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Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

novel
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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ivory
At the White House yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the launch of a new federal council on wildlife trafficking and expanded efforts to combat the global elephant ivory trade. The council, which met at the Forum to Counter Wildlife Trafficking, will advise the Interior department and a presidential task force on this issue. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also “crush and destroy” nearly six tons of elephant ivory captured by its agents and inspectors on U.S. soil.

Jewell said: “Poaching of wildlife has become a crisis that threatens large numbers of species including elephants, rhinos, great apes, tigers, sharks, tuna and turtles. With guidance from the new Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, we will continue to work in partnership with countries where these animals live and roam and other nations to shut down the illegal trade in wildlife products and to bring poachers and traffickers to justice.”

According to the secretary, the ivory “crush” will highlight “the rising tide of poaching and trafficking that is threatening wild populations of elephants, rhinoceros, and other iconic species – and strengthen global efforts to crack down on these criminal activities.”

Beyond destroying the raw and carved whole tusks the agents seized, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also update regulations to close loopholes that make it easier for criminals to bring ivory products into the U.S. In Africa, Latin America, and Asia, the service will provide more equipment and support to build up countries’ efforts to combat the trade.

The U.S. is trying to make this a global effort because the ongoing slaughter of elephants and other species isn’t just an African problem. Demand is coming from the U.S. and other rich countries. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said: “The United States is part of the problem, because much of the world’s trade in wild animal and plant species – both legal and illegal – is driven by U.S. consumers or passes through our ports on the way to other nations.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the total population of forest elephants in Central Africa is down 62 percent. “Elephant massacres have taken place in Chad, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic in the past year, as well-armed and organized criminal enterprises have taken advantage of insufficient protection capacity in remote landscapes and the rising price of ivory on illegal markets.”

The Service uses a conservation fund to finance more than 170 global conservation projects, providing more than $8.6 million in aid, which is matched by $14.3 million in support by foreign governments and non-governmental organizations. To finance additional efforts to combat the wildlife trade, Ashe encouraged Americans to buy the Save Vanishing Species postal stamp at their local post office or online. The stamp has raised $2.4 million so far.

But clearly, these efforts, while commendable, are far from enough — as elephant ivory is being seized in record numbers across the globe. Just recently, inspectors in Hong Kong made another large seizure of elephant ivory, nearly 1,200 tusks weighing 4,800 pounds, worth some $2.5 million. The tusks were hidden in a container coming from the African country Togo. Two other busts in the past year found another 12,000 pounds of tusks.

Image credit: Elephant Tusk Seizure / Elephant Ivory Project

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sites1
The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has announced eight new projects that have achieved certification under the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for the sustainable design, construction, and maintenance of built landscapes. These projects, as part of a group of 150 projects participating in an extensive, two-year pilot program, have applied the 2009 SITES guidelines and met the requirements for pilot certification.

The newly certified projects are Blue Hole Regional Park in Wimberley, Texas; Harris County WCID 132’s Water Conservation Center in Spring, Texas; American University School for International Service in Washington, D.C.; Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M.; Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center at Mesa Verde National Park, Colo.; George “Doc” Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Az.; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Research Support Facility in Golden, Colo. and Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon, N.Y.

SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. SITES was created to fill a critical need for guidelines and recognition of sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and maintenance. The voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks applies to sites with or without buildings.

“The effort and time these projects have spent to field test SITES 2009 guidelines and ensure their site is sustainable is commendable and has been a tremendous resource for informing the development of the SITES v2 Rating System, which will be released later this fall,” said SITES Director Danielle Pieranunzi.

Since June 2010, pilot projects have been testing the 2009 rating system created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals. The diverse projects represent various types, sizes, and locations as well as budgets. There are now a total of 23 certified pilot projects with more projects continuing to pursue pilot certification until the end of 2014.

A new rating system, SITES v2, will be published this fall, using information gained through the pilot project certification process. The projects certified up to that point will have qualified under the 2009 rating system. It includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits that add up to 250 points. The credits address areas such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. Projects can achieve one through four stars by amassing 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of the 250 points.

