of public spaces. The main focus is encouraging more people to walk—the cheapest and easiest way to improve one’s wellbeing.”

These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator

Image credit: Colorado Avenue Esplanade / Peter Walker and Associates

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According to a 2008 article by University of Virginia landscape architecture professor Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, published in the Journal of Landscape Architecture, the guiding principles of sustainable landscape design are “ecological health, social justice, and economic prosperity.” While these are important, unfortunately, designers can overlook the “beauty of place and the importance of aesthetics” in these sustainable works, to everyone’s detriment.

This idea served as the basis of a session at the 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston, moderated by Thomas Woltz, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz, with Bill Madden, ASLA, Mikyoung Kim Design and Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects.

Each presented projects that not only upheld the fundamental principles of ecologically-sound design, but were also simply beautiful places. As Woltz said, the designers were there to “re-introduce the idea of beauty into the discussion of sustainability.” The firms shared similar design philosophies, which were defined by Woltz as the “link between the hand of making, the mind, and the heart.” But he added that “beauty often comes from the heart.”

Designing with an eye to the beautiful and the sustainable can only serve to strengthen the sense of place and promote a sense of stewardship of a landscape. But that means that the static beauty of the objectified landscape must be replaced with an embrace of dynamic beauty, one that celebrates all aspects of landscape, including 100-year storms and climate change.

Madden explored how Mikyoung Kim Design integrates beauty into how they design landscapes. Whether revitalizing the ChonGae Canal in Seoul, Korea, which embraces rainwater as a dynamic design element and draws crowds of all ages every day, or designing a fence in Massachusetts that sits lightly on the land but was inspired by photography and natural form, ecological principles blend seamlessly with beauty.

The ChonGae Canal (see image above) is an “artistic, expressive means to support the idea of water being brought back to Seoul,” said Madden.

Woltz presented projects by Nelson Byrd Woltz, all of which were conceived with a blending of beauty and collaboration with scientists, “revealing hidden ecologies.”

From a small townhouse’s backyard in New York City — which was designed around the narrative of the home as refuge and a nest, creating habitat for local birds — to the very large scale Orongo Station Ecological Restoration in New Zealand, sustainability is in action. But he added that the hand of the designer is evident. He believes this intentionally-artificial aspect of the project will ensure Orongo’s wetland isn’t drained again.

orongo

Ten Eyck spoke of her work, stating that she is “profoundly impacted by the absence and presence of water” in the southwest, where she both lives and practices.

Her design for the Belo Center for New Media at the University of Texas at Auston cleans and conserves water and creates wildlife habitat within a beautiful place of refuge on a busy campus.

Belo_landscape-image-credit-University-of-Texas

Her Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix, Arizona, integrates beautiful and sustainable design within the historical context of the site.

Designing only to meet the metrics of sustainability will only get us so far. Beauty “reinforces our commonality,” said Woltz. With this commonality, we can achieve the ultimate goal, which is a deeper, more responsible stewardship of our beautiful and sustainable landscapes.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, ASLA 2013 intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).

Image credits: (1) ASLA Professional General Design Award. ChonGae Canal Source Point Park: Sunken Stone Garden, Seoul, Korea. Mikyoung Kim Design / Taeoh Kim, (2) ASLA 2010 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Orongo Station Conservation Master Plan. New Zealand / Nelson Byrd Woltz, (3) University of Texas at Austin landscape / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects.

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swarm
Can you imagine a Halloween without bats? Unfortunately, that’s a possibility given 5.7 million bats have died in recent years from white-nose syndrome along the eastern United States, a drop of about 80 percent. To come to their aid, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has created a great overview and infographic about these maligned, misunderstood animals.

They tell us that “bats are not birds, they are not giant insects, and they are not flying rodents. They do not build nests. They will not breed like rabbits and rapidly infest your house. They are not blind. They are not flying, disease ridden vermin searching out unsuspecting humans to infect.”

In fact, they are the only mammal that can fly. As we are mammals, too, we share common traits. The bones in their wing are similar to the ones in our hands. Their wing skin is similar to the skin of our eyelids.

Bats are incredibly diverse, making up one-quarter of all mammals. There are huge differences in size among species, from the bumble-bee bat to large flying foxes, which have a 6-foot wing span. Some bats have tiny wrinkly faces while others have faces that look just like a fox’s. Some have big or small ears and long or short tails.

Bats provided valuable ecosystem services. They are important pollinators. Eating fruit, they disperse seeds. Bats also eat tons of bugs. “The thousands of insects they eat each night save farmers millions of dollars on insect control and crop damage. That makes bats the most organic form of insect control you can get.” Indeed, the estimated value of their bug-eating to farmers is somewhere between $4 and $50 billion.

As FWS mentions, some bats do eat blood, hence the association with Dracula and now Halloween, but that’s not really a cause of concern, as these vampire bats live in Central and South American and feed on livestock blood. The saliva of these unique bats has even been used to develop medicines for stroke patients.

