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Planning for the Future of California’s Coastline

Sea level rise is not evenly distributed globally. The coastline of western North America has not faced the same level of challenges of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts but addressing and adapting to sea level rise in California is a top priority. The 2015 Coastal Symposium united leaders in coastal resiliency planning from municipalities, state and federal agencies, academia, and the private sector. Our Director of Ecology and California native, Nick Buhbe, attended the symposium and shares his top take-aways ranging from notable coastal projects to adaptive planning tools already in use.

Leading researcher and consultant, Dr. Reinhard E. Flick of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, shared his extensive research in coastal processes including sea level rise (SLR), effects of tides and storm surge, and coastal erosion.

  • The Keeling Curve demonstrates a 25% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) during the last 50 years. We know that this represents a continuation of CO2 releases which dramatically increased following the Industrial Revolution, and that the rate of increase is unprecedented.
    • As we have no reference of an increase of this magnitude in the geologic record, the effects are not predictable.
    • However, we do know that effects are being realized, and it is a question of when the effects will be felt, not whether the effects will occur.

Based on what is known from studies of the polar regions, there is already 30-40 feet of SLR which “baked in” to the climate change which is unavoidable; the question is how fast will the SLR be realized.

  • SLR will not be the direct result of the much publicized breakup of ice shelves (such as Larsen B in Antarctica), as ice shelves are essentially floating and act as barriers to glacier flow from the land into the sea. Rather, without the protection of ice shelves, glaciers will flow into the sea and sea levels will increase.

Changes will not be overnight, but the effects are likely to be driven by chance coincidence of storm surges and high tide events.  At low tide, effects of storm surges or large wave events will be relatively muted.  However, when the high wave events or storm surges occur over long periods of time or match with “king tides,” the effects will be significant as areas not usually inundated become flooded.

  • SLR effects will be particularly pronounced when hard structures, such as seawalls, or natural features such as cliffs, prevent the beach from moving upward. In such cases, the likely effect will be the acceleration of erosion (if not in the direct area, then in adjacent areas) and potentially dramatic changes to the character of the beach itself.
  • Stilwell Hall (Monterey County, California) – an example of natural correction of a shoreline when hard backshore structures are removed.
    • Constructed in 1940s, the abandoned building was torn down in 2003 before it slid into the ocean as the shoreline armoring couldn’t be maintained effectively.
    • Check out the incredible before and after photos taken by Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman.

The California Coastal Commission’s Draft Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance is a framework addressing sea level rise in Local Coastal Programs (LCPs) and Coastal Development Permits (CDPs). Specifically, it details how the State intends to apply the California Coastal Act, the primary coastal management law to address land use, public access and recreation, and the protection of coast and ocean resources.

  •  Resiliency planning and adaptation projects in California are especially complex with the extensive infrastructure and resources located along the coast. Some of the largest cities, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco are directly on the coast and do not have the option to pick up and retreat inland.
    • Our major interstate freeways travel up and down the coastline.
    • California’s coastal and ocean economy: $40B (NOEP 2010).
    • Sea levels are increasing the fastest at Humbolt Bay in Northern California.
  • It is likely that many of the coastal resiliency projects in California will be implemented on a local scale by municipalities–this means that some areas will elect to use natural barriers whereas others may choose to build hard structures such as seawalls.

Following sessions presented case studies of Local Seas Level Rise Adaptation Planning Projects funded by the California Coastal Conservancy, Coastal Commission and Ocean Protection Council. Key take-aways from the case studies:

Where we are: 
We’ve built many models and used them and other tools to inform vulnerability.

Where were going:
Vulnerability studies and adaptation pathway analyses have been used to develop site-specific projects, which have been implemented and are in the process of being evaluated for lessons learned.

Of particular interest to Great Ecology’s coastal scientists was the Thin Layer Salt Marsh Sediment Augmentation Project.

  • The US Fish & Wildlife Service is spraying a thin layer of sediment over 10-acres of a low salt marsh within the Seal Beach Natural Wildlife Reserve.
  • The project will monitor the physical and ecological responses of the marsh to the additional sediment over a 5 year period.
  • Why it matters: if the project successfully document effectiveness of the sediment spray strategy in combating sea level rise, it is a natural SLR protection measure applicable to important rare habitats prioritized for conservation.

We know successful resiliency projects may include artificial reefs, tidal marsh enhancements, living or soft shorelines, and dunes. However, there are still a few big questions remaining:

  • How do we get sediments from land-locked retention structures (dams and flood control structures) to beaches to improve resiliency?
  • An Orange County pilot study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Prado Dam is currently under consideration to study one application of this idea.

