March 21, 2013
By: Sarah Stevens
The human race is defined by innovation—the light bulb, the Internet, the iPhone, and now a giant Polar Umbrella designed to refreeze our melting polar caps.
To reduce our ecological footprint, we are actively restoring public spaces and urban rivers and building vertical forests, but what about rebuilding our polar caps? Architect, Derek Pirozzi’s groundbreaking design introduces a new vision for arctic habitat restoration and a solution to rising sea levels.
The Polar Umbrella Buoyant Skyscraper is essentially a giant floating umbrella or arctic buoy that floats amongst the ice, rebuilding the thinning arctic layers while cooling the Earth’s surface temperature and slowing rising sea levels. This innovative design has captured the world’s attention and recently won the prestigious eVolo Skyscraper Competition.
Shaped like an umbrella, the buoyant arctic skyscraper is ingenious and innovative, integrating ecology and design. Restoring the melting glaciers is only one aspect of its multi-functional design.
The size of this mega structure is comparable to the Empire State Building. With the diameter measuring almost 1,450 feet, the umbrella canopy provides natural shade cooling of the arctic surface while harvesting solar energy. Not only can the canopy be angled to absorb the maximum amount of solar energy but also it can withstand the natural environment. In case you are wondering, it’s made out of permeable carbon-based zinc-coated steel.
In addition to capturing solar energy, the structure is self-sustainable creating solar thermal energy through an osmotic (salinity gradient power) power facility (aka heating saltwater). Located in the core of the structure, the power facility uses salt water harvested by underwater structures. These structures are crucial to the design, keeping the structure afloat and collecting the salt water to produce energy and restore the thinning ice caps.
It’s hard to believe, but Pirozzi’s design also provides ecological habitats for wildlife. The core of the structure includes National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research laboratories, housing for 200 researchers and tourists, eco-tourism attractions, and an observation deck provides researchers and tourists a 360-degree view.
Although only a conceptual design, Pirozzi’s intention was to inspire, raise awareness, spark debate, and induce change. His inventive vision for an arctic buoy may need some development before it is ready to launch, but it has great potential as a viable solution to pressing environmental issues.
Polar Umbrella Buoyant Skyscraper Protects and Regenerates the Polar Ice Caps. eVolo.
Clark, Liat. Giant ‘Polar Umbrella’ regenerates ice caps and houses research labs. Wired.co.uk
March 15, 2013
By: George Patten
President Obama summed up the City of Medford Oregon’s new program for water quality trading in a recent speech: [these] “are the kinds of ideas that we need in this country…ideas that preserve our environment, protect our bottom line, and connect more Americans to the great outdoors.” The EPA, along with several states, has established guidelines for water quality trading system designed to allow discharge facilities facing high mitigation costs to purchase environmentally equivalent offset credits. The City of Medford has developed a water quality trading system that uses stream restoration as an offset to meet water temperature regulations on the Rogue River.
The City of Medford discharges treated wastewater into the Rogue River and needed a solution to meet temperature requirements under a water temperature total maximum daily load (TMDL) criteria. This is a common problem for wastewater plants because water generally arrives at the facility warm from residences and industry, and plants must cool treated water before discharging it in streams that support aquatic life and fisheries.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) developed the framework for the Medford water quality trading program, which assigns water quality credits to restoration and aquatic habitat improvement. The City of Medford has agreed to restore 25 miles of stream corridor over a 10-year period. By enhancing the trees and riparian vegetation along the stream bank, there will be additional shade to cool the water. The City chose to implement this option versus onsite lagoon storage, which is difficult for geologic reasons and requires mechanical cooling of the water, which was more costly. Stream restoration will also have supplemental benefits to water quality and eliminates energy requirements and the associated cost impacts of mechanical cooling.
The City of Medford is implementing the water quality trading program through a credit system facilitated by Freshwater Trust, a non-profit organization that works with landowners to restore land, certify the restoration, and sell the credits to the City. An inventive shade-o-later tool, created by the Oregon DEQ, will be used to calculate thermal credits generated by restoration. The tool is an Excel-based, solar routing model that uses GIS indicators and field observations to estimate potential shading for the river. The credits purchased by the City of Medford include capital and operations and maintenance costs for 20 years.