The eight newly certified projects each incorporate sustainable features and practices and have received ratings listed below:

Blue Hole Regional Park, One Star, Wimberley, Texas (see image above). A beloved local swimming hole degraded by overuse was transformed into an environmentally sustainable regional park in the Texas Hill Country. The park seeks to strike a balance between preservation of the site and recreational and educational opportunities for users. Sustainable landscape strategies include managing storm- water through the use of rain gardens and cisterns, irrigating recreational fields with treated effluent, minimizing impervious surfaces, protecting trees and endangered species habitat and restoring shoreline. New vegetation is primarily native plantings, and the park features on-site composting.

sites2
Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center, One Star, Houston, Texas. As Texas struggles with water shortages, WCID 132 created a community outreach project dedicated to showing alternative methods for reducing stormwater runoff and demand for potable water. This project transformed an under-used public campus into a series of gardens that educate residents on sustainable water use and landscape strategies. Features illustrate efficient water conservation, stormwater management, and soil-centered practices. Paths and planting areas were built with locally salvaged and reused materials.

sites3
American University School for International Service, Two Stars, Washington, D.C. This entrance plaza is a gathering place for students and faculty that is integrated with a LEED® Gold building to manage 100 percent of stormwater on the site and, as a result, needs no irrigation. The site features a Korean garden with adapted plants, an edible herb garden, an apiary and regional materials. The university has a zero-waste policy that includes recycling and composting landscape clippings and debris and coffee grounds from the student- run coffee shop inside.

sites4
Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center, Two Stars, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M. After finding contaminants from parking lot runoff, including motor oil and antifreeze, in cavern pools, Carlsbad Caverns National Park removed the existing parking area and rehabilitated it to a natural state using vegetation native to the park. All native plants used for the project were grown nearby from locally-genetic stock, and additional work was done to collect and treat runoff from the new parking areas. The park near Carlsbad, N.M., was one of several parks that participated in a National Park Service pilot program to develop monitoring standards for re-vegetation.

sites5
Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
, Two Stars, Mesa Verde National Park, Co. The site-sensitive landscape design surrounding the center reflects the national park’s mission to educate the public about the archeological, biological and physical resources of the park and their interconnectivity. Stormwater from the site is directed through vegetated swales and retention ponds, and the area was re-vegetated with a mix of native and drought tolerant species, meanwhile addressing concerns about wildfires. The site produces 95 percent of its energy from on-site renewable energy sources and uses locally-quarried stone. The building has earned a LEED® Platinum certification.

sites6
George “Doc” Cavalliere Park
, Three Stars, Scottsdale, Ariz. A primary strategy for the park, located on 34 acres of rugged desert terrain, was preserving and restoring its natural resources. The design uses 100 percent native plants, and all existing native trees, cacti and plant communities were preserved in place or salvaged and re-used onsite to restore desert upland and riparian plant communities. The park also incorporates a regional on-site stormwater management system. Other strategies include rainwater collection, permeable paving in parking areas and driveways, high efficiency LED lighting, net-zero energy consumption using a grid-tied 24 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, and exclusive use of high-content recycled steel without industrial finishes.

sites7

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility, Three Stars, Golden, Co. This federal research laboratory, a former National Guard training facility, consists of a 327-acre government research campus. The Research Support Facility, one of the newest campus additions, has achieved LEED Platinum certification for its innovative building design. The landscape framework for this net-zero energy facility includes establishing natural drainage for stormwater, minimizing impacts on local habitats, protecting habitat through conservation easements, providing hiking trails for staff and community members, using porous paving surfaces, restoring existing prairie and arroyo site features, using on-site  materials for the construction of retaining walls and installing energy efficient lighting. Regional materials and high recycled content were emphasized in the selection of site materials and furnishings.

sites8
Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park
, Three Stars, Beacon, N.Y. This project transformed a 14-acre property on the Hudson River from a degraded, post-industrial brownfield into a major waterfront park that realizes themes of recovery, remediation, reuse and re-engagement. The project returned public access to the river, remediated contaminated soils, rehabilitated degraded wetlands, re-used found materials in innovative ways and restored ecological diversity to upland, wetland and intertidal zones. Features include decks and docks popular with anglers; ADA-accessible paths; areas for picnicking, river gazing, dog-walking, and Frisbee tossing; a kayak pavilion and an outdoor classroom.

