Sunday, April 01, 2007

Conservation or Sustainable Landscape Principles

As I read about the harvest (clear cutting) of Burmese and Russian forests to supply American, and I suppose, world demand for affordable furniture and near term quality of life accessories in today’s Washington Post, I see the wicked inconvenience to intertwined tentacles of co-evolving, related environmental challenges, My work with invasive species issues, which, alone, seem to encompass several lifetimes of work and commitment, I pause, wondering at the complexities of the woven fabric of short term consumerism that would seem to be one of the underlying factors contributing to invasive species problems.

Legislating and regulating the planting of species will not impede the changes coming to our eco-systems. The inconvenient truth or the simple cycle of global warming will alter the habitats of our familiarity destroying like a wildfire that which we seek to protect. But more importantly, our short term economic habits compel us to make personal choices short on information and long on self indulgence, We ant teak furniture now; we will worry later about the loss of forests relying on the capitalistic system to raise prices in the face of scarcity.

If we are truly serious about invasive species, then we must begin a major cultural shift to personal responsibility for our environment. A start would be to begin a discussion of an idea with several names: Conservation or Sustainable Landscaping Practices. I would like to reprint here eight principles outlined by the Chesapeake Conservation Landscape Council of Maryland. I should very much like to hear from you as to your opinions and critic of these ideas.

What is a conservation landscape? The Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council (CCLC) has undertaken the task of establishing some parameters to define conservation landscaping and guide the development of on-the-ground projects and other related initiatives. This document provides a brief summary of these “8 Essential Elements,” and more specific information is being prepared for distribution. These defining parameters are being referred to by the CCLC as “standards,” but they are currently more a set of guiding principles that can be used eventually to create standards of practice, and perhaps certification programs or other forms of recognition such as awards at varying levels of accomplishment. The aim is to encourage conservation landscaping and strive for high quality results. A great deal of thought and consideration for practicality has gone into the development of these factors. However, they are not yet finalized. CCLC will welcome discussion on the elements and their future use for positive initiatives. If you would like to review the full draft document, please contact CCLC.

The vision is to one day find conservation landscapes used routinely throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Ideally, these landscapes could be easily recognized because they would demonstrate the essential characteristics listed below. In practice, relatively few model landscapes currently could claim to meet the conditions set forth by every bullet in this list, but the closer you can bring your own landscape to the one described here, the more you will be helping all life in the Chesapeake watershed.

A conservation landscape:
1. is designed to benefit the environment and to function well for human use;
2. contains locally native plants that are appropriate for site conditions;
3. has an ongoing property management process to remove existing invasive plants and prevent future alien plant invasions;
4. provides wildlife habitat;
5. promotes good air quality and is not a source of air pollution;
6. conserves water and promotes good water quality;
7. promotes healthy soils, composts plant waste on site, and amends disturbed soils to encourage native plant communities;
8. works with nature to be more sustainable with less input.

Conservation landscaping works with nature to reduce pollution. Conservation landscaping incorporates environmentally sensitive design, low impact development, non-invasive native and beneficial plants, and integrated pest management to create diverse landscapes that help protect clean air and water, support wildlife, and provide a more beautiful, healthier human environment.

Some of the basic practices prescribed for each element:

1. Design:
Conservation landscape design occurs in the context of nature. It seeks to preserve, enhance and reduce impacts upon a site’s natural features. Design specifically to benefit the environment, while providing function for personal use and displaying the beauty of well-maintained, natural landscaping. This is done through site assessment, goal setting, and implementing strategies outlined in elements 2 through 8.
Preserve existing environmental features to the greatest possible degree.
Enhance environmental features where opportunities exist, e.g., add plants to increase diversity in an existing woodland or wetland; plant a naturalized buffer area surrounding habitat areas, create a transition zone between natural features and more formal landscaping.
Create new environmental features where none existed before. In both naturalistic and formal plantings, mirror patterns found in nature, such as layering of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, to provide structure important to wildlife and attractive to people.

2. Native plants:
Use a diversity of locally native plants that are appropriate for existing site conditions (soil, moisture, sunlight, etc.) and that provide a wide variety of environmental benefits. Properly-sited native plants, once established, require few inputs of water, fertilizer or pesticides.
Choose native plants that complement nearby natural areas by using similar species composition. Balanced communities of native plants contribute to biodiversity and express the character of our natural landscape.
Purchase plants from commercial sources, and always ask nurseries about the source of the native species sold. In general, native plants should not be taken directly from the wild, though occasional plant rescues or wild seed collection may be appropriate.
Links to locally native plant information from recognized authorities will be provided.

3. Invasive plants and site management:
Alien plants are those that occur in locations beyond their known historical natural ranges, most often brought by humans through horticulture. Invasive plants are those aliens that display rapid growth and spread, allowing them to establish over large areas, overwhelming and displacing existing vegetation and forming dense one-species stands.
Avoid planting invasive alien species, remove them where they exist, and work to manage properties to prevent their spread on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, many commonly used landscaping plants are invasive species, so you may need to learn a new palette of native plants.
Links to accepted lists of invasives, and native alternatives, will be provided.