Wastewater treatment plants like the one in Medford are increasingly implementing ecological solutions for water management, such as the Croton Water Filtration Plant in New York City, which uses an innovative onsite water treatment system.
However, in situations where on-site means are impractical, a credit system for restoration also can provide similar and cost-effective water quality benefits. The success of these programs demonstrates the potential for other market-like ecological restoration systems which achieve the President’s goals to protect the bottom line, improve the environment, and connect people to natural spaces.
Medford Water Quality Permit Moves Trading Forward. Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies. The Freshwater Trust.
Remarks by the President at Conservation Conference. Department of Interior Washington, D.C.
Profita, Cassandra. Obama: Medford Has The Right Idea. Ecotrope.
Water Quality Trading. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
March 8, 2013
By: Alissa Brown
Many don’t think much about deserts in the context of biodiversity and aesthetic lure. Despite their barren appearance, deserts are teeming with unique and beautiful plants and wildlife, which play a critical role in healthy ecological function as well as human use and enjoyment. They are found on every continent, cover more than one-fifth of the Earth’s surface, and receive less than ten inches of rainfall per year. Having just returned from a desert jaunt myself, I can tell you firsthand to bring plenty of water, sodium-laced snacks, and sources of shade: humans are not generally desert-adapted like the plants and animals I discuss here.
Desert animals display fascinating strategies to not only survive, but also thrive in arid conditions. Although high desert temperatures in California make it difficult for many large mammals to survive, smaller organisms abound, though somewhat out of human sight. Smaller creatures have adapted certain behaviors and evolved physical characteristics to survive in extreme heat, including slimmer bodies and longer limbs to release excess heat and waxy body coatings to reduce water loss (an adaptation shared by many desert plants).
Animals aren’t the only organisms fending for their lives in harsh environments. Desert plants also have a knack for surviving in water-deprived environments, such as water storage in stems and thick, waxy coatings to reduce water loss by rendering the plant practically waterproof.
Desert plants aren’t just adeptly suited for their environments; some provide important human uses. Ever heard of jojoba? This desert shrub contains a high-quality oil that commercial industries currently use in products, such as shampoo, soap, and lotion. The use of jojoba dates back to much earlier times; Native American Indians used jojoba for cosmetic and medicinal purposes, and Americans used it during World War II in motors and transmissions for military equipment. Before researchers discovered the valuable use of this oil, sperm whale oil was used as an industrial lubricant and as an ingredient in body lotion and perfumes, contributing to the sharp decline in this whale species’ population. Replacing sperm whale oil with jojoba oil (along with conservation efforts) has contributed to the restored sperm whale population. Given the applications of many plants, pharmaceutical companies often hire researchers to scour nature for new natural medicines. With one fifth of the earth covered in desert, who knows what else we can find in the desert that can contribute to the betterment of human and ecological health.
This is one of the many reasons conservationists strive to set aside desert land to help protect its native plants and animals. In fact, 25 million acres in southern California is part of the California Desert Conservation Area, which encompasses sand dunes, canyons, dry lakes, 90 mountain ranges, and 65 wilderness areas.
Additionally, the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, proposed by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, aims “to provide for conservation, enhanced recreation opportunities, and development of renewable energy in the California Desert Conservation Area”. Renewable energy in the desert generally takes the form of solar or wind power. More recently, the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility Project began construction last year, and plans to set up 112 wind turbines on approximately 12,000 acres of land. This wind farm should provide energy for approximately 140,000 homes in San Diego and rake in millions of dollars for the community.
However, such development comes with an ecological and cultural price, as the project impacts sensitive species habitats as well as sacred Native American land. Understandably, land managers, government organizations, non-profits, and industry companies are at odds given the complex nature of the costs and benefits of such a project. Senator Feinstein acknowledged the gray area of balancing conservation needs with advancing renewable energy development, which was included in her re-introduced 2011 Act.
Still think deserts are dull and boring? Try visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (or your nearby desert of choice) during a wildflower bloom. Around February and March, the park springs to life with vibrant yellows, oranges, purples, magentas, reds, and blues. Check the Anza Borrego Wildflower Updates for more information and the best time to see the wildflowers. Other deserts may flower earlier or later than Anza Borrego, and the timing varies from year to year, so look for resources that report optimal times to visit.