Image credits: (1) Blue Hole Regional Park / Tim Campbell, Design Workshop, (2) Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center / Ken Fraser, (3) American University School of International Service / Paul Davis, (4) Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center / NPS, (5) Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center / NPS, (6) George “Doc” Cavalliere Park / Chris Brown, Floor Associates, (7) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility / Robb Williamson, courtesy of RNL, (8) Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park / Reed Hilderbrand LLC

 

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Image 1 - Courtesy Island Press

People rarely dispute that Americans love their cars or that our infrastructure is built around them. However, what to do about these problems is a source of debate. In their book, Creating Green Roadways: Integrating Cultural, Natural, and Visual Resources into Transportation, James L. Sipes, ASLA, and Matthew L. Sipes offer up practical design and construction advice on how we can move beyond basic transportation. Sipes and Sipes, a landscape architect and engineer respectively, haven’t just written a book about roads. As they say in their introduction, they’ve written a book about “pedestrians and bicycle facilities, streetscapes, community character; protecting cultural and natural resources and ensuring creatures large and small can cross the road safely. It is about multimodality, natural processes, and energy efficiency.”

With common language, thorough research and numerous case studies, the Sipes provide the reader with sound arguments for making our roadways green. They define green roadways as highways and roads that are site specific, that respect both the visual character of the place as well as plant and animal life. Green roadways work with a site’s watershed, maintain green corridors, and protect open spaces. It is possible, the authors maintain, to create roads that both meet traditional engineering standards and minimize their impact on the environment. More than that, though, green roadways are about getting people out of their cars – walking, biking and using public transportation.

Image 2 Portland Library Streetcar Stop J

They contend that the time is ripe for this green conversion, citing quite a few scary statistics: 33 percent of our nation’s roadways are in “poor or mediocre” condition; 36 percent of our major urban highways are congested; and 26 percent of bridges are “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” They point to the collapse of the I-35 W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis as an example of what might happen if we don’t make these changes. And not to put too fine a point on it, since the book has gone to press, yet another bridge has collapsed, this time on I-5 over the Skagit River in Washington State.

The number of cars on our roads has quadrupled from 65 million cars and trucks in 1955 to 246 million today, and where in 1970 vehicles in the US traveled 1 trillion miles per year, in 2010 that number had increased to 3 trillion miles per year while the amount of paved roads increased only 1.97 percent. These numbers are staggering, and the basic argument that the Sipes make is that building more roads won’t solve these problems. After all, how will laying down more roadways provide a solution when we can’t maintain what we have? Instead, their book makes a strong case for integrating roads, bridges, trails, walkways and other elements so they become assets, not liabilities. As they say, “roads and highways have such an impact on our communities that we need to start thinking about them in terms of quality of life.”

In urban and suburban areas, especially on local and neighborhood roads, the move should be on “de-emphasizing roads.” They should be narrowed and their visual impact lessened, sidewalks widened, and opportunities for sociability increased. The use of rain gardens and bioswales rather than a reliance on drains also lessens the environmental impact of roads.

Image 3 Atlantas 15th Street EDAW
Image 4 Portland Green Street Rain Garden  Kevin Robert Perry City of Portland
Greener roundabouts can be used to slow traffic, and in the case of the roundabout in Normal, Illinois, it was designed as a community gathering places as well as a system for underground storm water collection.