  • How do coastal managers engage the public to bring this to the forefront at the city, state, and federal levels?
  • Presenters advised although SLR and climate change are often met with skepticism, communicating the importance of protecting infrastructure and responsible taxpayer fund management has been well received.

As we know sea level rise and resiliency planning and adaption are highly complex. Currently in California, pilot projects are being implemented at the local levels, and the lessons learned from these first steps will greatly inform what tools can be effectively implemented to minimize catastrophic effects.

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Shaping Our 21st Century Waterfront

Today, resiliency and New York City are deeply intertwined. Last week the Waterfront Alliance (WA) (formerly the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance) hosted their annual Waterfront Conference. With speakers and attendees from all sectors, discussions focused on new approaches, ideas, and best practices for waterfront resiliency and development. Our Director of Design, Linda Gumeny, RLA and Associate Landscape Architect, Carl Carlson attended and share their top take-aways.

NYC  Coastal Resiliency

The New York City metropolitan waterfront, with resiliency and development as two of the major themes for this year’s Waterfront Alliance conference.

Key themes throughout the day:

      • Integrating ecology with waterfront design.
      • Enhancing and creating transportation networks.
      • Importance of strong community engagement.
      • Resilience and green vs. gray infrastructure.

Integrating ecology with waterfront design

This has been a growing trend in the landscape architecture field and the basis of Great Ecology’s approach (ecology + design).

      • Earlier this year, the WA released their Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG) and have several projects in New York as trial runs for the program.
        • WEDG is a rating system (or scorecard) for properties directly on the waterfront and the result of collaboration between multi-disciplinary waterfront experts and government regulators.
        • The certification program allows projects to earn credits in seven categories including: site selection and planning, public access, resiliency, and ecological health.
        • The goal is to create best-practices for public agencies, communities, and developers for waterfront development nationwide.
        • The trial WEDG projects include: the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Sandy Hook Pilots Association Headquarters, Domino Sugar Site, and Sunset Park Materials Recovery Facility.
      • As ecologists and designers it’s interesting and exciting to see (and hear) terms that used to be solely in the realm of ecology becoming mainstream in the design community, from “ecological uplift”, to “ecosystem services”, to “habitat equivalency analysis”.
Eco Park/Pier 35, East River Waterfront, NYC

Great Ecology’s East River Waterfront Eco-park Design project, integrated ecology with design to create ecological uplift through an intertidal habitat slab.

Enhancing and creating transportation networks

The overarching topic of the day, particularly new ferry links for low income and disconnected neighborhoods, a cornerstone of Mayor DeBlasio’s five-borough ferry service initiative.

Strong community engagement

Several presenters emphasized the importance of understanding and acknowledging true experts of a community are those who live within it – they need to be involved in any planning or design process.

      • We often get caught up in the protection aspect of coastal resiliency. But presenters reminded us other components are just as necessary. Specifically, presenters called for large scale capital projects to also include the promotion of economic and social development for neighborhoods affected by rising sea-levels, storm surge, and other events.
      • At a breakout group many community members took part in discussing the importance of creating connections to a long ignored creek in Coney Island. They looked at ways to combine access, ecology, and resiliency in an area hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Resilience and green vs. gray infrastructure

The consensus is engineers need to work with landscape architects and ecologists to develop hybrid green/gray alternatives. Each project location is unique and presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. There is no one size fits all solution for resiliency.

      • Even discussed at one point is the controversial idea that phragmites (an invasive species) may have some benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked (We’ll save that for another blog).

Developing, designing, and implementing resiliency measures requires a collaborative, integrated approach blending all disciplines from engineering, to design to ecology. We need to plan for the future and layer in resiliency planning from sea-level rise to drier climates into all projects to ensure long-term success.

Waterfront Alliance President and CEO, Roland Lewis, sums it up perfectly; “At the waterfront, it’s all about collaboration. We learn from each other and challenge each other—and our collective wisdom results in better, more inclusive decisions for our coastal communities.”

As practioners we need to understand how we can adapt best practices and creative approaches to different waterfronts and coastal environments. Which lessons learned from New York City can be applied to San Diego or San Francisco? How about New Orleans? What can each city teach us for the others?

The upcoming Coastal Symposium in San Diego, CA is focused on understanding and applying lessons learned. Stay tuned for our next take-aways after attending and exhibiting at the conference.

