Meet the Sustainability Fellow!

When it comes to sustainability staff at UW-Whitewater, most people are (hopefully) aware of the full-time Sustainability Coordinator position that has been on campus since 2008.   The Sustainability Office incorporated with student employees added to the team in 2014.  However, many are not aware that as long ago as 2009 there was a faculty Sustainability Fellow that was hired from our existing faculty to coordinate the integration of sustainability into academics, focusing primarily on networking with faculty and providing curriculum training.  This position was created and piloted by Dr. Eric Compas of Geography/Geology/Environmental Science and held most recently by Dr. Josh Mabie of Languages and Literature.  However, the position has not been consistently filled and this led to some inconsistencies in how our sustainability program integrated with academics.

To help address this shortcoming, Provost Susan Elrod decided to reconstitute the Sustainability Fellow position as well as the Sustainability Council, an advisory committee that also had faculty participation but lacked consistent leadership due to the Fellow position being vacant.  Dr. Jonah Ralston of the Political Science Department was selected by a hiring committee to serve as the Sustainability Fellow for a two year term with possibility of renewal for a third year.  Dr. Ralston started his term as Sustainability Fellow in Spring 2018.

We sat down with Dr. Ralston to ask him a few questions about his interest in sustainability topics and what he hopes to accomplish as the Sustainability Fellow during his tenure with the Sustainability Office.

Dr. Jonah Ralston

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and I currently coordinate the university’s Public Policy and Administration program.  I have also had appointments as faculty Sustainability Fellow and Community-based Learning Fellow.  Prior to my current academic position I was employed as a Program Analyst for a non-partisan legislative service agency in Wisconsin and before beginning my doctoral studies at Michigan State University, I had spent three years working as a business analyst with a multinational corporation.  Though these experiences were enriching, I longed for making a more meaningful impact on society.  Eventually this quest for finding greater purpose in my career would lead me to my current employment as a faculty member at UW-Whitewater.

When did you first become interested in sustainability?

My interest in sustainability began during my time as an undergraduate student.  I studied economics, which exposed me to the neoclassical growth model, and I remember being struck by what seemed like a lack of concern for the potential consequences of boundless growth.  In the years since that time I have researched sustainability both personally and professionally with an aim toward understanding how current development models can be made more sustainable.  I have come to view sustainability as an issue that is not only relevant to how we interact with the environment but also to how we treat one another.  Sustainability can be applied to social justice just as easily as it can be applied to environmental protection, and no matter one’s occupation or current lifestyle, sustainability is something we are all capable of striving to achieve.

Why did you want to become the Sustainability Fellow?

I strongly believe in the Wisconsin Idea, namely that our work at the university should improve the lives and environment of the people in our state.  The role our university can play in advancing knowledge on environmental matters cannot be understated.  Research by Jon Miller has demonstrated that the strongest predictor of adult scientific literacy is the number of college science courses that a person has taken.  I think we can extend our university’s impact beyond literacy by incorporating the principles of sustainability into our curriculum, instruction, research, and community outreach.  By focusing on sustainable living we can promote the knowledge that is vital to the long-term health and prosperity of our communities, from the local to the global.

What projects are you currently working on as the Sustainability Fellow?

This semester we reconstituted the Sustainability Council and at this point we have held two meetings.  The Sustainability Fellow serves as co-chair of the Council.  The Council has a broad membership representing a number of different stakeholders on campus and is dedicated to advancing the university’s sustainability initiatives.

A major project I have taken on as Sustainability Fellow is to assist in the opening of a campus food pantry that will improve the sustainability and resiliency of the Warhawk student body.  I have completed a number of tasks in this capacity, such as creating a survey that has been distributed to all current students at UW-Whitewater.  The food pantry will open this semester.

I am assisting the Sustainability Office in completing the university’s next AASHE STARS report, which will be submitted at the end of the semester.  I am working on the academic portion of the report and plan to distribute a survey to all faculty and staff asking them to report on their sustainability efforts related to teaching, research, and service.

What projects do you hope to take on in the future?

I would like to hold a sustainability workshop that would be focused on allowing faculty and academic staff to share their experiences with one another regarding how they have infused sustainability into their curriculum.  For those who have not yet incorporated sustainability into their curriculum, it would be a chance for them to learn about how to do so through guided activities and discussions.

