UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve gets its prescribed burn

Every few years, the UW-W Grounds Crew engages in a prescribed burn of the prairie areas of the Nature Preserve.  This initially seems counterproductive for plants and trees to be burned, but this process invigorates the native plant species.  For thousands of years, prairie environments have experienced fire as a way of clearing old debris and rejuvenating the soil.  Typically, these fires were set by natural causes (like lightning) or indigenous people trying to get game animals to come out of hiding.  Since European settlement of Wisconsin, fires are generally seen as a destructive enemy to structures and other human property, so fire suppression has eliminated this key restorative feature from the landscape.

There are a few concerns when prairies no longer see regular burns.  The dead plant material can build up year to year and it makes it more difficult for seeds to germinate and establish new plants.  When the reproductive capacity of these plants is limited, there is an increased likelihood of invasive species and other weeds to establish in these open areas and begin to take over the prairie landscape.

Our prairie is still relatively young, with initial efforts for re-establishment beginning in the late 1990s.  Before that, it was used for agriculture and later became overrun with woody invasives.  Those species were removed and successful seeding efforts have crowded out most of these problem plants, but a few still remain.  For example, there has been efforts to eradicate reed canary grass from the low-lying areas of the prairie for many decades with little success, primarily due to their ability to spread by rhizome (underground) as well as by seed.

However, the more noticeable and pervasive invaders are white sweet-clover and yellow sweet-clover.  These plants are probably familiar to most people as they are commonly found in roadside environments and other unmanaged areas along agricultural fields.  These plants are biennial, which means they only live two years, but they produce a huge number of seeds that can be viable for decades in the soil system.  They are also somewhat resistant to fire, but most of them can be culled through prescribed burns.  Due to the prevalence of this plant, we plan to burn the prairie three years in a row in totality to attempt to eradicate this problem plant.  This does put more stress on the prairie plants to survive, but they are more likely to make it compared to the sweet clovers, which have shallower roots.

It might look pretty desolate now, but prairies respond very favorably to prescribed burns.  Keep an eye on our prairie during the spring and summer and you shouldn’t be disappointed with an incredible display of plants with hopefully much less sweet clover!  Here are a few photos of the burn from last week.

Walton Oaks Park Restoration Begins

When I mention the name “Walton Oaks Park” around Whitewater, I rarely get any nods of recognition.  When I explain it is a park managed by the City of Whitewater and even describe its location, I get even more confused or bewildered looks.  This park is literally on the edge of the map and is buried in a new subdivision that is still far from its full scope of completion.  As it stands, it is on a short, dead-end road with only one immediate next door neighbor, although the park runs along the back edge of several private landowners, including the donor of the land herself.  In fact, it’s not even listed on the City’s Parks and Recreation page!

On the map below, you can find the typical residential lot with the large sentinel burr oak tree dominating the view, but the path leads back to a memorial bench for the Walton Family and a single path encircles the bulk of the park, which is populated with a  wonderful variety of mostly burr oaks, from saplings to several individuals estimated to be over 200 years old.

waltonoaks

The Sustainability Office was approached to assist with the restoration effort by the Urban Forestry Committee (UFC), an advisory committee that reports to the City of Whitewater Parks and Recreation Board.  The UFC has been focused on identifying unique trees around Whitewater by accepting nominations for Notable Trees.  The existence of pre-settlement trees in the city limits are becoming more and more rare, so this park is special because it has a high concentration of these individuals.

However, the real importance of this park is in its potential classification as an oak woodland or oak opening/savanna, the two dominant ecosystems prior to European settlement.  These ecosystems are extraordinarily rare, primarily due to agricultural and residential development,  so the importance of this park is highlighted as a beneficial ecosystem for local birds and other wildlife.  The opportunity to restore this increasingly rare ecosystem was too good to pass up, but the work is labor-intensive and the UFC needed help.  Our office works to connect students to this project through internships and community service hours.  Our first intern on this project, Elizabeth, is an Environmental Science major interested in ecological restoration and our first volunteer event occurred March 5, 2017.