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Great Ecology’s Dr. Jill McGrady to Present at the SERCAL Conference

Associate Ecologist, Dr. Jill McGrady joins the 2015 SERCAL Conference as a presenter in the Urban Restoration session on Wednesday, May 13. Dr. McGrady’s presentation, Innovative Remediation and Habitat Restoration Approaches on Corporate Lands, uses a case study of the Woodbridge Waterfront Park in New Jersey, one of Great Ecology’s signature projects.

Her discussion highlights how corporate landowners can successfully manage complex remediation and restoration projects on contaminated sites using best industry practices that focus on connectivity to the habitat, partnership with the community and stakeholders, and innovative ecological approaches. The presentation will also include a look at Great Ecology’s innovative mitigation design which saved the client millions of dollars in compensatory regulatory charges and returned public connectivity to the Raritan River.

SERCAL 2015, “Restoration for the Next Generation” is the 22nd annual conference of the California Society for Ecological Restoration, which will focus on industry topics such as urban restoration, mitigation banking, wetlands restoration, grasslands, restoration for special-status plant species, and expanding restoration.

Join Great Ecology’s President and Founder, Dr. Mark S. Laska and Dr. Jill McGrady at the 2015 SERCAL Conference this week in San Diego, CA.


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Great Ecology Recognized as one of San Diego’s Healthiest Companies

We are thrilled to announce that Great Ecology is recognized as one of San Diego’s Healthiest Companies by the San Diego Business Journal! Great Ecology placed third in this highly competitive competition. Great Ecology’s Wellness strategy is comprised of health and fitness challenges tailored to the specific interests and geographical constraints of each office including 5k color runs, plank challenges, and guest nutritionist speakers. With strong leadership support from the Executive Team and the creative use of a small business budget, Great Ecology’s Wellness Program provides our staff with the resources, programs, and incentives to empower them to reach new milestones in their own health goals. The firm feels strongly about the health and well-being of employees, and understands that healthy living means going above and beyond just physical exercise.
SDBJ Healthiest Companies beach yoga

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ILACSD’s Creek to Bay Cleanup Collects over 125,000 lbs of Trash!

Devin O’Dea

Volunteers flooded out of every corner of San Diego county last weekend to battle debris built up in the county’s creeks and watersheds. The event was a huge success with 5,700 volunteers spread out across 106 locations, who joined forces to remove over 125,000 lbs of trash!

Invasive Species Removal

In addition to cleaning debris from the county’s parks, creeks, and waterways, volunteers also worked tirelessly to remove insidious invasive species from creek beds. In only three hours an industrial-sized dumpster was filled with non-native plants removed from Chollas Creek, which will help to improve the ecological recovery of the riparian ecosystem.

Some other “invasive” items removed from Chollas Creek in South San Diego County include: a dishwasher, kitchen sink, several mattresses, commode, horseshoe, 30′ fishing net, car seat, toilet seat, shopping carts, and a $5 bill. Other volunteers painted park benches and surfaces to remove graffiti, or helped to stencil storm drains around the neighborhood to promote awareness of ocean pollution.

Creek to Bay Cleanup Chollas Creek San Diego

Great Ecology’s employees, friends, and family members working together to clean the county’s creeks and watersheds.

After attending the event with his daughter, Dr. Mark Laska, Great Ecology’s Founder and President and board member of I Love a Clean San Diego  (ILACSD), comments. “Being a part of this community of volunteers, businesses, youth groups, and non-profits is a compelling reminder of the power of community to affect positive environmental change in our neighborhoods and across the nation.”

I Love A Clean San Diego

ILACSD is San Diego’s longest-running environmental non-profit working for over 60 years to raise awareness for environmental issues facing the region. They work to promote natural resource conservation, pollution prevention, waste reduction, recycling, and community enhancement.

Join us at one of  ILACSD’s upcoming events.


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Climate Change: Improving Restoration to Meet Shifting Plant Communities

Kate Gazzo, M.S.

As an ecologist understanding how changing climates affect restoration can be essential to a project’s success. Questions which arise include; how likely is a restored wetland to remain wet in an increasingly Mediterranean climate, and what is the success of restoring a tidal marsh along a coast that is predicted to be underwater in 100 years? Considering millions of dollars are often spent on restoration projects, the projected biophysical conditions of a project region should be considered to secure the long-term success of a project and protect the financial investment that has been made to restore a site.