I hope to create a sustainability resource for faculty and staff members, such as a university website where information about how UW-Whitewater faculty and staff have incorporated sustainability into their work would be made available.  I would like this resource to include actual examples from our campus.

What do you hope other faculty and staff members on campus do to become involved in campus sustainability?

It would be wonderful to have more faculty and staff demonstrating their support for sustainability efforts on campus.  That could be by attending a sustainability event or it could be by incorporating sustainability into one’s work.  Sustainability is a big tent and there is a place for anyone who wants to get involved to improve the environmental quality, social equity, and economic vitality of our university community.


Prairie Seed Collection Culminates in November

Sustainability Coordinator Wes Enterline leads a group through the reconstructed prairie.

Each year since 2012, the Sustainability Office has led dozens of volunteers into the UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve to collect a wide variety of native prairie seeds to continue the reconstruction efforts started in earnest by Dr. Richard James and other dedicated community members in the late-1990s.  This original section, established with expertise and seed stock from “Prairie Bob” and countless volunteers, has become the replenishing seed bank we depend on to harvest seeds each year to distribute in other areas of the Nature Preserve that were once used as agricultural land.

Seeding a new section of prairie in 2015.

Our prairie seed collection times will continue regularly through Friday, November 17, 2017.  While our specific times are subject to change and weather, our general schedule is Mon, Wed, and Thu from 1 – 3 PM, Fri from 10 AM – 12 PM,  Sat, 11/4 from 10 AM – 12 PM and Sat, 11/11 from 1:30 – 3:30 PM.  We plan on planting the next section of the prairie (weather permitting) during our final time on Fri, 11/17 from 10 AM – 12 PM.  Volunteers can log community service hours with our staff to meet individual requirements.  Collecting prairie seed is a simple and therapeutic process that can greatly benefit the continued restoration efforts of our campus prairie as well as our partner restoration efforts in the region.

A volunteer picking Indiangrass.

Join our email list to stay in the loop on cancellations and other opportunities to volunteer with the Sustainability Office.

Volunteers line up to cast prairie seed in 2013.

This land is protected under the LAWCON Program (Land and Water Conservation Fund Program), which is a federal program perhaps most notable for this provision of the Act with the greatest impact on long-term protection of recreation resources:  Section 6(f)(3) requires all property acquired or developed with LWCF assistance be maintained perpetually in public outdoor recreation use.   There are 122 acres of land protected on UW-Whitewater’s campus as part of the LAWCON program, which includes the entirety of the UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve (approximately 100 acres) and another 22 acres of recreation areas (tennis courts near Esker, softball field near Wellers, two picnic shelters near Wellers, and the nearby basketball court).

To fully develop this land as an outdoor living learning laboratory, there have been many efforts to work toward restoration of the original ecosystem likely found on our campus prior to European settlement and conversion of the area to agriculture.  We know, based on the topography of this area, that the wetland area was likely always a feature here since the Nature Preserve is straddled by two drumlins, a type of hill formed by the glaciers as they receded.  There is also a 40 acre parcel of deciduous (mostly oak) woodland known as Friar’s Woods that is being managed in its current state and another approximately 15 acres of wooded land that needs buckthorn removed to continue its restoration.  The remaining 55 acres is being restored to a prairie habitat with the option of planting bur oak trees to convert it to an oak savanna, which is likely to be the predominant pre-settlement ecosystem in Whitewater.  An excellent restoration of an oak savanna can be found at Pleasant Valley Conservancy in Black Earth, WI.

Oak Savanna at Pleasant Prairie

We wouldn’t be able to accomplish the progress we have over the last several years without our dedicated volunteers.  Please consider joining the team and contribute to our project.  Otherwise, keep an eye out for opportunities to take tours to learn more about the plants in this unique prairie landscape.

Continuing Education tour participants gather after a nice morning walk through the prairie.
UW-Whitewater Wrestling Team following a leisurely prairie seed collection session.

Campus Sustainability Month focuses on seeds

UW-Whitewater Sustainability Office is proud to schedule events that focus on the importance of seeds for this year’s celebration of Campus Sustainability Month.