The Living Death Valley documentary captures the unique landscapes, striking geologic formations, bizarre and beautiful plant life, and uniquely adapted wildlife. I encourage you to visit your local desert and enjoy one of the many recreational opportunities, rock climbing, camping, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, hunting, and a plethora of other activities. (Just don’t forget the water – we’re not fit for desert life).
Deserts, Arid But Full of Life. National Geographic.
The Desert Biome(s).
Ombrello, T. JOJOBA and the Sperm Whale. UCC Biology Department.
Davila, Alejandro. Ocotillo Express project expected to blow in millions of dollars locally.
March 2, 2013
By: Erin Hathaway
Has anyone else ever noticed how much the Ohio River resembles the Hudson River? The two rivers represent our American history and heritage as critical pathways for exploration, industry, trade, and travel. A few interesting comparisons—the length of the Hudson River is 315 miles; the Ohio River is more than three times its length at 981 miles. The Hudson River exists mainly in New York; whereas, the Ohio borders six states. Both the Ohio and the Hudson rivers affect our oceans; the Hudson directly because it is part tidal estuary and the Ohio indirectly as it flows into the Mississippi before entering into the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, both Rivers are subject to human impacts, ranging from combined sewer overflows to engineered alterations, such as dams and seawalls.
There is one notable difference between these two historic rivers. Restoration of the Ohio River receives a fraction of the attention and focus as compared to the Hudson River, which has hundreds of non-profits and organizations helping to restore and protect the vital watershed and its natural resources. Founded in 2000, the Ohio River Foundation organization is dedicated to addressing the vital natural resource. Perhaps the Ohio can learn a thing or two from the Hudson.
The Ohio River is a valuable resource. Today the Ohio is perceived as a resource for industry. Many local economies and businesses rely on the river. Furthermore, the Ohio is the drinking water source for more than three million people but there are parts of the Ohio River that do not meet water quality standards. More than 1,000 points along the Ohio discharge raw sewage during rainstorms.
The Ohio can do more for us. The Ohio can offer multiple types of recreation, including kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, and birding. The recent successful opening of Big Four Bridge in Louisville shows the high community interest in the recreational value of the river. The Ohio River also can be a major source of tourism, representing regional heritage and local identity. The river’s ecology can attract all species and become an ecological icon like the Florida Everglades. But before this can happen, we must first address the ecological health of the river.
Many factors are affecting the health of the Ohio River, including:
The Ohio River Foundation recognizes that “The Ohio River today is not the same river it was 150 years ago, and it is not the same river it was 60 years ago.” Although we are unable to restore the conditions of 150 years ago, the organization acknowledges, “There are measures that can be taken to improve the condition of the river for the benefit of the people and wildlife.” What this means to me is that an innovative approach to restoration is key to ensure the river’s ecology coexists with its industrial activities.
Many projects have successfully restored the native ecosystems of rivers despite the adverse effects of urban development. For example, Kate Orff of SCAPE’s oyster-tecture and the other projects featured in the 2010 MOMA’s Rising Current Exhibit present an innovative approach to restore New York’s rivers. One of these innovative approaches is the habitat restoration of the East River Waterfront Eco-Park project on New York City’s Pier 35. Great Ecology is restoring the native tidal habitat using an artificial mussel bed.
Back in downtown Louisville, the urban fabric meets the water at a hard intersection. The urban runoff and combined sewer overflow (CSO) freely enter the Ohio River with no filtration. When the river rises, the water rapidly washes over concrete with no saturation picking up solids, chemicals, and nutrients. The evidence is right there floating on the surface. We are constantly abusing the Ohio River with careless actions. We are beginning to see rivers across the country from a new perspective—one that understands the value of riparian ecology, but the Ohio River seems left in the dark.
I imagine a waterfront with wetlands reaching out into the river to protect the floodwaters and the runoff, provide habitat for birds, fish, and invertebrates, and serve as an iconic feature to Louisville. We successfully managed to integrate ecology and habitat restoration seamlessly into New York’s working harbor at Brooklyn Bridge Park. We can make it work on the Ohio River.
