Ecology + Restoration Roundtable, Part 1

Woodland Stream image: Davie Biagi
Woodland Stream
image: Davie Biagi

For this post, we unveil our new Ecology + Restoration Roundtable series. We posed a hypothetical question to a diverse group of Ecology + Restoration PPN members and received some intriguing responses. Topics covered included eradication of invasive species, enforcement of urban growth boundaries, preservation of pristine wilderness, and the ecological implications of historical events in the Yosemite Valley.

Through this and future installments of the Ecology + Restoration Roundtable, we hope to initiate conversations that engage our members and spark further dialogue about the intersection of ecology, restoration, and landscape architecture.

Ecology + Restoration Roundtable question number one: If you could time travel and preserve one place in perpetuity or put one irrevocable regulation into place, when and where would you go and what would you do?

Barbara Z. Restaino: Bringing Back Native Plants

If I could time travel and put one irrevocable regulation in place, I would create a nationwide task force to plan and oversee the region by region removal of the most harmful invasive plant species and their replacement by native plants. First, this would start on municipal, state rights-of-way and publicly owned lands, and also have incentives for private lands to be incorporated into the program. Next, planning, design, soils restoration, and replanting would follow and would be appropriate for each type of landscape, whether it is an urban public park or a remote wilderness area. This effort would transform our landscape as well as our workforce by employing a variety of individuals to complete the tasks: an army of young workers would do the physical removal; growers would supply seed and native plant species; landscape architects would plan, specify, and design restoration work; scientists would advise on the best methods; contractors would assist in soils restoration and large-scale planting where needed.

The transformation would not just be economical and environmental, but visual as well—even from a public health standpoint. Here in New York, one of our most invasive plants, Berberis thunbergii, has taken over the understory of fields and wooded areas. This has increased the population of deer ticks and altered the soil pH. This invasive has been planted widely in rural, suburban, and urban settings, and reverts to a tangle of thorns that spreads unchecked in the landscape. In New York State, it is now illegal in commerce, but the damage done is already widespread and continues to grow.

A regulation such as this is a dream that would be very powerful if it could be realized.

Barbara Restaino, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, is a Landscape Architect practicing in the Catskill and Hudson Valley of New York where she is inspired by the native flora and abundant water of the region. She focuses on the use of native plants and incorporating green infrastructure and sustainable materials into imaginative designs.

image: Barbara Z. Restaino
image: Barbara Z. Restaino
image: Barbara Z. Restaino
image: Barbara Z. Restaino

Falon Mihalic: Time-Travel to Miami in 1945

I would time travel to Miami in 1945 on the heels of South Florida’s booming population growth, and just before the coming proliferation of highway-driven sprawl of the 1950s. My irrevocable regulation would impose a strict urban growth boundary to curtail sprawl and protect critical wildlife habitat in the Miami-Dade metropolitan area. The regulation would deter new development on the periphery and provide incentives for creating a walkable, dense street grid and affordable housing opportunities within the city. In aerial views of the region today, a pixelated grey of concrete roads and slab-on-grade single family homes marches west into the mosaic of Pine rocklands and sloughs of the Everglades. Aerial images starkly show that sprawl is an imposing force on the region and a major threat to biodiversity and water quality.

It is a privilege to work as a landscape architect with the incredible plant palette of South Florida. But, I know that the current plants and animals represent a small fraction of a once teeming biological treasure chest. I read stories of early Florida settlement where the landscape is home to great flocks of vividly-colored migratory birds, and where shellfish, turtles, and manatees are so numerous that they provided the main protein source for indigenous people. Those early stories give a glimpse of a place once so overwhelmingly wild and teach us how much we have lost. An urban growth boundary, established at the right moment, may have diminished the majorly destructive practices of sprawl in the past generation.

Falon Mihalic, Associate ASLA, PLA, is a landscape architect, public artist, and writer currently living in Houston. In 2013, she founded Falon Land Studio, a landscape architecture and public art practice. She has a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the Rhode Island School of Design.

A Great Egret stalks food at a mangrove forest edge in North Miami, Florida. image: Davie Biagi
A Great Egret stalks food at a mangrove forest edge in North Miami, Florida.
image: Davie Biagi

Davie Biagi: Protect a Kentucky River Waterfall

If I could time travel and preserve one place in perpetuity, I would protect a stream and waterfall I used to visit at a camp along the Kentucky River. It was naturally occurring on a Civilian Conservation Corps construction project, accessible by a gravel road far too steep and dangerous for modern standards! It was teeming with ferns, moss, geodes, and wildflowers. The site formed a chapel of sorts, with sunbeams streaming through openings in the hardwood forest canopy down to the water. This was where I developed an understanding of how to place rocks comfortably into an artificially-created setting to make them look as if they had always existed in this location. It was where my design aesthetic was born. I didn’t realize it then, but I now appreciate how rare it is to see a mature and undisturbed woodland stream setting, void of invasives, in a state of dynamic equilibrium.

Davie Biagi, ASLA, Biagi Landscape Consultants LLC, designed industrial project sites and completed design/build work early in her career. She also reviewed landscape plans for GDOT prior to retiring, helping to provide guidance for their environmental mitigation and landscape design policies.

Devon Santy: Undo the Raker Act and Save Hetch Hetchy Valley

Gifted a magic DeLorean, I would Marty McFly my way back to 1872, forty one years before the Raker Act was signed by President Wilson in 1913. The Raker Act authorized the construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which created a reservoir in Hetch Hetchy Valley inside Yosemite National Park. As a Northern California native, I understand that San Francisco needs a water source, but filling this glacial sibling of Yosemite Valley within the bounds of a national park should not have been the solution. Maybe my stance on this issue stems from my appreciation for the National Park Service after I interned with them, or maybe because I recently read The Yosemite by John Muir in which he beautifully describes the serenity and majesty of the valley. Whatever the reason, my choice of date would be two-fold: 1) seek out John Muir in the relatively pristine Yosemite Valley, and selfishly 2) to experience the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake as Muir did. I would befriend Muir on mountain excursions with the intention to join him years later in the lobbying effort against the Raker Act.

In the years between, I would obtain whatever qualifications necessary to be elected to a seat in the U.S. Senate. With that seat, I would not only ensure that the Raker Act never made it past congress, but also write and introduce a bill in Muir’s name that would secure the fate of every national park to be free of any public infrastructure project within the bounds of a national park (providing exceptions for roads and local infrastructure to serve the needs of the park operation itself). The bill would begin with a quote from Muir himself: “Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.”

Devon Santy, Associate ASLA, is a young professional in the early stages of his adventures in landscape architecture. With a BS in Geology, he has been interested in geomorphic processes and ecology since before he pursued his MLA. Devon currently serves as the Communications and LinkedIn Group Coordinator for the Ecology and Restoration PPN, and he will begin working with EPT Design in Pasadena, CA on June 15.

Please leave a comment below to join the conversation. We extend our sincere thanks to the contributors to this installment.

Compiled by the Ecology and Restoration PPN Leadership Team

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