According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Campus Sustainability Month (CSM) is an international celebration of sustainability in higher education.  Throughout the month, colleges and universities organize events on campus and elsewhere to engage and inspire incoming students and other campus stakeholders to become sustainability change agents.  The goal of CSM is to raise the visibility of campus sustainability and provide campus sustainability advocates with a platform through which to deepen campus engagement around sustainability.  Campus Sustainability Month grew out of Campus Sustainability Day, which was first organized in October 2003 by the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) and has typically been celebrated on the fourth Wednesday in October.  In 2015, in recognition of the growth of the campus sustainability community since 2003 and with the support of a variety of CSD partner organizations, AASHE expanded on the CSD concept to create Campus Sustainability Month.

For thousands of years seeds were a “recycled” or “free” resource through seed saving activities.  Farmers would set aside a portion of their very best crops and save the seeds to plant the following season.  The diversity and development of food crops was based on selective breeding and choosing the best performing plants to be selected to improve yields.  However, as modern agriculture has developed and the genetic structure of plants and animals have been unlocked through genetic sequencing, the business of seeds has expanded into an multi-billion dollar business.  Seeds became intellectual property and there have been several infamous disputes between seed companies like Monsanto and local farmers still using seed-saving practices.  Meanwhile, the overall diversity of our food crops has been declining as only a few varieties of seeds are used to provide most of our food, which increases our vulnerability to disease or pests.  It was the recognition of the vulnerability of the world’s genebanks that sparked the idea of establishing a global seed vault to serve as a backup storage facility in Svalbard, Norway.

The act of investing some of your best harvests this season to provide seeds for a bountiful harvest next season is one of the original sustainability practices established by the earliest civilizations and preserving this genetic heritage is a critical component to ensure our continued ability to feed the world.  Several of our CSM events are intended to recognize and promote the importance of seeds in our lives and how seed saving demonstrates a fundamental practice of sustainability by promoting the wise use of resources now to ensure that future generations can enjoy a similar quality of life.

Please click on each link to our Facebook event with more information, including registration information for some of these events.

MAPLE SEED DRAGONFLY WORKSHOP – Wed, October 4:  12-2 PM – University Center-Roberta’s Art Gallery

GAME DAY RECYCLING CHALLENGE – Sat, October 7:  Volunteer shift runs 10:30-2:30 – Perkins Stadium

PRAIRIE TOUR: HARVESTING NATIVE PRAIRIE SEEDS – Thu, October 12:  6-7:30 PM – UW-W Nature Preserve’s Hoffman Kiosk along Schwager Road


FILM SHOWING: SEED: The Untold Story – Mon, October 23:  5:30 PM – UC Summers Auditorium


Summer Wrap-Up in the Campus Garden

The centerpiece of the Sustainability Office efforts over summer revolve around the Campus Garden and we were fortunate to enjoy another successful season of gardening and collaborating with our partners.  We continued to donate the majority of our produce to the Whitewater Community Food Pantry and through August we’ve grown and harvested 803 pounds of produce.  The cooler summer weather we’ve enjoyed this year has been great for our staff and volunteers working in the garden, but hot weather-loving plants have not provided the same yields.  While our production has been down compared to 2016 (1,033 pounds), the impact of our program continues to improve through improving signage labeling the produce donations at the Food Pantry.

We also continued our successful donation program with the vendors of the Whitewater City Market.  Although our current total to date of 1,681 pounds is also behind our 2016 pace of 2,592 pounds by the end of August, we have continued to find inspiration in the generosity of these vendors to share with people in need.  Last year, we saw the combined impact of these programs donate 5,871 pounds of produce.  This amount of food has actually created some issues for the food pantry as they struggle during some weeks to get rid of everything!  We lovingly refer to this as a good problem!

Courtney (left) and volunteers Mariann and Laird Scott from the Whitewater Food Pantry.

As usual, we started our season with a Service Learning class.  This year, several first year business students joined us to start nearly every single seed that became seedlings for our garden.  This culminated with more work in the garden itself than we’ve ever achieved and allowed these students the opportunity to plant most of our brassicas and alliums, putting in plants like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, leeks, and onions.  This year we chose a “purple and Mexican” theme, meaning the plants were either used in traditional Mexican cuisine or the leaves and/or fruits had some kind of purple color to them.  A few photos of our brassica planting show the beauty of a well-designed and executed garden plot that use color to bring additional interest.

Kale and lettuce rows.