FWS recently proposed making one species, the northern long-eared bat, endangered, given there has been a 99-percent drop in their populations due to white-nose syndrome, a “rapidly spreading fungal disease.” FWS and other U.S. agencies are working hard to understand the cause of this disease, which started in eastern New York in 2006 and has since spread to 22 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces.

bat
So what can we do to help the bats? FWS tell us that one percent of wild bats do carry rabies, so if you see one lying on the ground, don’t handle it. If a bat happens to get in your house, call your local natural resource agency so they can remove them without harming them. Otherwise, FWS tells us to observe rules about cave closures — and generally avoid caves with hibernating bats. Cavers should really decontaminate before entering and leaving a cave.

Given bats are so long-lived — some live up to 30 years — and produce so few pups each year, FSW writes that “it will take many generations for populations to recover from this disease.”

This brief video visualizes many of these ideas:

Also, learn more at white-nose syndrome.org.

Image credit: Bat Swarm / Flickr. Zach-o-matic, (2) Massachusetts tri-colored bat with white-nose syndrome / Jon Reichard via U.S. FWS

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orford
Restoring post-industrial, particularly post-military, landscapes means adding another layer of history to places that already have many. For a group of environmental philosophers at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) in Madison, Wisconsin, those earlier layers of history each have an important meaning — and it’s important they aren’t lost as landscapes long-damaged by industrial or military use are restored.

Preserving Ruination at Orford Ness

According to professor Caitlin DeSilvey, a cultural geographer at the University of Exeter, Orford Ness, a shingle-ridge landscape in the UK, was a secret site for military research during World War II. In 1953, the UK’s National Trust took over the land and transformed it into a sort of preserve. She said military testing, including testing with atomic and chemical weapons, had a “severe effect on the native landscape.” Now, efforts are underway to improve the habitat while managing public access.

There are signs everywhere explaining the still-lurking dangers of unexploded ordinance. If you stay on the paths, the site is “safe but not comfortable.” The remaining buildings are especially uncomfortable. She said there was a “deliberate decision to let the relics of military structures decay.”  A test pit for chemical weapons is now a lagoon filled with rainwater. Moss covers all the surfaces. Yellowhorn poppies appear inside the buildings. But even then, these structures still offer a “palpable sense of secrecy and threat.”

moss
Beyond these structures, the weedy ruderal ecosystem is starting to appear among the disturbed shingle (rocky rubble) landscape. DeSilvey said Orford Ness’ revival as a landscape is the “naturalization of a violent period of history.” In this instance, nature softens its history.

orford2
DeSilvey also said “there’s beauty in decay.” Orford Ness provides a window into that process and change. Indeed, the site’s fascination may be its “troubling resonance and incoherence.” There are no “pure zones,” only messiness, as the shingles approach, spilling through the door of buildings.

Unfortunately, the question remains whether the National Trust will let the decay stay. If the site is moved into another category of historical value, the site may end up being “cleaned-up.” For now, there are just guided tours through the relics. Artists’ installations have also been added to the landscape. Luckily “they are making a virtue of decay.” (see more images).

Applying Nietzsche’s Three Histories to Landscape Preservation

“What role should history play in restoration?,” asked professor Jozef Keulartz, Wageningen University. This is actually a tricky question, given history can be different based on your point of view. Citing Friedrich Nietzsche, the great writer and philosopher, he said “there are no facts, only interpretations.” Nietzsche thought there were three forms of history: antiquarian, monumental, and critical. Ideally, these three forms of history will balance and correct each other.

Antiquarian history is about the “preservation and admiration of the past.” While positive from a historic preservation point of view, the danger, said Keulartz, is “everything old becomes over-estimated; everything new is thrown out.” This approach can “mummify life” and preserve the “on-going tyranny of the past.” Too often, Keulartz said, England takes an antiquarian approach with their historic sites. As an example, he pointed to the Geevor Tin Mine, which has been kept in its original state. Visitors can take tours and experience the life of a miner.

geevor
In contrast, monumental history is opposed to mummification; it’s a “counterpoint to being stuck in the past.” Monumental history is all about “inspiring contemporary man, finding teachers from the past and using them as role models to encourage future progress.” The danger there is “history can become a fiction, a grab-bag.” Keulartz said the Dutch were less conservative than the English about their historic preservation projects and use a “pragmatic style.” In one example, the Western Gas Factory, the Dutch restored a Neo-Renaissance-style building but renovated for creative uses, including exhibitions, fashion shows, and festivals. “Monumental history is about conserving through development, the creation of new spatial values.” In this model, places get a second life. “It’s a practical use of the past, but in danger of being shallow.”

westerngas
In Nietzsche’s critical history, man has the strength to “shatter the past” and “erase histories.” It’s not about “examining the past but destroying it” in order to create a new future. This kind of whole-sale condemnation of the past can be dangerous because “we can destroy the past but can’t escape from it.” Keulartz cautioned, “we can hope for a more decent future but this may be a false hope.” Germany, which is “anything but proud of its past,” often takes a critical historical approach to many of its historic sites.

