Need Help with Your Forestry, Wildlife, or Other Natural Resource-Related Questions?

Post contributed by Becky Barlow, Forestry Extension Specialist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System & Professor, Auburn University School of Forestry & Wildlife Sciences

Photo of a pine tree.
Photo by Becky Barlow.

Occasionally I meet people and the conversation goes something like this

Other Person: “So what to do you?”

Me:  “I work as a Forestry Extension Specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.”

Other Person: “Cooperative Extension? What is that?”

Me:  “My job is to teach landowners, professionals and the general public about forestry land management, and to help them with forestry-related questions they might have.  Were you ever in 4-H? Or have you heard of 4-H?”

Other Person: “Oh yeah!  I was in the one with the chickens when I was a kid, it was so much fun!”

Me: “4-H is the youth part of Cooperative Extension.  So, I am a bit like the adult version of 4-H for forestry and natural resources!”

Extension and Outreach make up one of the three land-grant university missions.  For Auburn University, Alabama A&M, and Tuskegee University this mission is fulfilled largely by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES).  ACES provides research-based educational information and programs for everyone across Alabama in the areas of agriculture; economic and community development; family and consumer sciences; forestry, wildlife, and natural resources; 4-H and youth development; and urban affairs.  You can find out more about ACES online at  www.aces.edu.

There is an ACES office in each county.  In these offices, there are County Extension Agents who coordinate office staff and activities.  These agents may have specialties like livestock management, horticulture and home grounds, forestry and wildlife, family and consumer sciences, etc.  There are other agents also located in these offices with differing specialties.  They serve the county in which they are housed and a set of about 7-12 counties in the surrounding area.   These are called Regional Extension Agents. For forestry, wildlife and natural resources we have 7 Regional Extension Agents located across the state.  These professionals organize workshops, develop publications and newsletters, videos, and answer questions about forestry and wildlife issues in their region of Alabama.  These services are provided at low to no cost to the public.  To find the Regional Extension Agent who works in your area check out the ACES directory at https://ssl.acesag.auburn.edu/directory-new/.

Extension Specialists (like me) may also work in any of the professional areas listed above, but they often are housed at Alabama A&M or Auburn University and are affiliated with a university college or department. Specialists work closely with Regional Extension Agents to conduct workshops and write extension publications.  They also answer questions from the public.  There are six Forestry and Wildlife ACES Extension Specialists housed within Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.  Their specialties include things like forestry, wildlife, invasive species management, timber harvesting.  Contact information for ACES Extension Specialists and staff that are housed within Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences can be found at this link https://sfws.auburn.edu/extension-faculty/.

When it comes for forestry, wildlife and natural resource information there are other groups that ACES professionals sometimes partner with to help landowners meet their land management goals.  Some of these groups include state agencies, private consulting foresters, and arborists.

Photo of a pine forest ecosystem.
Public and private experts can help you find the best ways to manage and protect your land’s natural resources. Photo by Becky Barlow.

State agencies employees work for a public agency such as ACES, but there are other state agencies that can also help you with your land management decisions.  These include the Alabama Forestry Commission (http://www.forestry.state.al.us/ ), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (https://www.outdooralabama.com/ ), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/al/home/ ).  These agency employees provide services at no charge or reduced rate for things such as 1) timber tract assessment, 2) insect and disease assessments, 3) management plan development, 4) prescribed fire plans, 5) wildlife management and habitat development, and 6) can help landowners find contractors or consulting foresters to carry out management activities.

Private consulting foresters assist landowners for a fee and provide services such as 1) timber tract assessment, 2) management plan development, 3) timber sales, 4) American Tree Farm System certification, and 5) contractor location assistance.  These individuals represent the landowner in all efforts and work to help them achieve land management goals.  Some states require that they be registered with a State Registration Board.  Alabama has this requirement.  More information about Alabama’s Registered Forester program can be found at this link http://www.asbrf.alabama.gov/.

Finally, homeowners and landowners may need individual tree removal or assessment assistance.  In this case, an arborist is needed.  To find a certified arborist who can help you make decisions about the health and maintenance of trees around your home or other buildings visit   http://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist.

If often takes a team of professionals to help landowners and homeowners answer their forestry, wildlife, or other natural resource questions.  Any of the groups highlighted in this article will be ready and willing to help when you need them.  And, if they are not able to assist you directly, they will help you find the right professional for your needs.