Elizabeth working hard to clear brush!
Elizabeth working hard to clear brush!

These trees are primarily under threat from some very common and notorious invasive species.  Common or European Buckthorn is well-known in prairie, savanna, and woodland restoration efforts.  Combined with its less common but equally problematic cousin Glossy Buckthorn, a variety of Honeysuckle, and White Mulberry, these small trees can overrun native species and degrade ecosystems very quickly.  As recently as 10 years ago, the Walton Family mowed beneath these trees to maintain more of a savanna landscape, but our ecosystems and native plants are adapted to fire to survive and thrive.  Fire also eliminates many invaders we now see as commonplace in disturbed ecosystems.  Once the active management ceased, buckthorn thrived.

Buckthorn causes problems in a few significant ways.  First, they tend to densely populate areas and reproduce very easily by seed, which are inadvertently dispersed by birds.  The seeds are eaten, but contain a chemical diuretic that causes the birds to pass the seeds quickly and relatively unscathed to new areas.  Additionally, when buckthorn is cut it does not die, but often will aggressively re-sprout, which requires a strong herbicide to control and completely kill.  The dense buckthorn stands tend to leaf out before most native plants in spring, which eventually crowd out native forbs and shrubs.  Additionally, scientists suspect that the leaves contain a chemical that disrupts the germination of native plant seeds, including the burr oak.  The oaks will generally compete against buckthorn because they grow to be larger, but the dense stands prevent sapling oaks to reproduce and establish, eventually changing the entire ecosystem.

A thick stand of small buckthorn trees.
A thick stand of small buckthorn trees.

Our first battle in this war against these invaders was on March 5, 2017.  With a relatively small group of hard-working volunteers from the Urban Forestry Committee and SAGE, we were able to make some significant headway against the target species, as the picture below indicates.  However, there is much more work to do in this area.  Much of the buckthorn is small and can be handled quickly with a small chainsaw or hand-cut with loppers, but each individual stump must be treated to prevent re-sprout.  This is labor-intensive work and we need your help!

The results of a hard afternoon's work!
The results of a hard afternoon’s work!

Until next time, please enjoy a few images of our first foray into this restoration project.  We hope to conduct similar work in our very own UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve, where the very same species threaten our own Friar’s Woods in a significant area near Perkins Stadium.

The crew hard at work!
The crew hard at work!
John and AP from SAGE were rockstars!
John and AP from SAGE were rockstars!
I was still enjoying myself hauling many loads of buckthorn brush!
I was still enjoying myself hauling many loads of buckthorn brush!
Nick prepares his weapon for battle as Sherry and Elizabeth engage in some hand-to-branch combat.
Nick prepares his weapon for battle as Sherry and Elizabeth engage in some hand-to-branch combat.

 

LEAP Project: Sustainability and Academics

Hello sustainability supporters,

During Spring 2017, members of the Sustainability Office, SAGE, and faculty from the Environmental Science program joined forces to participate in a LEAP Team focused on integrating sustainability into academics. This effort will hopefully help us highlight the important work done by faculty that highlight sustainability topics in curriculum and research while exploring new opportunities for partnerships and engagement in our co-curricular (out of class) programs.

LEAP, Liberal Education & America’s Promise, is a national higher education initiative established by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Wisconsin was the first state to adopt the LEAP initiative, with campuses in the UW-System working together to define shared learning goals for all undergraduate students that mirror LEAP’s Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs). LEAP embraces the value of a broad-based liberal education and stresses the importance in preparing students with a variety of well-developed skills that will make today’s students stronger candidates for 21st-century careers and citizenship.

LEAP emphasizes a number of important educational outcomes that closely relate to sustainability, as evident when one reads the ELOs linked to above.  Additionally, the Sustainability Office engages or participates in a number of High Impact Practices (HIPs) that provide immersive and meaningful experiences for students to learn about sustainability topics.