For Keulartz, one site achieves Neitzsche’s difficult balance of history: Landscape Park Duisborg Nord, which was created by landscape architect Peter Latz. There, lots of plants and trees are mixed within the post-industrial factory landscape. While nature has appeared spontaneously, the reoccupation of the site by nature was stimulated in other areas. Nature was designed, with gardens placed throughout. Duisborg took an old pit and made it the biggest indoor diving pool in the EU. A wall was re-purposed as a climbing course. “Duisborg is about reusing and remembering.”

duisborg
Learning How to Read the Landscape

For professor Martin Drenthen, Radboud University, determining the restoration goals for a historic landscape is a loaded process filled with lots of value judgements. Historic landscapes have obviously undergone significant changes over the years, reflecting “conflicting interpretations of the landscape.” As such, with any restoration project, the “meaning of the landscape may not be immediately apparent.”

There have been a ton of books published around the theme of “reading the landscape.” These books argue that “landscapes are essentially texts,” in which layers of meaning must be mined and read. “Places embody people’s histories and cultural identities. Their context explains who we are.” Landscapes are literally “infested with meanings.” For example, he said the idyllic Dutch landscape reflects the “virtues Dutch have cultivated and represent Dutch culture. They reflect the dialogue between man and nature.”

Restoring the ecological function of a site, “rewilding” it, is another “deepening of the history of a site.” It can be “sense of place 2.0.” Underneath all of those human layers, “wilderness always reigns so re-wilding really has a moral message, too. It’s about recognizing the value of history and successive layers but that deeper layers have special importance.” Layered landscapes are like a palimpsest.

But Drenthen added that “each new interpretation of a landscape needs to be open,” too, to allow for future layers of meaning to be added. As an example, he pointed to the work of artist Michael van Bahel, who “doesn’t destroy history” with his new art works, but exposed hidden layers. In one piece, he created a viewing portal for understanding a historical war site. Here, “art is the lens.”

Restoring One of America’s Largest Superfund Sites

Back in the U.S., post-industrial sites are also being restored, raising the same sorts of issues. In Butte, Montana, efforts are underway to restore the area around the 1-mile-wide by 1.5-mile-long Berkeley Pit, one of the largest SuperFund sites in the U.S, into its natural state. According to Michigan Tech professor Frederic Quivik, the former copper mine dump site, which was owned by Anaconda Copper, has “extremely toxic water, some 1,000-feet deep.” But beyond the pit, tailings from the mining actually traveled along the Clark Fork River all the way to Missoula. Quivik said while copper mining is certainly destructive, “everyone is complicit. Everyone loves copper. Automobiles and airplanes depend on copper.”

berkeley
Not only did the copper pollute Butte and other communities along the Clark Fork River, it also impacted the air and land. Quivik said in the mid-1950s, smoke pollution from the smelting process poured “arsenic, sulfur, and iron” waste materials into the atmosphere. Livestock in range of the smokestacks “were sickly or dying.” The Anaconda Copper was sued by farmers and the U.S. government. One result of their successful suit was Anaconda had to create a 585-feet stack. Tailings along the river had to be excavated and deposited elsewhere. Amazingly, today, trout are living in the creeks along the river.

Anaconda Copper created man-made ponds to manage the tailings, with artificial waterways to move the copper sulfate. These ponds actually have to be managed in perpetuity, as they remain one of the most contaminated areas. But, interestingly, around these ponds, a new golf course was put in, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Other areas have been restored as wildlife habitat. New educational signage also help visitors interpret the site. The positive changes in the Clark Fork River communities are worth exploring (read a great article on the environmental remediation effort in High Country News).

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From Military Sites to Wildlife Preserves

Many former military sites in America are being swiped clean and restored to earlier versions of themselves, natural areas. According to professor David Havlick, University of Colorado, there are nearly two dozens former Department of Defense sites across the U.S. that are now wildlife preserves, some 1.2 million acres.

Havlick called these places “unique hybrid landscapes” because they are “ecologically valuable but highly contaminated.” These sites are layered with multiple meanings: They reflect national sacrifice (they are often called “sacrifice zones”) but also the resiliency of nature. The restoration process itself also generates meaning, as a “previously restricted space now comes back into view.” As these sites are restored, they also show the possibility of “military stewardship,” and the military taking environmental responsibility.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is leading the restoration at many of these former military sites. Havlick said they take a “wildlife-first policy.” At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, FWS is restoring the short grass prairie at a former chemical weapons facility that is heavily contaminated. The old bunkers are presented as amenities. Havlick said people are really drawn to these. At the old Arsenal site, wetlands are now bringing in waterfowl.

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Thousands of acres of prairie grass are now munched on by imported bison.

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A visitor’s center tells the “narrative about individual and community sacrifice.”