Image 5 Normal Illinois Roundabout City of Normal Illinois
Our interstates can be retrofitted to allow for wildlife crossings, either as land bridges or underpasses, which protect habitat and wildlife populations that live around highways. The authors note that the average cost of repair to a vehicle after a crash involving an animal is $2,900, a figure that certainly makes these changes worthwhile.

Image 6 Proposed Wildlife Crossing Washington Department of Transportation
Both Sipes, who do believe there is still a place for pleasure driving, especially along the nation’s scenic and historic roads, provide the reader with examples of roads that are done well. They also offer recommendations for protecting the environmental, cultural and historical resources along these roadways.

Image 7 Stone Retaining Wall depositphotos.com
Image 8 Blue Ridge Parkway Linn Cove Viaduct Wikipedia Commons
The authors are dedicated to turning our transportation systems to assets, not liabilities, and have written a book to help guide this transformation.

Read the book.

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

Image credits: (1) Island Press, (2) Portland Library Streetcar Stop / J. Sipes, (3) Atlanta’s 15th Street / EDAW, (4) Portland Green Street Rain Garden / Kevin Robert Perry, City of Portland, (5) Normal, Illinois Roundabout / City of Normal, Illinois, (6) Proposed Wildlife Crossing / Washington Department of Transportation, (7) Stone Retaining Wall / depositphotos.com, (8) Blue Ridge Parkway Linn Cove Viaduct / Wikipedia Commons

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deer
The Calumet region surrounds Chicago and includes Lake Calumet and the Calumet river system. Here, an amazing alliance of nearly 270 organizations, which have banded together under the name Chicago Wilderness, are working towards improving green infrastructure, creating access to nature for children, devising plans for mitigating and adapting to climate change, and preserving and restoring wildlife habitat. In a full-day tour organized for the American Planning Association (APA) conference by The Field Museum, one of Chicago Wilderness’ members and one of the world’s great natural history museums, pockets of nature were uncovered amid the industrial suburbs and bleak, isolated public housing communities far south of Chicago. The tour was led by Mark Bouman, Chicago Field Director; Laurel Ross, Urban Conservation Director; Alaka Wali, curator of North American anthropology; and Doug Stotz, Senior Conservation Ecologist at The Field Museum.

Green Infrastructure in the Burbs

The first stop on the tour was Blue Island, Illinois, a “free standing industrial community” of 25,000 spread over 45 square miles, where city leaders are working with Chicago Wilderness to protect green infrastructure. There, the “stormwater management issue is huge,” said Mary Poulson, community relations director for Blue Island. Currently, the community can’t deal with the issue well, but aims to use “distributed reservoirs and green infrastructure” to handle the problem. To address the broader challenge of water management across the region, the community has joined with 33 other municipalities in the area to create the South Suburban Green Infrastructure Vision.

The town is also working on creating a “more sustainable watershed” around its Midlothian Creek, which runs through part of the community. Part of this effort is to “protect fragmented natural areas.” While they may not be impressive to look at, “they are valuable” from a stormwater management point of view. They are also valuable habitat. Stotz said this place attracts “early bird migrants.”

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To make this green infrastructure more accessible to the community, a new bicycle trail will be going in along the creek. In another part of town we saw a boat launch.

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Planning efforts were supported by workshops around geography and green infrastructure, which led to a map down to the parcel level. One result is that residential areas are now included in these plans. The city encourages homeowners to install rain barrels. To date, more than 1,000 have been installed and there’s now a waiting list. The city government is pushing for the use of native plants in favor of lawns. Connected with all this green work is an economic development planning process that was started by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) a few years ago.

Learning about Nature in a Restored Landscape

The Beaubien Woods have been set aside for environmental education purposes, not recreation, but that hasn’t stopped locals from Altgeld Gardens public housing, where President Obama got his start in community organizing, from fishing at the Little Calumet River that runs through the area. At its peak, the housing project had 10,000 people living in more than 2,000 units. Now, there are around 2,500 people in this extremely isolated community. Much of the housing seemed to be falling apart. There seemed to be few shops or services nearby. On top of the isolation and limited opportunities, there are also major odor issues caused by the nearby plants that deal with sewage. “Methane gas is a big problem here,” said Bouman.