For example, we have a robust student employment program that has grown exponentially since our first official paid internship was added in 2015.  Just two years later, we have five students regularly employed with the Sustainability Office in a variety of functions, from managing our marketing efforts to planning and maintaining the Campus Garden.  We also have unpaid internships working with us on specialized projects and participate in the Community Health Internship Program (CHIP) out of UW-Madison that brings a focus on nutritional outreach to our Campus Garden efforts.  We also collaborate closely with students fulfilling other sustainability positions on campus to ensure we have unified efforts.

Since 2008, the Sustainability Office have engaged in various student projects at all levels of academic achievement, from participation in core or introductory classes to advising on capstone projects.  We engage in Service/Community-Based Learning through partnerships with various faculty and have connected with students working on both individual and collaborative/group projects.  We work with First Year Experience and have connected with New Student Seminar and Learning Communities to get students directly involved in campus sustainability issues over the years.

However, all of these accomplishments lack consistency and sometimes can lose focus as partnerships are not fully managed in the long-run.  To help combat this, our LEAP team is focused on providing better infrastructure to support the connection between the Sustainability Office and academic efforts related to sustainability.

Our short-term goals include creating a better communication strategy for managing academic contact lists and maintaining a contact log, establishing transition materials for the Sustainability Fellow faculty position to be seamlessly passed from one faculty member to the next, and developing example coursework and projects that use LEAP as a common language to better understand how sustainability can be integrated into a wide variety of academic disciplines.

Our long-term goals include rebooting some elements of our sustainability program that have gone neglected, including the Savanna Project faculty training workshop and the Sustainability Council committee that focused on a variety of campus sustainability issues.  We hope that continuing to deepen our relationships with better managing ongoing partnerships and exploring new opportunities will broaden the reach and influence of the Sustainability Office and allow faculty to better utilize sustainability as a topic with practical real-world applications in a world where managing scarce resources is an increasingly important focus for many industries.

If you are a faculty member interested in collaboration or a student looking to get more involved in our campus sustainability efforts, please contact our office through our homepage.

A 2700 Mile Bike Trip for Climate Justice

During the Summer of 2016, Karl Brandstaetter, one of our Sustainability Assistants, embarked on a 41 day, 2700 mile epic journey with two friends.  Since many we’ve talked to can barely fathom the idea of such an adventure, we sat down with Karl to ask him a few questions about his experiences.

climate_riders
Karl, on the left, with Kevin and Konrad before leaving on their trip.

Sustainability Office:  What was the mission or goal of the trip and how did it came about?

Karl Brandstaetter:  The original idea was to raise awareness about some issue, we weren’t sure how to approach this idea at first.  Eventually the thought of taking a big trip like this might help us gain attention and raise awareness over this issue.  After discussing a few different issues, climate change was the topic all of us cared about and was important enough to us to dedicate this trip to.  41 days.

SO:  What was your least enjoyable or most difficult part of the trip?

KB:  Biking through Nevada with a limited supply of water and even less opportunities to refill was the hardest part of the trip.  We had to bike through the night to avoid the heat and ended up traveled 170 miles in 24 hours to get to the next city.   As for least enjoyable, when we were in Yosemite a bus ran me off the side of the road.  The bus was riding along the white line and there was no shoulder, so I had to go off onto the gravel area and hold on for dear life to avoid crashing.  Miraculously, I managed not to crash.

SO:  What was your most enjoyable or most fulfilling part of the trip?

KB:  The climb up into Yosemite National Park on the Tioga Pass.  The climb was a total of 3,000 feet over 12 miles for a final elevation of 9,943 feet.  The climb was difficult, so it was really cool to accomplish it, but it was even better knowing we’d have a downhill ride through the rest of the park so reaching the top made it exciting.  Yosemite is just a beautiful park.  Another highlight on this trip was the opportunity to lie under the giant sequoias and take in their size was a great experience.  Everyone should take an opportunity to see the size of these trees with their own eyes because pictures don’t do it justice.