Another Perspective on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal

For philosophy professor Marion Hourdequin, Colorado College, the question is “what is the role of history?” She argued that “most traditional ecological restoration projects aren’t up to preserving diverse values.” Historical fidelity means restoring a site to its pre-settlement conditions, prior to colonization by Europeans. This means trying to undo the legacy of human interventions in the site before then. But Hourdequin thinks this isn’t even possible. The new model for ecological restoration accepts this, offering a “dynamic view of ecology, contingency, and global warming. We are now dealing with altered and fragmented landscapes.”

Hourdequin thinks sites up for ecological restoration should instead be treated as “complex, layered landscapes that don’t ignore the past or only restore to pre-settlement conditions. We need a middle way that integrates humans and nature.” She believes this is because “human values are intertwined with places.”

At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, there is a rich history that goes beyond the “weapons to wildlife narrative.” Before Europeans arrived, the place was used seasonally by native Americans. The area was eventually homesteaded by European settlers. Later, in the 1940s, it became a primary site for American chemical weapons production, including VX, Sarin, and Napalm. Then, it was leased to Shell for pesticide production. In the early 90s, efforts began to clean-up and restore the site. The story today is bald eagles, owls, bison, prairie dogs living in what looks like a natural site.

Hourdequin says it’s important not to forget these many important layers of history. While a wildlife refuge today, the place actually holds multiple meanings. Just look at the comments from visitors, who call it “quiet and sad” and “peaceful and redemptive.”

Image credits: (1) Orford Ness / Wikipedia, (2) Orford Ness / copyright Gareth Harmer, (3) Orford Ness / Tomoland, (4) Geevor Tin Mine / My Daily, (5) Western Gas Factory / Outerhop, (6) Landscape Park Duisborg Nord / Landezine, (7) Berkeley Pit / Wired magazine, (8) Clark Fork River restoration / High Country News, (9) Rocky Mountain Arsenal / David Mendosa, (10) Bison / The Denver Post

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beehabitat
Bees aren’t all alike. The tens of thousands of different bee species around the world need different habitat to do well. Getting unique species to take root in restored habitat is a whole other story. In a session at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) conference in Madison, Wisconsin, ecologists discussed how challenging it is to create habitat bees will use year after year, particularly in restored landscapes.

Places for Bees in Agricultural Areas

Claire Carvell, who is a researcher at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK, outlined how English bees have responded to habitat restoration projects. The situation for bees there is pretty dire. Some 75 percent of the UK is agricultural land. Some 97 percent of wildflower meadows, places bees love, are gone. As a result, “bees have significantly declined over the 20th century.”

The UK has more than 260 bee species, with some 26 species being social. There are 25 native bumblebees (2 have gone extinct). While there are still many types of bees, Carvell said bee diversity has decreased in more than half of the UK’s landscapes — by more than 50 percent since 1980.

To combat these trends, the UK government has initiated a program that pays subsidies for the “intensification of landscape quality.” Farmers must chose wildlife-friendly options to quality for those subsidies, which can total 280 pounds a year. One common outcome of this subsidy is natural strip of land left alone within farmland. There, a mix of agricultural plants and grasses bees like are added. Bumblebees take to agricultural legumes, while sunflowers are also good for bees.

In a recent project, Carvell said ecologists tested a few different options. In land where were there simply crops, there was no value for bees. In areas without pesticides, there was only a limited response. Where the “natural generation of plant communities” was allowed, there was also only a limited response. She said the key is creating sites with pollen and nectar, a diverse seed mix, which resulted in a “significant response” from the bees.

But one seed mix, no matter how diverse, will “not have sustained benefits.” There is a seasonal component; some plants die off. Flowering plants that offer nectar need to be re-sown every 3-4 years. Diverse plant mixes must include perennials.

Former Mining Sites Can Provide Habitat

Former mining sites litter the globe. Given all the untapped land, there are lots of opportunities to restore them as habitat for bees. But how good are these sites?, asked Karen Goodell, an ecology professor at Ohio State University.

The answer: reclaimed mines “can aid bee conservation,” but they will not be as good as remnant (untouched) habitat. It’s difficult to restore plant communities that existed in mining areas before. Forests can be re-created, but the full ecosystem is another story. While “floral diversity and abundance will positively affect bee recruitment,” bees will be less diverse in these mining sites than in remnant habitats.

In an observational study of 24 sites at The Wilds, a leading conservation site in Ohio, Goodell netted bee species, counted floral resources, and assessed nest habitat. She looked at sites that “vary in proximity to natural habitat.” A few experimental sites had “augmented nest sites;” another set only got “nest blocks” in the second year.

Looking specifically at Megachilid bees, which are more solitary than honey bees and nest on or in the ground, she found that “the abundance of floral resources wasn’t really important, restoring nesting substrate was far more critical.” Nesting “subtrate” includes stem wood and bare soil. She added that “adding additional artificial nest substrate didn’t help.” To that end, she said it’s important habitats, whether they are restored or not, have ample hollow stem wood lying around, shrubs, dead wood, and bare ground, if you want to attract Megachilids.