The 135-acre Beaubien Woods, which is made up of prairie, woodland and wetland habitats, is part of Cook County’s forest district, which makes up around 11 percent of the total land area. Over the last twenty years, the site has undergone intensive ecological restoration. The site is beautiful. There’s woodlands, a river, and rolling hills in the background. Interestingly, those hills are actually covered garbage dumps, so the woods themselves form the hole in the “toxic donut,” said Bouman.

donut
While the river is so polluted that pamphlets are distributed outlining the dangers of eating fish caught there, Ross said that the river is actually stocked with fish by the Illinois department of natural resources so they are “relatively OK to eat given they aren’t there long.”

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Stotz said the site is really rich bird habitat. The area attracts more than 180 bird species, perhaps because there are 209 species of native plants. The local Afro Birders group uses the landscape to teach kids from Altgeld and other communities how to spot different types of birds. The Field Museum along with the Calumet Stewardship Initiative are also doing “place-based kids education” to teach locals about “where they are living and connect them to their landscape.” There are volunteer days organized for removing invasive species and cleaning and restoring the ecosystem. Each June, there’s a “family-friendly free nature festival.” Wali said “African Americans are as concerned about preserving nature as any other group of people, perhaps even more than others.”

Getting out in Front of Climate Change

Chicago has created a climate change action plan, but it’s not for nature, said Stotz, so Chicago Wilderness has done their own plan that addresses the possible impacts to local flora and fauna. They created a “biodiversity recovery plan,” which aims to restore nature in the region to make it more resilient and create a network of green and blue corridors to help species migrate.

The organizations involved have been collecting observations about what has changed. For example, the prairie burn season is now “much, much longer,” said Ross, because it’s gotten warmer. She said this opens up windows of opportunity because “there’s less snow on the ground. Things green up earlier.” Communities don’t burn prairies in the summer anyway because it just adds to the “ozone and particulate matter,” which is already high in hotter months. Prairies, just to explain, are “adapted to fire.” Native Americans burned these ecosystems to drive out wild game during hunting. Now, these landscape need to be periodically burnt to maintain their health. Burning also keeps woody invasive plants out. “These are landscapes by fire.”

The Field Museum and other Chicago Wilderness partners are also looking at “carbon storage in protected areas.” Stotz said there are a variety of projects underway to measure the carbon stored in above-ground trees, but more work is needed to measure the carbon storage value of herbaceous plants as well as carbon in soils.

One goal of the alliance is to engage the local community in climate planning and natural restoration work. Wali said they used an “asset mapping” approach, which is a methodology created by urban planners, to discover “the strength of individuals and their capacities” in the communities involved and create a climate community action toolkit local organizations can themselves use to spur action. In six communities, “we mapped the social strengths, including churches, local gardens, and other networks — the intangibles,” to see how to form bottom-up support networks for biodiversity preservation. This approach is needed because “we have to take an integrated view of nature.”

While the communities that will support these natural areas all depend on industrial work for their livelihoods, the process also showed “these people care about nature.”  Their asset mapping work has shown the group that “there are interesting local environmental practices.” People are “actively recycling” even though there are no formal recycling programs. “Junkeros, local recyclers in the latino community, tap their kinship networks to recycle materials.”

Now, the toolkit, which was actually financed with a $100,000 grant by Boeing, is being used by local organizations to tap their networks.

Restoring Nature to Health

Perhaps saving the best for last, the Field Museum scientists then took us to the Powderhorn Prairie Nature Preserve, a deeply rich landscape where prairie, woodland, and oak savannah ecosystems meet. Just a few miles from skyscraper-sized oil refineries owned by BP, there are undulating dunes and swales create a set of “niche habitats.” Bouman said this is the “most biodiverse site in Chicago.”

powderhorn
A recent Bioblitz, an intensive biological survey that involves counting as many species as possible in a 24 hour period, yielded more than 250 species. “This is a rich edge area,” said Stotz. A volunteer program helped bring the area back.