SO:  What city or other location did you enjoy stopping at the most?

KB:  Curt Gowdy State Park in Wyoming was not a planned stop, but we stumbled across it and met two different people that fed us and gave us drinks.  One of the guys had previously done a bike trip like this and saw us on the side of the road, so he stopped to meet us.  He was really excited to meet people doing a bike trip a little more on the fly since he put more time into planning it and respected we were going more with the flow.

route
The planned route completed in 41 days.

SO:  What essential items did you bring with you?  Was there anything you regret not bringing with you?

KB:  Everything I brought with me I used at some point.  Sometimes I wished we had a soccer ball to play with, but that wouldn’t have really worked to bring with!  Konrad’s bike towed a trailer since his bike didn’t allow for a different kind of rack.  We had a tent and some cooking equipment we carried as communal items, but mostly we carried our own items, such as water.  Deciding on the amount of water to carry with us was a fine balance.  I would try to carry just enough water to get us to our next stop, but not too much to slow us down or make us less efficient.

SO:  Any especially meaningful conversations or moments?

KB:  When we were going up Tioga Pass, a guy literally ran after us to catch us to offer some food and water.  Several people we ran into and talked to ended up offering picking up our food tab, other kinds of help, and words of encouragement for us.  People in pretty much every state we crossed were willing to lend a hand along the way and were really gracious about helping us out, and we were always willing to accept offers of food!

A great example of this care and consideration occurred on the first day.  After a minor bike crash, the first house we went to cooked us a meal and a place to set up camp.  Having this experience on the first day really set the tone for the rest of the gracious experiences we had.

I also met a guy in Iowa named Zimm who stopped us and told me that he had a hard time seeing me on the side of the road and offered his reflective vest to me to wear.  I wore that every day the rest of the trip and was really thankful to have that to keep us safe.  The vest ended up being a lifesaver and an item that I didn’t originally expect I’d need to bring with me.

SO:  What you took away from this trip? Do you feel you fulfilled your mission?

KB:  Looking back, I think raising awareness about climate change was harder than we participated and in that aspect, we might not have really fulfilled our mission.  We didn’t always come into contact with people besides those at necessary stops for food and water.  Even though the bike trip ended, I still plan to work to advocate and raise awareness for climate change.  I think it is important to just keep trying to make a difference and continue this fight every day.

Another takeaway is that there are a lot of really good people out there willing to help each other out.  I think we tend to forget that and focus on being too individualistic, but this was a good reminder to put in a little effort to really try to help people out and help other species and the planet.  I think facing problems we face, like climate change, with an open mind and attitude will help us find ways to work together to solve these problems.

karl_garden
Karl returns to his “home turf” in the Campus Garden!

Re-Activation of the UW-Whitewater Sustainability Blog

Hello visitors!

Our office blog went silent when we temporarily suspended the UW-Whitewater Earth Initiative student-led, peer-to-peer marketing campaign, but the Earth Initiative is back and so is this blog!

This time, we’ll be featuring articles and other information about Sustainability Office activities, events, and projects as we move forward, along with content geared toward our campus community on how they can be more sustainable while here and in their daily lives.  Much of our content is geared toward student life, but many concepts are easy enough to apply no matter what your age or educational pursuits.  We will also look at how larger environmental issues affect the Whitewater area and where campus sustainability efforts are moving across the nation by highlighting some interesting best practices and other efforts seen on other campuses worth trying to emulate.

I have not created much content in the past, but will more regularly contribute toward efforts to provide this new information along side our student team, which includes the Sustainability Assistants working with our office as well as marketing students in Creative Marketing Unlimited (CMU), our partners in the UW-Whitewater Earth Initiative campaign.

Stay tuned for content we will also feature in our end of summer newsletter, which includes updates on efforts related to the Campus Garden, and our plans for the new academic year and upcoming fall events.  We look forward to welcoming you all back on campus!

Thanks for visiting,

Wesley Enterline – Sustainability Coordinator

History of Earth Day

By now, you’ve surely heard of Earth Day, and even Earth Week.  But how did this strange celebration of our planet start?