Challenges with Ecosystem Restoration

For Neal Williams, University of California – Davis, the transformation of wild areas into agricultural areas is the primary reason for bee habitat loss. Near the Sacramento River in California, a group of farmers and other interests are restoring an 80-kilometer swath along the river corridor from Red Bluff to Chico. Williams’ study there is looking at the community of pollinators in the restored fragments in comparison with the remnant riparian forests. His interest is what factors contribute to the “persistent differences” between the two areas.

Williams said the sites were actually restored. A mono-cultural landscape filled with Walnut orchards was turned back into a forest, but now there is no understory. The issue then was that “species richness was restored, but not composition.”

Lastly, Rufus Isaacs, Michigan State University, discussed bee habitat restoration in managed lands in Michigan. He said there’s a “great diversity of fruit and vegetable production in the area and farmers are very interested in the health of bees.” Hopefully, more will actually do something about setting aside land for bees, given so much of America’s farm produce relies on pollinators.

Image credits: Bee Habitat / Honeybee Conservancy

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Few of the world’s ecosystems have been left untouched by humans. While we can restore many ecosystems damaged by people to their historic function, some may be beyond repair and have become “novel ecosystems.” According to experts at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) conference in Madison, Wisconsin, some 36 percent of the globe’s ecosystems are now novel, meaning that more are now novel than wild. Some goods news though: the maximum extent of novelty, around 50 percent, was reached around 100 years ago. The percentage of novel ecosystems has actually gone down with more intensive agricultural practices that take up less land.

Novel Ecosystems and Shifting Values

Ecologist Eric Higgs, University of Victoria, put novel systems in a broader context. Walking through Southern Vancouver Island, he has seen many invasive species from elsewhere, but has been puzzled about what to do. There’s a limited amount of energy for pulling out every invasive plant species, particularly in areas totally over-run. Even if plants are removed, “the system will revert back immediately” to a state of invasion. At the global level, land use and climate shifts, invasive plant invasions, nitrogen deposition, and cultural changes mean a constant struggle against novelty.

In a new book Higgs and others published, Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order, a model has been created to understand what kind of ecosystems we have today. There are “historical ecosystems,” which have had no change; “hybrid ecosystems,” which have “reversible changes;” and now “novel ecosystems,” where the changes are irreversible. Novel ecosystems are characterized by a “difference in ecosystem composition, structure, and function.” They have a “persistent self-organization,” even if they were created by humans. “They have a practical condition of irreversibility.”

Restoration ecologists mostly work in the area of hybrid ecosystems, trying to restore them to historical ones. While this work is important, Higgs argues that “we have to have flexible goals in some systems.” For example, he pointed to the typical “landscape mosaic” found in exurban or peri-urban areas. There, the landscape is often segmented into hybrid and novel systems. And there, restoration ecologists have to “restore and intervene responsibly.”

In the face of this overwhelming struggle against novelty, there has been a shift in values among society. Years ago, restoration ecologists wanted to restore ecosystems to their “historic fidelity” as much as possible. Now, ecologists, scientists, and landscape architects discuss the value of novel ecosystems’ services, which to some extent are plant-agnostic.

Perhaps reflecting the shift in values, Higgs said “ecosystem services can be achieved in different ecosystems,” meaning that novel systems, no matter how different they are from historic ones, still have some value. Still, Higgs cautioned against those who think novel ecosystems are somehow beneficial, and the way to go in the future. This view point has been promoted by a number of scientists, and articulated well by Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, and others in a recent New York Times op-ed. Higgs thinks this point of view is a bit dangerous, as the Anthropocene, the globe as managed by man, could raise problems with biological diversity. “We have to be careful.”

He said all the debate about novel ecosystems and ecosystem services may prove fruitful though. The old model of ecological restoration was “history as template, single trajectory, and an emphasis on structural composition.” The new model, which he deemed “ecological restoration 2.0,” calls for “history as a guide, multiple trajectories, processional emphasis, and pragmatic goals.” Expectations are diminishing on one hand, while “possibilities are enlarged” with novel systems. “Novel ecosystems can bolster restoration goals for systems in rapid change.”

Planet Now More Novel Than Wild

Mike Perring, University of Western Australia, seeks to quantify the extent of novel ecosystems across the globe. He said “novelty is not new,” so he’s trying to figure out the current and historical extent and how things have changed over time.

Perring and his team have used “proxies” such as land-use maps and population counts. Areas used by humans and close-by areas not used are basically novel. In addition, areas previously used but no longer used, areas where there was “population in the past,” will sometimes still be novel.

While there are different land-use models, Perring estimated that a vast amount of the globe has been converted for human use, meaning about 36 percent of the world’s ecosystems are novel. Excluding the ice-covered parts of the planet, this means that more of the planet is novel than wild.

According to the models Perring used, there has been lots of change over the past 250-500 years. “The wild has been going down over time.” But the good news may be the novel is going down, too. The maximum amount of novelty, around 50 percent, was hit around 100 years ago. Novelty has gone down as humans have cultivated land more intensively.

Perring wondered whether we have reached irreversible thresholds of novelty or not, as well. With ozone, carbon dioxide, and acidification levels changing with climate shifts, there are definite implications for ecosystems.