We were very fortunate to have Lorenzo, a senior majoring in Environmental Science, to manage the garden logistics all summer.  Lorenzo started his summer with a travel study trip to Peru, but upon his return immediately got into the swing of his role of gardener.  The students we have in the garden are encouraged to embrace the project as their own and, after receiving some early season guidance, Lorenzo has successfully maintained this space and was able to troubleshoot various issues.  His leadership to guide our volunteers is also very valuable and the Campus Garden is looking great for the start of the academic year!

Lorenzo (left) and Courtney pose with our weekly haul in early August.

We also enjoyed having two CHIP interns this summer instead of our customary one.  CHIP stands for Community Health Internship Program and the position with the Sustainability Office focuses on Campus Garden outreach and education and encourages a student majoring in a field related to public health to use the garden as a backdrop to teach the public about nutritional benefits of produce.  The goal is not only to increase the positive impact of this project, but also to help promote the garden as an opportunity to volunteer and learn more about gardening topics.

This year, Courtney came from UW-LaCrosse and focused on working with the Whitewater Food Pantry to improve communication and signage.  She also did best practices research on how other food pantries handle produce donations and communication.   Our partner organization Working for Whitewater’s Wellness (W3) also had a CHIP intern this year to work on their priorities, but Cher also joined us on Tuesdays to assist us with the harvest and collection at the City Market.  They also worked together on our outreach activities and to make suggestions to improve the outcomes of W3.  Courtney and Cher also assisted with Lincoln Elementary School’s school garden and we re-established the UW-Whitewater Children’s Center garden and held weekly garden activities with both groups of children.

Courtney (left) and Cher enjoy carrots at the Lincoln Elementary School garden.

Among our more exciting developments at the Campus Garden include the construction of our new shed, which provided a vast improvement in our ability to store necessary tools and materials at the garden and consolidate many of our supplies that we were forced to keep in Upham Greenhouse in the past.  We experimented with more container gardening in five gallon pickle buckets we collected last spring.  We planted two goji berry bushes and enjoyed our first fruit tree harvest from our three peach trees.  We still hope to create another planting bed for exclusive use by the Gardening Club this fall, which will mark our first expansion in cultivated space since we created the main bed in 2014.

The new shed just after completion!

We remind you that our success is dependent on our volunteers.  If you want to learn more about upcoming volunteer opportunities, please sign up for the newsletter list on our home page.


The UWW Children’s Center comes to visit and get some garden lessons from Liesl (blue shirt in middle), the W3 Garden Coordinator and Courtney.


Courtney the Cabbage Patch Kid!

Garden Gains: You’ve Got Kale!

You’re in luck! You’ve got kale! That’s right, it’s the middle of July and the kale harvest is in full swing. Kale is a leafy green that is packed with Iron, Vitamin K, and Vitamin C! To keep things festive and full of Warhawk pride this year at the garden we have planted a few different varieties of kale, some of them produce green leaves, while others are showing a nice purple coloring. Kale is a great summer food for it simple, fast, and easy preparation. Kale also yields a great amount of food, as well as reproducing leaves throughout the summer. It truly is a green that just keeps on giving. A few great ways to prepare kale are things such as, kale salads and kale chips. This versatile veggie can go pretty much in any dish or be a stand alone veggie itself! Kale chips seem to be an up in coming tread among the kale eating community for the yield of chips it produces and its good taste. Here is a kale chip recipe that’s easy to try at home.


No Fail Sea Salt and Garlic Kale Chips


  • 1 medium sized bunch of kale washed and dried well
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • A pinch or two of sea salt
  • A pinch of garlic powder



  1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Wash and dry one bunch of kale, making sure the leaves are completely dry. If there’s any moisture left on the leaves you’ll end up with soggy kale chips.
  3. Rip the leaves off the stems and away from the chewy veins of the kale and into chip-sized pieces.
  4. Arrange the pieces of kale on an unlined baking sheet.
  5. Drizzle the olive oil as evenly over the kale as possible. Using your hands, gently massage the oil into the kale leaves, making sure to massage the oil well into all the folds and onto the entire surface of each of the kale leaves. At first it may not seem that 2 teaspoons of oil will be enough but adding more oil will only add too much moisture. If you find you need a tiny bit more oil, add it one drop at a time.
  6. Once you’ve finished massaging the kale, sprinkle a pinch or two of sea salt and a pinch of garlic powder over the kale and add the pan to your preheated oven.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan, flipping any pieces that are starting to look crispy and bake for another 10-15 minutes, watching the pan closely for the last 7-8 minutes to prevent over browning.
  8. Remove the pan from the oven and leave the kale chips on the pan for 3-5 minutes before serving to they can crisp up even more!