Over 4 decades ago, in 1969, plans for the first Earth Day started taking form.  It was originally intended to be on March 21st, which is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. The first person to propose an Earth Day was a peace activist named John McConnell.  Later, it would come to be an effort on an international scale, organized by the Earth Day Network.

A month after the first Earth Day US Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed an additional day on April 22nd to celebrate the Earth and nature.  In it’s first year over 12,000 schools, colleges, and other institutions participated in an attempt to bring about environmental reform and to protect our environment for future generations.

The event was participated in by major cities as well, including New York city.  The mayor of New York city shut down parts of the city to celebrate the event, and event reserved all of Central Park for the festivities and demonstrations.  Senator Nelson would be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts in years to come.

By 1990 Earth Day had snowballed into a global event, with people celebrating everywhere from small rural United States towns to the peak of Mt. Everest where a clean-up effort transported 2 tons of trash down the mountain.

Today Earth Day is bigger than ever, being celebrated in at least 192 countries and on all seven continents.

The best part is that YOU can get involved too!  Check out this list of events for fun things you can do next week to get involved!

http://www.uww.edu/sustainability/campus-living-and-engagement/events/earth-week

 

Earth Initiative

Earth Week!? Fun Stuff to Do This Spring!

Obviously, temperatures have started to rise, rain has started to fall, and finally it is here.  Spring, that is.  After sitting inside all winter, you may be wondering, what kind of fun stuff can I do this spring?  A fun suggestion I have is participate in Earth Week!

Earth Week begins on Monday, April 21st, and is an exciting way to have some fun and help your environment all at the same time.  There will be a number of events going on on campus, and there are tons of ways you can get involved or just keep yourself busy!

Monday is going to be a packed day, with all sorts of stuff going on.  PEACE and SAGE will be presenting a double feature of two awesome movies in the Summers Auditorium.  At 1PM they will begin showing Who Killed the Electric Car, which is a documentary about the reasons why electric cars failed in the 1990’s and beginning of the 2000’s.  This will be followed by Revenge of the Electric Car, which is a follow-up documentary made after the rise in popularity of electric vehicles that we have seen since the end of the 2000’s.

Across campus, at 4PM, there will be an alternative fuel vehicle show outside of the Young Auditorium.  You can stop by and check out all kinds of cool, cutting edge new cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.   This event is leading up to Monday night’s main event! At 7PM, the director of Who Killed the Electric Car and Revenge of the Electric Car, Chris Paine, will be giving a special lecture.  It is titled “How Many Light Bulbs Does it Take to Power an Electric Car?” and will surely put in perspective the advantages and advantages of alternative fuel vehicles!

 

Tuesday is officially Earth Day, and you can bet that means even more great things to do!  Not only will there be another film double feature at 1PM in the Summers Auditorium, but starting at 10am outside the UC, you can go and get FREE bike checkups and basic maintenance from BicycleWise, all organized by the UW-Whitewater Cycling Club.  Also starting at 10am is a Birds of Prey feature in the Upham atrium.  You can come watch flight demonstrations and get to see owls, hawks, and other birds of prey right up close!

 

Wednesday might even be the best day of the week yet!  We will be hosting a Recyclable Fashion Show in the Hyland Hall Timmerman Auditorium starting at 4PM.  This may sound girly, but it’s not! It’s for men and women alike!  You don’t have to come and make a dress.  Be creative!  Perhaps you do make a dress, or perhaps you design a suit of armor! We’ve had all sorts of different ideas win in the past, so who knows what the winning outfits might look like this year.

There will also be an ECOFair Wednesday, at 12PM in the Hamilton Ballroom.  This is something brand new to campus, and it has been in the works for several years.  There will be many organizations and companies coming to talk about sustainability, hand out swag, and (most importantly) hand out jobs and internships, all in the field of sustainability!!!