Results produced from mapping biophysical shifts within the U.S. show that half of ecosystems will be unable to maintain historical conditions, as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions and will experience changes in soil, temperature, and/or precipitation (Figure 1). In many areas of the U.S., predominantly in the south and much of California, dry areas are predicted to become increasingly arid, while wet areas such as the Pacific Northwest will receive increased precipitation.

Mapping Biophysical Shifts within the U.S.

Figure 1. Map of 500 ecoregions within the U.S. responding to a rapid greenhouse gas emissions scenario (735-1080 ppm CO2) and displaying relative changes in temperature, soil, and precipitation. Colors indicate which factors have the most dominance. Image source: Saxon et al. 2005.

How is climate change affecting vegetation communities?
One of the biggest restoration concerns stemming from climate change is the long-term stability of vegetation communities. While specific effects at any scale (community, population, or species) are hard to predict due to plant adaptations and migration rates, some consistent predictions exist. These include: poleward shifts, upslope elevation shifts, and replacement of native species with invasives which are tied to long term changes in temperature and precipitation patterns (Walther et al. 2002).

Poleward Shifts

Vegetation communities will experience latitudinal or, poleward shifts, as a response to long term changes in temperature and precipitation. Examples of poleward shifts include the appearance of shrubs in prior shrub-free regions of Alaska and predicted northward advancement of eastern tree species by as much as 250 km- a change that would lead to these species no longer having ranges within the U.S. (Iverson and Prasad 1998).

Elevation Shifts

Elevation shifts are another effect resulting largely from changes in temperatures and also precipitation patterns. These shifts are oftentimes upslope and occur as plant communities shift into more suitable temperature ranges. Unfortunately, for vegetation communities distributed along ridges and mountaintops which are nearing their temperature and precipitation thresholds, there is no suitable habitat for these communities to shift to. Vegetation communities that are particularly at risk are alpine/subalpine and conifer forests. Within California, warmer temperatures are predicted to have a significant effect on the percentage of alpine/subalpine (-77%) and conifer (-51%) forests as these communities are pushed out of current habitat ranges (Figure 2).

Temperature modeling of CA's vegetation communities

Figure 2. Temperature modeling of California’s vegetation communities under historical conditions (left) coupled with a 4°C temperature increase (right) (GFDL-A2). Note the significant decline in alpine/subalpine and conifer forests.         Image source: Lenihan, et al. 2008

Increases in Invasive Species

In addition to changes in plant community distributions, plant community compositions will also change. As the ideal habitat range for native species shifts, we will likely see competitively dominant invasive species replace native species. For example, in Arizona, prolonged drought over the past twenty years has already been attributed to widespread pinyon pine mortality and invasion by juniper (a native species dominant in lower elevations) (Mueller et al. 2005).

Integrating Climate Change into Planning and Restoration

Pinon piness killed by beetles

Pinyon pine mortality and invasion of juniper in the southwest.          Image source: National Park Service 2015.

Because the success of restoration projects largely depends on the survivorship of plant communities, climate change planning is being increasingly incorporated into planning and design of projects. Effective planning requires additional consideration of the future biophysical conditions, not just historical and current conditions when forming restoration goals. Future climate scenarios are derived from mathematical representations of the interactions between the earth, ocean, and the atmosphere which calculate changes in precipitation, sea level rise, temperature, and other variables over time.

overview [Converted]

A graphic representation of Great Ecology’s coastal resiliency modeling for the township of Stony Point, New York.

The Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI) is one example of a model which maps coastal areas most at risk to Sea Level Rise (SLR). This particular model was used by Great Ecology to assess SLR impacts at three locations within the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary. Results from modeling were then used to form recommendations to build resiliency at each location.

In addition to modeling, there are a number of other techniques that restoration managers can implement to ensure the long term success of projects, these include:

      1. Creating a record of the biological, physical and chemical changes within site conditions over time. Trajectories can be formed based upon monitoring data over the course of time to plot how site conditions are changing. Some examples of long term monitoring could include tracking changes in plant community composition, soil chemistry, and salinity intrusion.What biological, physical or chemical condition will shift and by how much is unknown. Adaptive management can be used to address small changes in site conditions, however, it is much more cost-effective to incorporate resiliency and sustainability into plans during design than to re-construct site conditions after site establishment and succession has begun.
      2. Therefore, creating a restoration plan that includes resiliency and sustainability is extremely important, and this can be achieved through design. Some design considerations that allow for resiliency and sustainability include:
Whale View Point Beach vegetation

Vegetation communities along the coastline may be especially vulnerable due to sea-level rise and storm surges. The Whale View Point Restoration Design project, San Diego, CA.