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Invasive plants and shrubs were crowding out the rare native species, including Illinois’ only native cactus.

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Ross said there was an intensive “reseeding process” to restore the fragile prairie grasses. Then, they were set on fire to remove the invasive plants.

grasses
The hydrology of the site was also restored, undoing the damage from nearby drainage projects.

The ecological restoration brought up many questions, said Ross. “Can the damage be undone? What should we restore to?” She said ecological restoration is “creative, challenging work. No one size fits all. You have to know the local areas intimately.”

Stotz said the effort was important. “These are just little patches, but there are worthwhile things here. That’s why I do this.” Nature is amazingly resilient but sometimes just needs a hand.

Image credits: Jared Green / ASLA

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ecologicaldesign
The author of Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, Travis Beck, ASLA, landscape and gardens project manager, New York Botanical Garden, offers a daunting proposition in his introduction: “From now on, the ecological function of our planet can only come from a network of preserved, restored, managed and constructed landscapes.” This is based on the premise that human interventions have substantially altered the natural balance of our ecosystem to the point where their ability to function will not endure without our conscious assistance. He continues: “To maintain the function of this network and the quality of life that it offers, we will have to change the way we think about landscape design.”  This call to arms sets the platform upon which the book is based — to integrate ecology into landscape design and address the mounting environmental crisis.

Beck defines an ecological landscape as a “designed landscape based on the science of ecology.” He further quantifies them as “constructed landscapes,” which may incorporate the restoration of a degraded ecological system, but do not seek to “put things back the way they were.” Rather, the goal is to apply our knowledge of nature to create high performance landscapes in which our design goals and natural processes coexist symbiotically.  The author advocates a change in landscape design within the context of environmental change (or impending crisis). This requires assessing landscapes based on a set of ecological and performative criteria.

The book presents a well-researched and scientific explanation of ecological concepts. Beck suggests theoretical approaches to ecological landscapes and offers case studies. In chapters on biogeography, plant selection, microclimates, plant populations, and natural competition within plant communities, the author distills what could have been volumes of technical data into clear explanations of key botanical processes that are critical to establishing symbiotic plant communities, one of the basic elements of a sustainable landscape. Going a step further, he provides general suggestions and guidelines for integrating these concepts into actual designs.

However, this is not a landscape manual with step-by-step instructions. The information is intended for experienced landscape architects, designers, and ecologists who can interpret and apply this data to infuse complex landscape designs with increased ecological value and biodiversity. The wealth of information presented provides a deeper understanding of plant function and community, from which the designer is then expected to make more informed decisions appropriate to the specific conditions of a particular project and site.

The chapters on the design and management of ecosystems and biodiversity present these broader topics clearly, while illustrating the critical link between them. Beck emphasizes that biodiversity is essential if landscapes are to provide increased ecological function. The chapter on soils is particularly relevant to the landscape architecture profession as consulting with a soil scientist is commonplace, if not the norm. He presents an in-depth breakdown of soil formation, properties, and criteria relative to landscape performance. Since soils are the foundation of all landscapes, the information in this chapter should be mandatory reading for all designers.

The final chapters delve into applied landscape ecology and creating landscapes in an era of change. By integrating ecological principles within design, landscapes can be high-performance and adaptable, qualities critical to sustaining an ecological balance sufficient to support the planet’s growing needs.

Overall, Beck provides clearly-presented science, ecological concepts and processes, and suggested strategies for implementation. These are not ready-made solutions but provide a solid foundation for designers to broaden their understanding of the ecological principles in nature that can be factored into landscape design.

If landscape architects are to expand their role in the design process and attain truly sustaining landscapes, the ideas in Principles of Ecological Landscape Design provide an additional layer of technical information to help us achieve those goals.

Read the book.

This guest post is by James Royce, ASLA, LEED AP, Principal, Studio2112 Landscape Architecture.

Image credit: Island Press

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