Clearly, there are all kinds of great things to do during Earth Week, so we can’t wait to see you all there and getting involved!

 

Earth Initiative

Earth Week

Sustainability Measures on Campus-

If there is one thing that I think UW-Whitewater has really improved on in the last couple years, it has been the awareness of sustainability on campus. Yes, not everyone knows about it but being sustainable has helped us develop many more resources that we can use on campus. You now are starting to see alternative fuel vehicles, and new buildings that are being developed that rely partially on solar energy, which makes the environment “greener” and which is also what we are trying to do campus wide whether it is in the dorms, cafeterias, or classrooms. There are many activities around campus that you can be involved with and help be a part of, so everyone can be allowed to make a difference!

 

Earth Week-

Earth Week takes place every year and is just a week of events that will include guest speakers, films and activities to allow the student body to get involved and be more aware of how and why we should be more sustainable. There are Facebook and Twitter pages titled, “Sustainability at UW-Whitewater” that students can keep track of if they are interested in any other upcoming events, or maybe just learn a couple of fun facts.  Keep track of these over the coming weeks, because our full Earth Week event schedule will be posted there!  Remember, Earth Week begins on Monday, April 21st!

 

Getting Involved-

A lot of people will tell you that when you first come to college, you should get involved. Well, this is a great opportunity to do just that. So many campus groups are involved with being sustainable and provide a comfortable atmosphere for students to be a part of.

 

 

Plastics in the Environment

Information on Environmental Impact of Plastics

Plastic is used in our lives every day. It’s used for things such as carrying our groceries, building new technology and even when communicating with each other. But do we really know the harmful effects that go into making it and/or what happens to the environment if we keep using it? The awareness of people knowing the effects from plastic I think are not all that great. A lot of companies are doing whatever they can to be sustainable at their workplace so they can bring awareness to consumers on things they can do to be more environmental friendly.

 

 

What is the Problem with Plastic?

One of the main problems with plastic is that it does not biodegrade. Meaning there is not really a process that can routinely break it down and be turned into new plastic or other product. With this happening, there is a lot of plastic particles that can get to as far out as the oceans and poison animals in the ocean that eat food and can cause them to be very sick and can even lead to death.

 

How can you help?

Creating more awareness in your community is a good way to start showing people what exactly can happen if plastic is not recycled. Provide information to businesses that maybe aren’t being as “sustainable” as what they could be and give them insight on what happens with plastic once it goes into the garbage. Also, just as simple as being a great example around your friends when throwing away plastic can be an impact, no matter how big or small it is.

 

Earth Initiative

Recyclemania

 

What is Recyclemania and how did it get started?

Recylcemania is a non-profit organization that is made up by a board of directors and also sustainability managers from Universities all across the country. Recyclemania started in 2001 when a simple challenge between two universities from Miami and Ohio drew a spark. The challenge was simply who could recycle the most during the 10-week period.  Miami was the winning school with approximately 41.2 pounds collected per person, with Ohio having about 32. 6 pounds collected per person.  The year after, more schools were invited and participated in the event and it has been a success ever since. With this success, Recyclemania has accumulated numerous sponsors such as The Coca Cola Company, SCA Tissue, Alcoa Foundation and the American Forest and Paper Association.

 

Why is there a Desire?

There are many colleges out there that do recycling programs that can be very educational and get many students involved. But yet, there are very challenging tasks to get more students and even staff involved in those programs. So Recyclemania’s idea was an instant success when it could bring many universities together and be competitive at the same time not through sports, but through recycling.  With many schools participating, the opportunity to spread awareness about Recyclemania is at an all-time high. The goal for Recylemania is to bring awareness to these college kids just how important recycling at a younger age can be so they can carry out these habits for the rest of their lives.

 

How do I get involved?

All Universities in the United States and Canada are all eligible for the competition. Each school is responsible for their own collection of recyclables and there is no cost to joining the Recyclemania Tournament.

 

For more information, the Recyclemania website is listed below for you to check out!

recyclemaniacs.org

 

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