      • Incorporating variability into grading plans for sites located in close proximity to rivers and oceans. This may include modifying the grade or adding macrotopographic features such as, riprap to counter sea level rise or waddles to address fluctuations in stream flows.
      • Modifying the planting palette to include native plants that were historically abundant as well as some species that may be less abundant but better suited to future conditions such as, drought or salinity-tolerant plants dependent upon the site.
      • Modifying the distribution and placement of plants in response to decreased fresh water flows or increasing salinity intrusion. For example, willows planted too close to the salinity gradient of a brackish water tributary may become displaced within a few seasons by more salt-tolerant shrubs such as coyote-brush and gumplant.
      • Increasing the microtopographic complexity to incorporate various elevations of a site and create multiple small scale habitats. This gives plants the ability to make small scale upslope or downslope shifts if needed over time.
      • Creating north-south corridors during large scale restoration projects to allow plants to shift in latitude dependent upon conditions.

While we may not be able to predict human actions such as how much or how little carbon emissions will change in the forthcoming years, we can assume that climate conditions will change. And as restoration practitioners we can continue to incorporate variability into plans to create more resilient and sustainable habitats.

About the Author

Kate Gazzo Ecologist

Kate Gazzo is an Ecologist based in Great Ecology’s Sacramento office. She specializes in water quality issues and watershed management with experience in invasive species management, wetland delineations, and biological surveys. She recently conducted water quality monitoring associated with agricultural contaminants in California’s central valley.


Lenihan, James M., et al. “Response of vegetation distribution, ecosystem productivity, and fire to climate change scenarios for California.” Climatic Change 87.1 (2008): 215-230.

Louis R. Iverson and Anantha M. Prasad 1998. Predicting abundance of 80 tree species following climate change in the eastern United States” Ecological Monographs 68:465–485.

Lavendel, Brian. “Ecological restoration in the face of global climate change: obstacles and initiatives.” Ecological Restoration 21.3 (2003): 199.

Mueller, Rebecca C., et al. “Differential tree mortality in response to severe drought: evidence for long‐term vegetation shifts.” Journal of Ecology 93.6 (2005): 1085-1093.

National Park Service. “Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands-Climate change and Literature Cited”. Accessed March 26, 2015 from http://www.nps.gov/articles/pinyon-juniper-woodlands-climate-change-and-literature-cited.htm

Saxon, E., B. Baker, W. Hargrove, F. Hoffman, and C. Zganjar. 2005. “Mapping environments at risk under different climate change scenarios”. Ecology Letters 8:53–60.

Veloz, S. D., N. Nur, L. Salas, D. Jongsomjit, J. Wood, D. Stralberg, and G. Ballard. 2013. “Modeling climate change impacts on tidal marsh birds: Restoration and conservation planning in the face of uncertainty”. Ecosphere 4(4):49.

Walther, Gian-Reto, et al. “Ecological responses to recent climate change”. Nature 416.6879 (2002): 389-395.

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San Diego Mobilizes for 13th Annual Creek to Bay Cleanup

San Diego citizens, communities, and corporations will come together this Saturday, April 25th at 106 different locations around San Diego County to address the dilemma of marine debris at the source – the creeks, rivers, and watersheds that flow to the ocean. The 13th annual Creek to Bay Clean Up, is organized by the I Love a Clean San Diego organization, a local non-profit dedicated to the conservation and preservation of natural resources through activism and community education.

Come join Great Ecology staff and friends this weekend as we try to beat last year’s record of 100 tons of trash collected! With over 100 different locations you won’t have to travel far to participate in this community event.
Find a location near me

CBS News 8 – San Diego, CA News Station – KFMB Channel 8

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The Greener Garden – Can you dig it?

Joseph Cherichello, PLA

It is springtime in New Jersey, the Garden State, and there are nearly fifty seedlings growing in pots on our kitchen table. Soon we will gradually introduce them to the outdoors to harden off, and give us full access to our table again.

seedlings for spring planting

Every year we sow about 90 different plants from seed (on the kitchen table) until they are ready to be transplanted outside.