Novelty in the Era of Climate Change

According to Brian Starzomski, University of Victoria, all ecosystems, even novel ones, are rapidly changing with climate shifts. “You basically need to move 110 meters per year to follow your climate.” Climate shifts are expected to only accelerate, further exacerbating challenges related to novel ecosystem management.

Starzomski asked, “How do we adapt to and manage ecosystems that we have never experienced before?” Ecosystem restoration must also change as the climate does. As an example, he discussed the Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies, where leading-edge peripheral populations are losing their range due to climate change. Also, the Garry Oak ecosystems along the Pacific Northwest are experiencing “novel conditions” that challenge restoration paradigms. He said in Canada, nine national parks “no longer contain their original climate conditions.”

The Challenge of Measuring What’s New

Finally, ecologist Jim Harris discussed how difficult it is to measure novel ecosystems, given “no two ecosystems are identical.” He added that “finding the degradation symbol may not be obvious.” An ecosystem may appear fine on the surface, but the hydrological systems may be shutting down because of subtle shifts in groundwater, or the soil compositions may be changing. In addition, some systems are extremely challenging to pin down. “Some exhibit multiple stable states.”

To measure novel ecosystems, one must look at reference sites. But how many do scientists need to look at to be sure? Without enough examples, restoration ecologists can end up with “rigid prescriptions that produce fragile systems, or worse, landscape collapse.”

In dealing with novel ecosystems, landscape architects and restoration ecologists need a “big team,” with lots of data on species and human populations. Subtle surveys collecting lots of on-the-ground information are really critical. “We can’t just deal with simple approaches like numbers and arrangements. With ecosystem services, there is a lot to measure here.”

Image credits: Novel Ecosystem in Hawaii / Image credit: Emma Marris, ASLA Interview.

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felson constructed ecosystem
With the line between human and natural environments becoming increasingly blurred, how can we ethically design with ecological systems? One session at the Society for Ecological Restoration‘s conference in Madison, Wisconsin, examined the ethics of ecological restoration and human interventions in nature.

Ben Minteer, Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University, described the tension between two seemingly opposed views on human agency in nature – preservationism and pragmatism. Preservationists have long advocated wild, “pristine” landscapes as holding moral value. Therefore, human intervention in nature should be minimized, except to return landscapes to some kind of historical baseline. In recent years, this philosophy has come under fire as being impractical and simplistic. After all, historical baselines can be arbitrary and difficult to establish, and many landscapes have been altered to a point that they have no natural analog.

Minteer described how new, anthropocentric approaches to nature call for an abandonment of idealized notions of pristine wilderness. According this view – pragmatism – human intervention should aim to enhance ecosystem services instead of attempting to restore to a certain point in history. But he also cautioned that this approach, where humans have complete control over nature, could promote reckless interventionism. Instead, Minteer advocated a middle ground between preservationism and pragmatism – a “pragmatic preservationism.” In this view, humans’ interventions in nature are equally weighted with an ethical responsibility toward the land.

Eric Higgs, University of Victoria, also advocated a middle ground for ecological restoration, worrying about what he viewed as the risk of reckless intervention. Higgs described a spectrum of restoration challenges, from pristine landscapes (historically continuous ecosystems) to radically altered landscapes (novel ecosystems). He defined ecosystems that fall between these extremes as “hybrid.” According to Higgs, a responsible attitude toward restoration involves restoring hybrid ecosystems to historical baselines whenever possible, while still recognizing that many ecosystems may be altered beyond a threshold where this is possible. Ecological restoration then uses history more as a guide than as a template. Like Minteer, Higgs stressed the need for ethical responsibility when dealing with any notions of new, historically-unprecedented natures.

Higgs was followed by Alexander Felson, ASLA, Yale University. Felson, who is both a landscape architect and an ecologist, spoke to the challenges and opportunities facing restoration ecologists dealing with urban ecological systems. Felson emphasized the need for ecologists to expand beyond their field, bridging theory and practice. This involves considering difficult questions regarding how we define nature and what we want out of nature. For instance, is an ecosystem restored to a historical baseline always doing as much good as one designed purely for ecosystem services? He described the need for ecologists to engage in designed experiments within urban ecological systems in order to generate data (the image above is an example of Felson’s work in this area). By integrating experimental research with design projects, we may begin to answer questions about the role of designed ecosystems in sustainable urban design.

Joy Zedler, University of Wisconsin – Madison, concluded the session by exploring how restoration might work in the face of an uncertain future, considering the challenges of climate change, extreme weather events, new hydrological conditions, nutrient loading, and invasive species. Zedler acknowledged that many attempts to restore to a historical precedent, or “turning back the clock,” fall short. Furthermore, this notion of total restoration is becoming even more impractical as we lose pristine reference ecosystems and the ability to quantify ecosystem services.