If you want to see ecology integrated in Louisville’s waterfront, visit Engage Louisville to share your vision. To find out more about the restoration of the Ohio River, check out the A Framework for Ecosystem Restoration of the Ohio River and its Watershed written by the Ohio River Foundation.
A Framework for Ecosystem Restoration of the Ohio River and its Watershed.
The Ohio River Foundation.
Reviving New York’s rivers — with oysters! Kate Orff. TED Talks. Jan 2011.
Kenning, Chris. Big Four Bridge opens: ‘Bridge to nowhere’ reborn, finally going somewhere. The Courier-Journal.
February 22, 2013
By: T.W. Jackson
We live in a trendy day and age that is often influenced by social movements, perception, and ethics. Environmental stewardship is a movement that we read and hear about regularly. The influences and ethics of it are very broad and can be interpreted differently. Due partly to the multitudes of socio-economic classes and lifestyles that exist in the United States, we have varying degrees of environmental consciousness. I like to think of everyone’s commitment to environmental stewardship as “shades of green.” Some people are bright neon green while others are a dark forest green, with many shades in between.
When I consider my own shade (moderate puke green) relative to those around me, I tend to think about people who thoughtfully manage their resources and habits because they genuinely care about reducing environmental impacts and people who do it because they want to be perceived as “eco-friendly.” Some do it for both reasons. Regardless of anyone’s personal motivations, any level of consideration given to reducing dependence on natural resources is important and commendable.
One of the common worries with the environmental trend is that it is targeted at affluent people that can afford higher-priced “eco-friendly” products. Electric/hybrid cars and solar panel-powered homes are flashy examples of environmental stewardship that money can buy but not everyone wants to or can invest in these material symbols of environmental consciousness. I also recognize that not everyone has the luxury of working for organizations that promote environmental stewardship, like I do.
Environmental stewardship does not require a six digit paycheck but instead depends on our lifestyle choices. I focus on other lifestyle decisions to maintain my self-labeled status as a puke green citizen. While I have no plans to buy a Toyota Prius, turn my yard into a compost pile, or flush my dog’s droppings down a toilet to reduce using plastic bags, there is nothing stopping me from using reusable bags at the grocery store, drying my hands on my pants instead of using paper towels, carpooling with friends on weekend trips, recycling my worn-out surfing equipment, or turning myself into a tree after I die.
There are many ways to be green that do not require expensive purchases. I find that thinking about the little things makes a big difference in my life. Kermit the Frog was wrong.
It IS easy being green!
What shade of green are you?Leave a comment
February 15, 2013
By: Chris Keil
Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park is a controversial activity with a long history. It is a modern example of a “Tragedy of the Commons”. Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park is part of a larger question: what are appropriate means of visitation in our National Parks? There are few clear answers.
Conservationists have criticized snowmobiling in National Parks from the perspective of noise, air, and water pollution effects on wildlife and other park users. The counter argument is that snowmobiling provides access to public lands, brings significant local economic benefits, and the negative ecological impacts are overblown. The National Park Service (NPS) currently has the difficult task of balancing its core agency goals of providing enjoyment to the public without impairing natural conditions. As with many land-use issues, the decision to permit or forbid a specific activity can be contentious, but in the case of the world’s first National Park, the debate is highly visible and more emotionally charged.
The history of snowmobile travel in Yellowstone dates back to the mid-20th century. Early versions of snowmobiles as we know them were first permitted into the Park in 1963, providing access to popular wildlife, scenic, and geothermal attractions. Beginning with Superintendent, Jack Anderson, during the 1970s, several Yellowstone land managers were vocal advocates of snowmobiling in the park. Over time, the popularity of the snowmobiling grew from 2,173 people in the winter of 1966-67 to 82,298 visitors during the winter of 2000-01. This significant increase brought concerns about the environmental impact to the forefront. (Yellowstone National Park and Snowmobiles Case Study, 2001). As a result, a period of litigation supported by various interest groups began and still continues today. A lawsuit filed in 1997 by an animal rights organization resulted in a snowmobile phase-out instituted in the final days of the Clinton Administration. A subsequent lawsuit filed by snowmobile manufacturers prompted a new Environmental Impact Statement, which overturned the ban in 2003. Unfortunately, the recent debate is politicized, driven by preconceived agendas and framed in a Clinton versus Bush land ethic battle. It is noteworthy that Dick Cheney, regarded as a champion of a modern manifest destiny in the American West, lives close to Yellowstone.