We have been growing a vegetable (technically, mostly fruit I suppose) garden every year for the past seven years. At first we had a modest 10×10 area with a temporary fence, and as many plants as we could reasonably fit: mainly tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. Then, as we began expanding our garden, I started looking for ways to improve it. I would think back to the days when my grandfather had his garden, and try to remember how he did things. I remember he grew tomatoes, hot peppers, lettuce and cucuzza; an Italian squash the size of baseball bats, but what were his methods? At the time he was around, I honestly wasn’t really that interested in how he did things. I just knew, that was his garden, and if you weren’t in there helping, it was time for you to leave. Thinking back, I can understand why he didn’t want anyone messing around in his garden, and I now appreciate how successful and tidy it was. The one thing I do remember about his process was that he used pigeon manure from his neighbor’s pigeon coop as fertilizer. Any grandkid that heard this was sure to be grossed out.

A Permaculture-type Method

So, without my grandfather’s advice on hand to guide me (or a stash of pigeon poop nearby) I needed to research and learn by doing. Being a Landscape Architect, and having a great interest in ecological design, I began sketching designs for my garden structure and plant layout, and planning how I can be environmentally conscious about it. To me this meant no herbicides, no pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, sowing seeds from a local source, and reducing water usage.

Garden Design and layout

A key element to a successful garden is thoughtful planning. But, not matter how well you design your garden you are still going to want to expand it!

My first goal was to find a source for compost. I didn’t have time to make my own (which we eventually started doing) because I needed a lot. I found a source for quality mushroom compost the next town over, which I learned, is not easy to come by. I ended up building a 13×24’ fenced in garden area with trellises for climbers, and a sitting area to relax in the anticipated shade of grape leaves. I removed the top six inches of the sandy ‘native soil’ (a mix of native soil, construction sand and debris) to reduce the seed bank of weed species. I laid four layers of newspaper down (in an attempt to prevent other plants from popping up), and covered it with 6” of compost. I refrain from tilling or turning over the soil to keep the soil structure intact. This process was my attempt at eliminating the use of herbicides. Inevitably, weeds find their way growing where you don’t want them (the definition of a weed), but this process seemed to reduce the amount, and the ones that I did have were easily pulled by hand.

Another advantage to using the mushroom compost (I lay two to three inches down each year) is it is a natural fertilizer. This eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, which can leach past the roots, becoming unavailable to the plants and possibly contaminating the groundwater. The plants seem to be happy with it.

Minimizing Water Usage

After setting up the soil layer, I installed a drip irrigation system. It attaches to a typical spigot and in combination with a timer, gives many options for regulating the amount of water used each day. The lines of ¼ inch hoses have emitters every 6 or 12 inches, which are laid along the rows of plants and disperse a specified gallons per hour (typically 0.5). Usually after the plants are established, watering for 45 minutes every other day seems sufficient in my region. Emitters up to 2.0 gallons per hour can be attached to the ends of lines for blueberries, grapes, or plants that require more water.

Irrigation System

An in-line drip Irrigation system.

This not only reduces wasteful watering by concentrating the application to the root zone, but it also reduces mold and fungus on susceptible plants like tomatoes and zucchini, since the drip does not splash up spores from the soil to land the lower leaves. The only time the irrigation system would need attention is to shut if off when it rains (and to turn it back on of course). There are timers with rain sensors that will turn the water on and off depending on the weather, but they are quite expensive.

Ecological Design

As I mentioned earlier, much thought goes into the layout of the plants. Not only do you need to think about how big each plant will get, you also need to think about how you will be able to access them to say, string up your tomatoes or comfortably harvest the crop. Spacing is very important. I have spent the past 10+ years as a Landscape Architect determining the proper spacing of various plant material, but it takes great strength to refrain from overcrowding my vegetable garden. I always want more!  (Solution: I am taking down a section of fence and adding another 80 square-feet.)

Garden design and spacing

A birds eye view of our garden.

To complicate matters a bit further, some crops should be rotated each year. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes are members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), and should not be planted in the same location as the previous year (this includes other plants in the nightshade family as well). This helps prevent the build-up of microbes in the soil harmful to those specific plants.

Eliminating the Use of Pesticides

Eliminating the Use of Pesticides in your Garden

Passing on the tradition to the next generation.