4. Wildlife habitat:
A conservation landscape encourages native wildlife species that may include birds, insects such as butterflies and bees, spiders, fish, frogs, salamanders, snakes, beneficial mammals, and more.
Provide a diverse plant environment which includes a variety of food sources year round, to help attract greater animal diversity and foster healthier ecological communities. Mimic natural plant groupings and incorporate features that provide as many habitat elements as possible, including water and nesting structures.
First and foremost, conserve and protect existing wildlife habitat, and restore habitat, on a large scale. Create migratory corridors of conjoined healthy ecological communities – striving for larger scale habitat areas, connected across the landscape, as opposed to isolated parcels. S mall “backyard” projects are helpful, and are made more valuable if they can eventually be linked to others.

5. Air quality:
Minimize activities that directly create air pollution. Eliminate or reduce the use of harmful products. Water pollution is increased by atmospheric deposition of nutrients (from the air into the water); help improve water quality by reducing sources of air pollution.
Landscape to improve air filtration and energy conservation. Select native tree and plant species that are efficient in removing pollutants from the air, including species with leaf sizes and shapes that will capture dust, gases, and fine particles. Plant additional native trees and shrubs near building structures for heating, cooling and wind-protection benefits.
Decrease the size of lawn areas to reduce mowing time and overall yard maintenance. Create diverse habitats in the landscape, using native plants, to reduce or eliminate the need to mow and spray. Plant and maintain your remaining lawn according to the Cooperative Extension recommendations for your area. Use low-maintenance turf mixes that grow slowly and turf types that are adapted to your climate and the growing conditions in your yard.
Reduce the use of gasoline-powered equipment such as lawn mowers, string trimmers, and leaf blowers, which contribute to air pollution. Traditional small engines are big polluters. Consider cleaner, environmentally friendly options such as new low or zero emission equipment, electric equipment, and manual tools wherever feasible. Maintain your equipment for best efficiency.

6. Water conservation and quality:
A conservation landscape preserves the natural water cycle and helps keep waterways clean in your local watershed. By using conservation landscaping techniques – which help to reduce pollutants in the landscape, reduce wastewater amounts, increase groundwater recharge and reduce water use – a homeowner can help keep waterways clean, and enjoy lower monthly water bills.
Rainwater running off of the land and percolating into the ground carries with it chemicals, soil, plant debris, and other pollutants. Reduce the amount of pollution entering local waterways by using plants that are adapted to local conditions and require less fertilizer and pesticides; using plants to stabilize soil to prevent erosion; using planted areas to help slow the flow of runoff, filter pollutants and use up excess nutrients.
Retain and re-use rainwater runoff through various stormwater management practices. Reduce impervious surfaces and encourage infiltration, e.g., prevent compaction for parking, driveways, and sidewalks by using alternative pavers which allow water to penetrate; replace a portion of lawn or pavement with landscaped areas; plant a green roof to help absorb and use rainwater. Redirect runoff to multiple collection points and trap stormwater onsite with rain barrels and rain gardens to ensure slow percolation and increased filtration of pollutants; and distribute the water judiciously into the landscape (e.g., directing downspouts and runoff from paved areas into landscaping onsite).
Significantly reduce the amount of water used to maintain a lawn or garden through practices that focus on key elements: timing, thoroughness, proper equipment, mulching, plant selection, water zoning, and reusing water onsite (e.g., from rain barrels).

7. Healthy soils:
Healthy plants begin with healthy soil, containing a complex balance of minerals, water, air and organic material (including living organisms). Soil composition varies considerably within a region and will support different plant and animal communities. Disturbances to soil can result in a breakdown of soil structure and an imbalance of plant and animal communities. These disturbances may include compaction by heavy equipment or foot traffic, changes in nutrient cycling and pH from runoff and air deposition, removal of topsoil, erosion, and plowing. Thus, a cornerstone of conservation landscaping is the proper protection and ongoing care of the soil. A suite of practices are offered to conserve soil before and during building construction (e.g., to minimize grading damage, prevent compaction, protect existing trees and their root zones, and prevent erosion); after construction or in an established yard (judicious use of amendments and other alterations, mulch, etc.); and for ongoing soil maintenance.

8. Sustainable landscapes:
· Conservation landscaping reduces human intervention and therefore can save time and resources. Traditional intensive maintenance practices tend to be environmentally damaging. Instead, develop a site management program that works with natural processes, recycles resources onsite, and achieves a self-sustaining landscape.
· Reduce your waste stream through measures such as selecting the right plant for the right place; pruning selectively to complement the natural form and strengthen the structure of plants; composting plant and grass trimmings, leaves and other organic material.
· Manage garden pests and diseases with an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.
· Control undesirable vegetation manually wherever possible, mechanically, or with organic alternatives as feasible where chemical intervention is necessary.
· Conserve energy through vegetative measures (e.g. for cooling buildings) and efficient yard equipment.

Visit the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council at

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