During the last thirty years, scientific studies and data collection and analysis activities have proliferated. Sophisticated studies have measured noise levels, the effect of temperature inversions on air emissions, vehicle fluid polluted snowmelt, wildlife responses to snow machines, and economic impacts to nearby communities. It seems that after decades of a politicized debate, science is finally guiding policy.
In 2006, NPS developed Best Adaptive Technology (BAT) standards to ensure use of the safest and cleanest snowmobiles. Visitors must be accompanied by a guide and only 720 visitors can enter the park daily, among other restrictions. The draft Supplemental Winter Use Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), released in June 2012, considers four options, ranging from banning snowmobiles to expanding their permitted use. Based on public comment and a review of scientific literature by NPS, Option 4 was selected as the preferred option. If passed, Option 4 will provide a “management framework that has the potential to make the park cleaner, quieter, and allow for more people to visit the park.” This means that slightly more transportation events will be permitted but cleaner BAT machines and guides will be required.
I recently had an opportunity to take a snowmobile trip in Yellowstone National Park. Although personally conflicted, I believed the trip would give me a better understanding of the park and this debate. The experience was interesting. I saw amazing geothermal features and an expansive landscapes blanketed in snow, without the throngs of visitors that characterize a summertime visit to Yellowstone. While snowmobiles enabled me to cover more than 100 miles in a short winter day, an otherwise impossible task, I found the actual snowmobiling to be a distraction. Even with a technologically advanced four stroke snowmobile beneath me, the ride was bumpy and noisy. Furthermore, NPS has developed stringent conduct standards confining riders to a tight single-file formation throughout the entire ride. Riding this powerful and versatile machine actually became boring. Ultimately, the experience felt restrictive and my sense of place was distorted. At times, I wanted to just let the snowmobile rip through a snowfield, and at other times I wanted to enjoy the landscape in peace and quiet. I could have neither.
Besides providing an opportunity to experience a beautiful landscape, the trip did heighten my awareness of the many ecological issues that Yellowstone is facing. Although Yellowstone is more than two million acres in size, the surrounding landscape does not provide sufficient habitat for some of its most charismatic residents. Every local resident seems to have a strong opinion about the value of bison, elk, wolf, moose, and lake trout and what the appropriate population sizes of these species should be. Similarly to snowmobiling, contentious debates persist among ranchers, conservationists, hunters, fishermen, and other groups. The bottom line is that despite its rugged and enduring appearance, Yellowstone is a vulnerable ecosystem that is actively shaped and managed by humans.
While snowmobiling has received a lot of attention, people must consider this activity in the context of overall park visitation. After all, more than three million people visit Yellowstone annually, only four percent of these visits are during the winter. This is not to say that the traffic jams of tour buses and RVs in the summer should excuse this form of winter recreation, but it is important to consider the whole picture from the perspectives of cultural resource, ecological integrity, and human use. National Parks belong to the people, but what kind of access does this imply?
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Exploring the Yellowstone Geoecosystem. Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park: An American right, or wrong?
Yellowstone in Winter: Current Management and Planning. National Park Service.
Yellowstone in Winter: Supporting Science & Technical Documents.
Yellowstone National Park and Snowmobiles Case Study. 2001. Egret Communications/ARA Consulting.
Yochim, Michael. 1999. The Development of Snowmobile Policy in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone Science.
February 8, 2013
By: Sarah Stevens
2013 will debut the world’s first vertical urban forest, Bosco Verticale.
Designed by Boeri Studio, construction is nearly complete on the two 27-story residential towers located in the heart of Milan, Italy. In 2011, Milan was recognized as one of the most polluted cities in Europe. Bosco Verticale, is one of six components of Stefano Boeri’s BioMilano, a urban restoration vision plan designed to reduce the adverse environmental impacts of urbanization.
Bosco Verticale is an innovative and compelling model for large urban cities worldwide, providing vital ecological and energy benefits within the confines of an urban area. The vertical forest design includes 900 trees, oaks and amelanchiers, 500 shrubs, and 11,000 ground plants—the equivalent of 2.5-acres of forest. Additionally, if the each residential unit had been constructed as individual stand-alone units, more than 50,000 square meters of land and 10,000 square meters of woodland would be required. Each balcony will house a mini-forest complete with a rainwater watering system.