To eliminate the use of pesticides, we incorporate companion plants and use cultivars that are less susceptible to disease. (Cultivars are a hybrid of cross-pollinated similar species. Very different from GMOs (genetically modified organisms), but that is a blog for another time).Having species that are less susceptible to disease can reduce the number of pests, since pests typically will be attracted to and attack stressed plants. But, for the pests that will likely come to feast on any plant, planning for and planting companion plants can help. For example, bush beans will not only fix nitrogen (take nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form in the soil available for plant use), but if planted among eggplant, can also protect eggplant from the Colorado potato beetle. Similarly, planting garlic under a peach tree can repel peach tree borers. Or, planting marigolds in and around the garden discourages many harmful insects and nematodes. One can see how this can take a lot of planning, but really, you have all winter to do it.

Attracting Pollinators

Finally, to attract pollinators, we surrounded our garden with perennials native to the region;

Plants that attract pollinators

Native wildflowers to help attract pollinators.

Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Liatris spicata (dense blazing star), Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan), Solidago sempervirens (seaside goldenrod), Eupatorium coelestinum (blue mistflower), and Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot) to name a few. This not only attracts pollinators and enhances the aesthetics of the garden, but it also ties the garden space into the rest of the landscape.

New for us this season, we will be making compost tea. This is a process where compost is placed in a burlap sack, and soaked in water in the sun for a couple of days (same way you would make sun-tea I’d imagine, but less refreshing). Then we’ll use that tea to fertilize the plants. This is supposedly another great alternative to chemical fertilizers. Seems like it will be, but again, this garden is and has been a learn-by-doing process. So, we will see.

Reaping the Rewards

Reaping the Rewards of your garden

Enjoying the fruits of our labor.

There is great satisfaction in having a successful garden; producing enough food to last for months, canning tomatoes to make gravy (yes, gravy), sharing our crop with family and neighbors, and knowing that it is done in an environmentally conscious way. However, the most rewarding aspect of all this is that is a family garden. Together we sow seeds, plant plants, and harvest our crop (my son is worse than the birds, eating every blueberry or strawberry he can pick). Though my grandfather has never seen my garden, and knowing how much he was a family man, I can be sure that he would be proud.

About the Author
Joe CherichelloJoseph Cherichello is a Certified Professional Landscape Architect with over ten years of experience in land development, emphasizing ecological design, urban forestry and stormwater management. He currently provides construction oversight and public access design for a 185-acre brownfield redevelopment and wetland restoration project.

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Urban Ecological Restoration – Challenges & Opportunities

Great Ecology is excited to announce that Senior Ecologist, Dr. David J. Yozzo, will be chairing a session on Ecological Restoration this Sunday, April 19th, at the Northeast Natural History Conference.

In addition, Dr. Yozzo will be presenting, “Ecological Restoration in New York City: Challenges, Opportunities, and Experimentation.” He will address some of the unique challenges facing densely populated and industrialized urban settings, such as the New York City metropolitan area, and how ecologists, environmental engineers, and restoration practitioners can respond to create innovative, resilient ecosystems.

The Northeast Natural History Conference, now in its 15th year, is an interdisciplinary forum for individuals to present the current best practices and latest research on applied field biology (freshwater, marine, and terrestrial) and natural history for the Northeastern United States and adjacent Canada.

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Changing Face of Nature-Based Recreation

Charles Howe

Kamakou-boardwalk Changing Face of Nature

The Kamakou Preserve boardwalk, Molokai, Hawaii.

In 2005, when Richard Louv published his influential book Last Child in the Woods, there was no statistical evidence to show that society was spending less time in nature. Anecdotally, however, Americans could see that their growing appetite for television meant less time out of doors, and as a result, Last Child in the Woods galvanized support to promote outdoor play and to ‘get children back in the woods’.

Last Child in the Woods explained that outdoor play was crucial for child development and there is a substantial body of research describing the cognitive benefits of nature-based play. As one study, “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings” explains, nature is rejuvenating for the mind.

“Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, television, etc.) that hijack attention. By contrast, natural environments are associated with a gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish. In fact, early studies have found that interacting with nature (e.g., a wilderness hike) led to improvements in proof reading, control of Necker Cube pattern reversals, and performance on the backwards digit span task.”

The proof that Americans were in fact spending less time in nature came two years later in an article titled “Evidence for a Fundamental and Pervasive Shift Away from Nature-Based Recreation,” which analyzed large data sets like National Park attendance. The article described how the number of visitors to U.S. National Parks had grown for decades, and then in the late 80’s the trend reversed, and attendance began to decline.

Boardwalk Mount Read

A boardwalk trail system through Mount Read, Tazmania.

U.S. National Parks were not the only indicators to show this phenomenon. Fourteen other data sets considered proxies for our time spent in nature, ranging from Hunting and Fishing Licenses to through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, all showed a correlated decline. These 14 data sets lost on average 18% to 25% of participants per capita between 1989 and 2007.