Still, Zedler stressed that historical precedence should remain the primary guiding influence for ecological restoration, but should not be used as an absolute template. Instead, restoration targets should be flexible and dynamic, and all restoration projects should be treated as experiments to generate new data. By taking an improvisational approach, continually testing alternative restoration methods and evaluating their effectiveness, we can embrace uncertainty and learn while restoring.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Master’s of Landscape architecture graduate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credit: A constructed eco-system. Bio-retention garden system in Bridgeport, CT / Urban Omnibus

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mussels
For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at info@asla.org.

Private Investment in Green Roofs, Roadside Plantings and Parks, Oh My!Forbes, 9/22/13

“Stormwater runoff is one of the main causes of urban waterway pollution nationwide. This runoff collects everything from trash to pet waste to antifreeze and motor oil. Why should we care? These and other highly toxic pollutants eventually make their way to our rivers, lakes, beaches, and drinking water supplies.”

Designing Streets for People, Not Just CarsGOOD, 9/23/13

“In San Francisco, three pedestrians are hit by vehicles every day. Our streets should be designed to be safer than this, and we think in the process they can also become viable public spaces that enrich our urban experience. In this project for Walk San Francisco, inspired by a GOOD Design challenge from Center for Architecture and Design, we wanted to transform everyday infrastructure to achieve both of these goals.”

Hartford’s Constitution Plaza: Potential Still UnfoldingThe Courant, 9/25/13

“As we approach its 50th anniversary next year, Hartford’s Constitution Plaza is still controversial. It has been criticized over the years as desolate and lonely, a failure as a public space. But as landscape architecture, it is a remarkable example of work from the period, whose worth may be realized in its second half century.”

On Governors Island, 30 Acres of Open Space are Becoming a True ParkThe New York Times, 9/26/13

“The landscape architecture firm in charge of the parkland project, West 8, decided to break up the monotony of the flat island and maximize views of the harbor by changing its elevation. Even the hammock grove north of the Hills was raised to a maximum height of 16 feet.”

Basking at Mussel BeachThe Architect’s Newspaper, 9/27/13

“Construction recently wrapped up on housing for a new demographic at Manhattan’s East River Waterfront Esplanade: mussels. Working with SHoP Architects, HDR, and Arup, Ken Smith Landscape Architect designed a 50-foot intertidal Eco Park at Pier 35 that is part of a two-mile shoreline revitalization effort by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).”

Investing in Volunteer ParkThe Seattle Times, 9/27/13

“Volunteer Park has often been called Seattle’s Central Park. Founded in 1887, it’s 30 years younger than New York’s legendary park. And at 48 acres it’s a fraction of the size. Both parks are distinguished by the classic elegance of their design by the Olmsted Brothers landscaping firm, and both are the beating green hearts of the cities surrounding them.”

Plaza to the PeopleThe Architect’s Newspaper, 9/18/13

“The Foley Square side of the 1968 Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building on Lower Broadway is one of the most beautifully detailed and thoroughly usable new public spaces in New York. Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, the plaza features Connecticut pink marble that alternates with Vermont ‘Danby’ stone, establishing what the landscape architect called ‘an abstract naturalism.’”

These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator

Image credit: Manhattan’s East River Esplanade / Peter Mauss, ESTO

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naturegarden
The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is well-known for its national design awards. Just this year, Margie Ruddick, ASLA, took home the prize for landscape architecture. But the museum also awards a People’s Design Award. This year, a pool of 20 finalists selected by the museum emphasizes “how innovative design can make a difference in our everyday lives.” The general public is asked to vote for their top pick by October 11.

Clearly our favorite to win is by Los Angeles-based landscape planner, Mia Lehrer, FASLA, who designed the Natural Gardens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, an ecological laboratory. This space was created so that visitors could interact with local wildlife. “Butterflies, hummingbirds and other natural life make their home among the garden’s local plants, creating a window into the natural world.”

Lehrer told us that “the museum has a unique opportunity to take its mission to its front yard, where it can connect Angelinos to nature in the heart of the city and the museum’s collections and research.” She added, “it’s a place where scientists and educators from the Natural History Museum can also research and share the valuable knowledge they collect.”

She explained how the design is meant to enable visitors to meet species found in the city. “The fencing, seating, shade, drainage are expressed in such a way that visitors can understand the layers and value what creative design brings to urban nature.”

Reused urban materials are incorporated wherever possible. “Rebar is used to create a palm arbor and hummingbird feeder stands. Butterfly hedges are created from a framework of chain link fencing covered in flowering vines.”

Lehrer said the Nature Garden is important because it’s really a centerpiece in the museum’s broader educational efforts. “Garden exploration tours include bird walks and bug hunts. Scientists and educators set up a bee hotel, malaise trap, and critter cam video at the pond. Photos of butterflies, spiders, and zombie flies found throughout the region can then be uploaded to the museum Citizen Science program.”

Vote for Los Angeles’ Nature Garden by October 11.