In addition to the design’s energy sufficiency and environmental benefits, construction costs of Bosco Verticale are only 5% more than those required for the usual skyscraper, which will promote replication in other cities.
Bosco Verticale reinforces the importance and vitality of multidisciplinary approaches to create long-term successful environmental sustainable projects and solutions. The Bosco Verticale design is the result of the synergy of ecology, architecture, and engineering disciplines, which flies in the face of a single-faceted technical approach to environmental sustainability.
Bosco Verticale is expected to open later this year. For the most recent photos and updates visit Stefano Boeri Architecture.
Stefano Boeri Architecture. Bosco Verticale.
Woodward, Christopher. The age of flower towers. The Financial Times. October 7, 2011.
Pham, Diane. Bosco Verticale: The World’s First Vertical Forest Nears Completion in Milan – NEW PHOTOS. Inhabitat.Leave a comment
February 1, 2013
By: Carl Carlson
A neat patch of perfectly manicured lawn is an iconic image of the suburban American landscape. The smell of fresh cut grass on a summer afternoon conjures up deep nostalgic emotions. We love the vaguely naturalistic, pastoral effect they provide to our landscapes, yet we often don’t consider the negative effects of the perfectly manicured lawn, which despite appearances is not a natural component of all environments. It is important that we understand the impacts of trying to grow grass in climates that won’t naturally support them and instead find acceptable ecological options that will fit within different regional landscapes.
Lawns originated as grassed enclosures for feeding livestock, most often as communal grounds in rural towns and cities. As livestock production moved away from individual families to larger farms, the neat patch of green grass stayed but it needed to be maintained by people since the livestock were no longer on site. As European settlers expanded west into the United States, they brought their old farming practices to new landscapes, damming up rivers and building irrigation canals to support grass fields for livestock production. Fresh water, which has always been valuable, became much more so as more settlers built farms in relatively arid climates. This problem was exaggerated by the post WWII suburban building boom, as population centers shifted from the northeast to the southwest, suburbanites transplanted their temperate zone landscapes. Today we waste millions of gallons of water every year to grow grass in deserts, we dump tons of fertilizers and pesticides to keep them green (the same fertilizers and pesticides ultimately end up polluting surrounding watersheds), and we send millions of pounds of carbon dioxide into the air cutting the lawn that we continually encourage to grow. So despite the somewhat natural appearance, lawns can actually produce adverse environmental impacts.
There is however a growing movement of people who are trying to use their yards in a more efficient and hopefully ecologically thoughtful manner. Some towns are promoting xeriscaping in arid areas, landscapes that require little to no water. This trend is re-shaping (and re-coloring) the look of desert living.
Mini vegetable farms in typically underused front yards are another “anti- lawn” idea gaining popularity. Although, it may not be the most ecologically sensitive (farms are highly managed and maintained landscapes that offer limited habitat value), it is a significant improvement from average American suburbia. Most front yards are relatively unused and highly manicured areas that focus on creating an appealing first impression of a home. Why shouldn’t these unused areas be more productive as vegetable gardens? Growing your own vegetables is the ultimate in the locavore movement. Food can barely get any closer than your own front yard. Growing and eating more of your own veggies has health and environmental benefits. It could encourage us to waste less water by using drip irrigation around specific plants instead of typical lawn sprinklers that indiscriminately spray water everywhere. It cuts down on greenhouse gasses by negating the need for a lawn mower and it allows for healthier regional landscapes by reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers that might wash into storm sewers and local watersheds.
Trying to do something different with your front yard however, can have the unfortunate effect of running afoul of HOA bylaws or local regulations, as not everyone appreciates the unconventional landscaping. In some cases, municipalities have mowed down landscapes as “nuisance weeds” then billed homeowners for their destruction. Many people have been given violations and been forced return their landscapes to a style more “typical” of their surrounding neighbors and in one unfortunate case a homeowner in Michigan faced criminal charges when she refused to remove her front yard vegetable garden.