For more information on Kale and other produce stop by the UW-Whitewater Campus Garden to help out a volunteer session and learn along the way!


Lakeland School Garden inaugural season

This year we were fortunate to have the opportunity to reach out to another community in Walworth County through the Campus Garden project.  A partnership opportunity arose this summer to work with Lakeland School in Elkhorn, WI when they expressed interest in establishing a school garden.  The school is conveniently located next to the Walworth County Community Garden and UW-Extension donated space to us to establish a garden space.

Lakeland School is an important resource  and integral part of the County’s Special Education system for the independent School Districts  within Walworth County.  Lakeland is the operational and administration heart of a model cost-efficient Special Education Program the County administrators for its rural, smaller sized school districts in harmony and cooperation with those individual school districts.

Starting a school garden is a challenge simply from the logistical needs of space, soil, plants, water, and other ingredients to a successful garden space.  Additionally, a school garden needs to be an interactive space where the children it serves feel comfortable learning more about garden plants and the value of fresh produce for nutritional outcomes.  The coordinator, or leader, of a school garden space not only needs to know how to keep the plants healthy and productive, but also needs to understand lesson planning and how to supervise educational activities through workshops and other experiential learning opportunities.

To lead our collaborative efforts with Lakeland, Erica Otto was the obvious choice in the Sustainability Office to lead this as part of her 2017 Nutrition Education internship.  Erica was our 2016 CHIP intern for the campus garden and has a background in community health education through her education at UW-Whitewater.  Her skills and interest in gardening made her a great choice to lead her own garden space and her education gave her the knowledge needed to help teach Lakeland students about gardening and nutrition topics.  Erica successfully engaged students from a wide range of ages and cognitive levels in her garden, which culminated in two final activities we will highlight here.

A Lakeland student explores the hollow stem of the perennial “walking” onion with Cher Woody, the 2017 CHIP intern for W3: Working for Whitewater’s Wellness.

The Lakeland School students participated in a Garden Scavenger Hunt and Leaf Scavenger Hunt activity at the garden.  Mrs. McBride’s class was joined by special guests from Whitewater, including Wesley Enterline, Sustainability Coordinator at UW-Whitewater, Liesl Schultz-Hying, Garden Coordinator for W3, and Cher Woody, W3’s 2017 CHIP intern, as well as Mr. Conrardy, Lakeland School’s principal.  Erica Otto led the group as part of her Nutrition Education internship.

There were about 10 students in the class so each adult paired with a student and helped them go through the scavenger hunt questions.  The children drew different colors they saw in the garden, traced their steps from the weeds to the hose, and even looked for bugs!  After the Garden Scavenger Hunt, the children gathered together for a Leaf Scavenger Hunt activity.  During this leaf activity, they got to taste and smell some edible plants while learning the difference between edible and non-edible plants.  They explored different non-edible plants identifying them as waxy, fuzzy, and pointy.  The session ended with the children lightly touching the sensitive plant and watching as the leaves curled up to protect itself.

The children enjoyed the activities at the garden and learned a lot about what was growing.  This activity was able to engage many students at different comprehensive levels and gave them the opportunity to get creative and ask questions about the parts of the garden they enjoyed the most.  This was a great way to educate the students in a hands-on environment where they were free to get creative and messy.

Lakeland students enjoy making homemade pizzas with fresh ingredients!

The Lakeland school students wrapped up their summer session today with a pizza party celebration.  Larducci Pizzeria donated supplies and we incorporated fresh vegetables from the Lakeland School Garden and the UW-Whitewater Campus Garden.  There was thyme, basil, and oregano plants available for the children to pick the leaves and add to their pizzas.  Some of them were surprised to learn that they could use the fresh-picked leaves instead of buying seasoning at the store.  While they enjoyed assembling and eating the pizzas, their favorite part was rolling and tossing the dough up in the air to make their crusts. Each student got a chance to test out their skills and laugh together as they enjoyed their lunch.

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.


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.

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.

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