Louv and others identified a problem ̶ we are spending less time in nature, something crucial to child development and perhaps society as a whole. To fix this problem, however, we need to understand how our relationship with nature is changing. How our society’s cultural makeup, level of technology, population density, and time availability has changed our preferences for outdoor activities. Luckily surveys conducted by the U.S. Forest Service begin to tell this story.

According to the Forest Service’s periodic recreation surveys, the number of total participants in traditional activities such as hunting and fishing has levelled off over the last three decades (a per capita decline). In their place photographing birds emerged as the fastest growing nature-based activity, growing 287% from 1982 to 2007. There are now more birders than hunters and anglers combined. Day hiking (210%), backpacking (161%), off-road motoring (142%), walking outdoors (111%) and canoeing/kayaking (106%) have also shown growth.Looking forward, the Forest Service predicts that developed skiing, visiting interpretive sites, day hiking, birding and equestrian activities will show the most dramatic growth by 2030. Conversely, the five activities expected to grow the least are hunting, motorized snow activities, off-road motoring, floating and fishing.


Kirstenbosch Centenary tree canopy walkway, Cape Town, South Africa.

One very important trend is our growing desire to learn about nature, evident in the fastest growing sector, the so-called “Nature Appreciation Activities” (e.g. visiting interpretive sites and photographing wildlife). Our time spent in wild areas is not simply to get away from the hubbub of modern life, though many people still identify this as an important aspect of their time in nature, a growing portion of society also enjoys learning about these environments. While any growth in nature-based recreation is beneficial, the desire to learn about these ecosystems bodes especially well for our role as stewards of the environment.

An inherent challenge in promoting Nature Appreciation Activities is that the most interesting and pristine ecosystems are also easily degraded, a dilemma of eco-tourism. The impacts from nature-based recreation are a function of the frequency of use, the type and behavior of use, season of use, environmental conditions, and the spatial distribution of use. And compared to traditional nature-based recreation, such as hunting and fishing, Nature Appreciation Activities often gather participants in relatively high densities. Where trampling is intense it reduces plant height, plant cover, and species richness and shifts the species composition of the community. While these disturbances rarely impact the function of the ecosystem as a whole, they can drastically change the experience, especially for visitors interested in rare plant communities or the insects, birds, and mammals associated with them.

Daimonzaka Kumano Kodo Walk

The Kumano Kodo Walk, south of Osaka, Japan (constructed 11th century)

One way that we can encourage the long-term growth of Nature Appreciation Activities is by constructing trails that provide access to a variety of natural environments while protecting plants and soil from unintended disturbance. Fortunately, human kind has a long history of trail building to draw from, and with new materials, construction techniques, and ecological knowledge we are well positioned to support low-impact, meaningful interactions with nature – with trails that tiptoe through lush vegetation or sensitive plant communities; provide glimpses of rare habitats without bisecting them; and even change our vantage point, lifting us off the ground into the forest canopy. Creating this Nature Appreciation infrastructure allows visitors to access a variety of ecosystems and biodiversity. This is one way that we can help counter the decline in nature-based recreation and environmental degradation, so that in the coming decades we may continue to enjoy the extensive benefits of time spent in nature.

About the Author
Charles HoweCharles Howe is an environmental scientist and landscape designer specializing in wetland ecology, ecosystem restoration, and site planning. Currently, Charles is supporting the design, permitting, and Environmental Site Assessment of a tidal wetland mitigation and habitat creation project along the East River in New York.


Pergams, RW and Zaradic PA (2007) “Evidence for a Fundamental and Pervasive Shift Away from Nature-Based Recreation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol 105, No 7. www.pnas.org
Atchley, RA, Strayer, DL, and Atchley, P (2012) “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings.” PLoS ONE 7(12): e51474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474
Cordell, HK, Green, GT, and Betz, CJ (2009) “Long-term National Trends in Outdoor Recreation Activity Participation — 1980 to Now.” Internet Research Information Series, USDA Forest Service’s Southern Research Station and its Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Athens, Georgia; the University of Georgia in Athens; and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee, http://warnell.forestry.uga.edu/nrrt/nsre/IrisReports.html.
Cole, DN. “Impacts of Hiking and Camping on Soils and Vegetation: A Review” Accessed March 2015, http://www.leopold.wilderness.net/research/fprojects/docs12/ecotourism.pdf


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