However the alternative landscaping trend is gaining momentum. Americans are becoming more interested in their gardening options, forcing elected officials to rethink zoning laws. Towns like Santa Monica are actually encouraging residents to remove lawns and replace them with something more “sustainable” as shown in a recent New York Times article.Firms like Great Ecology are developing education and outreach programs about water management on private properties or offering design services tailored to ecological concerns of their region. The more the public is educated and exposed to potential lawn transformations, the more alternative landscaping will become accepted and the less we will be negatively impacting our surrounding environment.
Want to create your own wildlife-friendly garden?
The National Wildlife Foundation provides excellent tips and will even provide Certified Wildlife Habitat designation for your property if you can fulfill their requirements.
Kurutz, Steven. The Battlefront in the Front Yard. New York Times. December 19,2012.
January 26, 2013
By: Ashley Tuggle
Having come from the dense pine forests of North Carolina, I prepared myself for downed trees and delays after a recent wind storm swept the coast of Southern California. Instead of crews of city workers clearing tree branches, I noticed the palms swaying precariously overhead, but never breaking. It prompted the question: Why don’t palm trees break and fall as easily as other trees in high wind?
Palms are not your average tree, and depending on your definition, might not be a tree at all. They’re monocots, which means they have more in common genetically with wheat than the sweetgum, maple, or oak in your backyard. What makes them so flexible is that palms lack secondary xylem, a tissue that carries water throughout plants along with some nutrients. As a result, palm trees are much less vulnerable to wind because they bend.
Nature provides a cornucopia of these types of adaptations that help plants and animals and the habitats that support them survive in extreme conditions. For example, many species of mangroves have an extensive network of roots that stabilize them in the face of oncoming storm surges, which protects the shoreline by slowing water down.
The U.S. experienced the most extreme weather events in 2012, the most since such record-keeping began in 1910. In thinking about designing for the future and restoring what might be lost from events like Superstorm Sandy, it’s important to build back better rather than just rebuild.
Coastal communities must be able to reduce the initial impact from extreme storms, resistance, and recover in their wake, resilience. While man-made structures can provide some resistance, they require maintenance and repairs. In addition, they may also not provide the same services that an equivalent natural system would in tandem with their protective abilities. A combination of man-made and natural structures, such as oyster reefs, will provide the optimal protection.
Oyster reefs provide natural protection against storms as well as critical ecological and economical benefits to our shorelines. Ecologically, oyster reefs improve estuary water quality by filtering nutrients and provide feeding grounds and habitat for commercially valuable fisheries. An oyster reef not only slows and absorbs wave energy, protecting a shoreline from erosion, but is also able to naturally and efficiently regenerate after an extreme weather event. One study found that after two back-to-back hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, oyster reefs recovered fully within only a year, providing the same level of ecological benefits as before. In addition to oyster reefs, barrier islands and coastal wetlands help slow down waves before they can reach habitats further inland.
Restoring and protecting our shorelines has become a central focus of restoration and resiliency efforts. The combination of natural habitats and man-made structures is essential for protecting our shorelines against future damage. This is particularly relevant to the current debate about how to address the aftermath of Sandy. We need to recognize that while enhanced ecological designs will not completely ameliorate the impacts of extreme weather events, communities designed to be more ecologically sound may reduce the initial impacts and contribute to a swifter recovery.
Like the palm tree, we need ecological designs that aren’t going to be swept away by storms, but move with and protect our shorelines.
Alves, L.F. F.R. Martins, and F.A.M. Santos. Allometry of a neotropical palm, Euterpe edulis Mart.
Livingston, R.J., R.L. Howell IV, X. Niu, F.G. Lewis III, and G.C. Woodsum. Recovery of oyster reefs (Crassostrea virginica) in a Guld estuary following disturbance by two hurricanes.
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January 19, 2013
Meet Dr. Laska and the Great Ecology team at these upcoming events.
Dr. Laska, President and Founder, will be speaking at the upcoming 2nd Annual Natural Resource Damages Law Seminar on February 14 and 15 in Washington D.C.
Nick Buhbe, Director of Ecology, is presenting Great Ecology’s innovative wetland restoration approach which saved a client over $50 million at the Energy, Utility, & Environment Conference on January 30 in Phoenix, AZ.
Contact Sarah Stevens at email@example.com to set up a meeting.Leave a comment