Greener Behrend: Goal 5, Conserve Nature

GOALS:

Protect and Conserve natural areas

At the college, as in any place where human activities are multifaceted, the demands of those multiple uses on the land and its resources are complex and contradictory. Growth and development too often come at the expense of irreplaceable natural resources, aesthetic value, ecological function, and ecosystem integrity. Among efforts to address this goal is a plan to identify and protect a portion of the campus as an ecological conserve.

One of the most important aspects of sustainability is our relationship to the land. Not only is it our only home, but there is also an intimate connection between every living thing and the Earth. There are few studies more fascinating, and at the same time more neglected, than those of the teeming populations that exist in the dark realms of the soil. We know too little of the threads that bind the soil organism to each other and to their world, and to the world above…This soil community, then, consists of a web of interwoven lives, each in some way related to the others—the living creatures depending on the soil, but the soil in turn a vital element of the earth only so long as this community within it flourishes.
                      ~Rachel Carson; Silent Spring

Ancient religions worshipped the Earth as a deity, and had important ritual associated with the changing of the seasons (some of these remain in modern-day religions: Easter and Passover correspond with the beginning of spring and the spring equinox; Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa correspond with the beginning of winter and the winter solstice). Nature can also be a great place of healing; Roger Ulrich has conducted studies in which he has discovered that patients heal faster, have fewer complications, and need less pain medication if they simply have a view of the outdoors.

Nature is also our original teacher and many inventions stemmed from the observations of nature (i.e. Velcro: One day after a nature walk, George de Mestral noticed that both he and his dog were covered with burrs. His interest was piqued and he studied the burr under a microscope. It was then that he discovered the small hooks that allowed the burr to stick to his clothing. This discovery inspired him to invent a fastener with hooks on one side and the other side with loops. Thus Velcro was born). Nature can also provide respite from every day stresses; too much “direct attention” (the type that is needed for taking notes in class and studying) can lead to “direct attention fatigue”. A good cure for direct attention fatigue is finding an environment that is full of fascination, and will allow the direct attention to rest. Nature is full of fascination, and the more that is understood about nature, the more fascination it yields.

Access to nature must be maintained/increased at Behrend, not only for ecological and aesthetic reasons, but also for the health of the community. The natural beauty of the 725-acre campus, including the first so generously donated for development of a presence for Penn State in 1948 by Mrs. Mary Behrend, has been celebrated for years. Through the generosity of other benefactors and out right purchases, Behrend has acquired additional land and now owns 725 acres, which the master plan calls to be developed in an environmentally conscious fashion. This entails not only protecting sensitive ecosystems, but also maintaining the “small college in the forest” atmosphere of Behrend.

It is important for Behrend to ecologically improve its lands in every way possible. One possible way is to form an ecological conserve in which students and the members of the Erie community can learn the principles of ecosystem functioning, sustainability of resource use, and environmental stewardship. There is an opportunity to include in the reserve the mitigation wetlands along the Bayfront Connector (this would be beneficial since some Behrend faculty members have already instituted research programs).This conserve would allow our students to learn the principles of basic and applied ecological research in an outdoor classroom without par in the region. The developed part of campus can also be improved ecologically, and has long benefited from the efforts of Dr. Edwin Masteller and local garden clubs. It is the aim of these determined people to create an arboretum and garden-like ambiance in which open space, natural areas, buildings, and walkways blend into an aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound use of the land.

It is important to look at Behrend’s landholdings as a comprehensive whole; any discussion of environmental stewardship and sustainable development must include the developed and undeveloped sections of land. In addition to protecting sensitive areas, our current practices must be addressed. What is the percentage of native vs. non-native plants on campus? How much land is mowed, and how often? What other practices on campus effect the ecological viability of the campus (i.e. pesticide use)? Based on these issues, our success at protecting the local ecosystem can be measured by: 1) amount of land protected; 2) percentage of native vs. non-native plants; 3) number and nature of unsustainable land maintenance practices.

Steps to take to preserve Behrend’s aesthetic/ecological beauty include:

  • Official recognition of the ecological conserve; development of a plan to provide funds for educational signage to delineate the preserve experimental wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas, and for trail maintenance.
  • Official recognition of the institutional value of environmental stewardship through the establishment of an ad hoc or permanent committee that provides advice to the Chancellor regarding environmentally sensitive issues on campus.
  • Establish a funded program for undergraduate ecological and environmental research on campus. Funding awards should be made on a competitive basis.
  • Establish one or more scholarships for students who plan careers in ecology or environmental studies. This might include simple scholarships or named fellowships.
  • Establish a fund that would support enhancement of the ecological and aesthetic value of the developed parts of campus. Such funds might be designated for arboretum development, student garden projects, community gardens, restoration of lawns to open meadow of native grasses, maintenance of pathways with permeable surfaces, development of environmentally sensitive means of snow and ice removal and reduction of salt use, or environmentally sensitive lighting schemes.
  • Establishment of a new position on campus, possibly funded by an endowment, to be filled by a naturalist or environmental scientist whose primary responsibility would be oversight and environmental stewardship of the ecological conserve, the PennDOT experimental wetlands, and environmental enhancement efforts on the developed part of campus.

Development of the arboretum has four general issues associated with it, these are:

  1. Documentation of plant types and documentation of the care and use of plants;
  2. Development of specialty areas;
  3. Educational issues; and
  4. Staffing of arboretum.

1. Documentation of plant types, care and use of plants:

  • Inventory trees on campus;
  • Update the map of trees on campus;
  • Consider relocating unique species to strategic locations;
  • Develop a prioritized list of tree species to be added to campus;
  • Use prioritized list to make recommendations for tree species to be donated;
  • Gather information on care of non-native plants;
  • Develop standards for tree plaques;
  • Include college development office in donation process and in raising funds for plaques and arboretum;
  • Explore the history of planting, trees, and gardens on the land that is now the campus;
  • Create and keep a record book of donations and new initiatives.

2. Development of specialty areas:

  • Meadow/successional forest;
  • Consider creation of a community garden/CSA;
  • Renew I-90 wildflowers project;
  • Consider creating a butterfly garden.

3. Educational Issues:

  • Development of additional majors/courses that address ecological/sustainability issues;
  • Public programs and exhibits.

4. Staffing:

  • There is a need for staffing (to develop and present programs, etc).

 

There are many ways to reduce the dependence on chemicals, these include:

  • Vary plantings. Monocultures promote infestations; therefore, plantings should have variety;
  • Attract native beneficial insects and natural predators (including birds and small mammals) to
    control unwanted insects;
  • Use non-chemical traps;
  • Use better mowing techniques;
  • Do more extensive mulching and hand weeding;
  • Re-evaluate necessity of removing “weeds”.

Maintenance of all of the paved surfaces on campus can also damage the environment. The salts and other de-icing products can harm plants, and rust out automobiles. The damage that the snow, left alone, can do is unquestionable, but alternative ways of dealing with it must be found. It is possible to utilize geothermal energy to heat up sidewalk, and thereby melt the snow on them. The problems associated with storm-water run-off and parking lots has already been covered, but it is necessary to reiterate here that with sensitive plantings, storm-water can be treated before it reaches the creeks/groundwater.