Image credit: Mia Lehrer + Associates

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economist
In its latest special report, The Economist magazine put forth a counter-intuitive yet fascinating thesis: more economic growth is the best hope for preventing the next great wave of extinctions. They argue that as countries become richer, their citizens actually demand cleaner air and water, which benefit wildlife. With weekends off — and more free time generally — these rich-world residents also want to go to public parks and experience nature first hand. According to the Living Planet Index, which is created by the Zoological Society of London and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), biodiversity is actually rising in the rich world and falling in poorer (tropical) ones. So the answer for the planet’s species may be to boost growth in poorer countries in South America, Asia, and Africa.

The entire series of articles is worth reading in depth, but here’s a top-line take on some of the key arguments and data presented:

Man Is Evolving

In the past, man has not been good for nature. Man wiped out most the ancient mega-fauna, including the mastodons, mammoths, and sabre-tooth tigers. With the rise of new technologies, “man’s destructive powers increased.” As mining and industrial development expanded across the globe, forests were decimated, rivers poisoned, and sea and land animals driven to the brink. But, they write: “In a sense this orgy of destruction was natural. In the wild, natural species compete for resources, and man proved a highly successful competitor.” The Economist adds that religion fueled the ascendancy of man over nature, with the Bible granting man “dominion over every creeping thing.”

Now, attitudes have changed for the better. “People have, by and large, come round to the view that wiping out other species is wrong. Part of the reason is pragmatic: as man has come to understand ecology better, he has realized that environmental destruction in pursuit of growth may be self-defeating. Rivers need to be healthy to provide people with clean water and fish; natural beauty fosters tourism; genes from other species provide the raw material for many drugs.”

The change in views towards nature has led to political action. Beginning in the 1970s, the world has increasingly come together to protect natural resources and endangered species. Countries have created national parks and financed support for them. There are now rules against polluting air and water. New technologies make conservation even easier. But while all this is increasingly true in developed countries, it’s not yet in developing ones, although there are signs of progress. For example, as Brazil develops, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has actually fallen. In 2004, some 24,000 square kilometers were decimated. Last year, there were just 5,000 square kilometers destroyed.

Extinctions Are Natural

The Economist writes that throughout Earth’s history extinctions have been the “norm.” Amazingly, “around 99 percent of all creatures that have ever lived have disappeared from the face of the planet. Hardly any of the species that are around now existed 100 million years ago; it is unlikely that many of today’s species will exist in another 100 million years. In the Earth’s 4.5 billion-year-history, that is not a very long time.”

Extinctions, as scientists have demonstrated, come in great waves. To our knowledge, there have been five major waves in history. These extinctions were caused by geological events and the impact of asteroids. A sixth one, caused by man, may be underway.

To determine whether a great wave of extinction is now happening, we have to understand how many species there are. To date, only 2 million species – large and small – have actually been identified. There are lots more smaller creatures than larger ones, so scientists believe many more small species remain undiscovered. “The most widely used estimate now 8.7 million species, not counting micro-organisms such as bacteria and archaea.”

Then, we have to calculate whether the rate of extinction exceeds the norm, which Stuart Pimm, a professor at Duke University, has established as a “background rate” of “one per million species years.” This means that if there are one million species, one would go extinct every year.

And then, we need to understand the actual number of species that have gone extinct. According to The Economist, many conservation organizations, in advocacy mode, have said up to a million species could soon go extinct, but the reality is only 9 counted extinctions have happened between 1980 and 2000. Still, most of the world’s great conservation biologists, including E.O. Wilson, have continuously raised the alarm, which should be heeded.

There’s Hope: People Now Value Biodiversity

As the developed world has become more prosperous with economic growth, people have “freedom to think about things beyond their material welfare.” Prosperity has given people more leisure time, and “enjoying nature is one of humanity’s favorite pastimes.” According to The Economist, some 71 million Americans say they “watch, feed or photograph wildlife in their spare time, more than play computer games, and 34 million are hunters or anglers who also, in their own way, enjoy wildlife.” Being out in nature may also boost happiness (as is explored in more depth in ASLA’s guide to the Health Benefits of Nature).

Communities have also realized that they need nature to survive, too. Birds kill the insects that plague crops. Fisherman’s livelihoods rely on stable stocks of fish. Bees are vital pollinators that we depend on for much of our produce. And then there are so many species of flora and fauna that have yet to be examined for their human health benefits. So many drugs have come from the rainforest. Perhaps the cure for cancer may be there, too.

Some positive trends:

  • In the U.S., eagle populations dropped from half a million in the 18th century to 412 breeding pairs by the early 1960s. There are now more than 7,000 pairs.
  • In 1990, Britain’s environmental agency said only 53 percent of its rivers were safe for recreation. Now 80 percent are.
  • China created its first national park in 1982. “It now has 1,865 of them, covering 110 million hectares, three times the area of America’s parks.” A recent article attributed this to the rising numbers of Chinese taking vacations.
  • In 1909, only 3.5 percent of the world’s land area was protected (according to a 1985 study). Today, some 13 percent of the planet is protected, and the target of 17 percent may be met.

The key then may be more economic growth globally, not less. And we’d add: more landscape architects to design parks and access to nature, not fewer.

Explore this fascinating set of articles.

Image credit: The Economist

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