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The Beauty & Value of Trees

Post contributed by Dr. Wendy Vidor, Lecturer, Department of Horticulture 

My fondest childhood memory is connected to a tree, a common silver maple (Acer saccharinum).  With its shimmery silver white leaves, smooth, and somewhat flaky bark, and helicopter double samaras. It was my connection to the earth and the world around me.  I guess you could say that this tree had influenced my path in life to become a horticulturist.

The tree was my sanctuary and solace. I would climb its many limbed branches to reach the top of the world.  I would sit in that tree for it seemed hours just listening to nature and observing the world around me.

Trees are beautiful and majestic, provide aesthetic beauty with their endless variety of forms, textures and shapes and provide vibrant colors as they change through the seasons. They have history and they are living memorials.  They provide emotional attachments and create memories and bonds of our childhood.

A picture of a waterfall at Longwood Gardens. Photo by Wendy Vidor.
A view at Longwood Gardens. Photo credit: Wendy Vidor, 2019.

Trees also provide ecological and environmental value to our landscapes.   Here are some of the benefits trees provide:

  • Oxygen
  • Improve air quality by filtering out pollutants.
  • Conserve water
  • Help to prevent soil erosion
  • Carbon sequestration

Trees in urban landscapes provide:

  • Aesthetics
  • Energy conservation “Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30%” according to the USDA Forest Service.
  • Increased economic value to our homes and businesses.
  • Moderation of temperature by reducing the heat island effect in cities by deflecting the sunlight off pavement and commercial buildings.
  • They capture pollutants and dust, protect us from wind and rain, and lower the temperature.

Why does it seem that we have lost our connection to the trees?  In today’s society we have noticed that people are developing “plant blindness.” We have become disconnected from nature and no longer look at the intricacies of plants and trees as part of the landscape. We walk through our campus every day without noticing the beauty surrounding us.

Auburn University’s campus is filled with trees that are magnificent specimens of nature.  There is the famous “Toomers Oak” (Quercus virginiana) that we roll each year to celebrate victories, and also very rare specimens like the Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood), which was once thought to be extinct. This tree has been on the earth for over 50 million years.  Seeds of this tree were bought back from China where it was discovered growing in the wild in the town of Modaoqi, China in 1941 by Chinese forester, T. Kan.  Seed collected from the original site were made available to several arboretums and campuses around the country including Auburn’s Donald E. Davis arboretum, the Missouri Botanical Garden and other gardens and horticulture departments across the country. We have the magnificent Donald E. Davis Arboretum with over 39 Oak specimens and other tree and shrub collections on our campus.  Another tree of note is the “Founders Oak” Quercus stellata which is also labeled in the Arboretum.   Additionally, we have thousands of other trees and shrubs planted around campus that have been collected and planted for all to enjoy.

The history and uniqueness of Auburn’s campus is a tribute to the many trees planted and protected by our Tree Preservation Committee.   These trees add another layer to the history and beauty of Auburn University.  Take a moment to pause, reflect, and reconnect under these magnificent wonders of nature.

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Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Bubbles

Contributed by Kaitlyn Baker, ASI Divemaster, Auburn University Alumna ‘18

Auburn students Randall Dunlap and Kelly Burnham scuba diving
Auburn students Randall Dunlap and Kelly Burnham

SCUBA diving is an amazing opportunity to discover the world below sea level. With the ocean covering the majority of the earth, there is so much to explore. Ocean life dates to the beginning of time. Diverse plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates ensure beautiful dives all over the globe. Divers get a front row seat to the amazing underwater world. With that, we also see firsthand the effects of global climate change. By being knowledgeable divers, we can have an impact on the world around us.

Coral reefs are the second most biodiverse ecosystem behind tropical rain forests. Reefs are an intertwined environment where each small factor plays a role in keeping the equilibrium and system functioning. So many people live near the coast and rely on this ecosystem to sustain life. Ecotourism in these areas is growing. Most divers love the travel that comes along with diving. Considering travel arrangements that have a lower footprint will be beneficial to both divers and locals.

Just like divers can observe the effects of climate change, we can also contribute to the damage if we aren’t safe and careful. It is important to remember we are in an environment that is not our own and to treat it with respect. Never dive too close to a reef to ensure you don’t kick the coral with your fins or a piece of gear does not come in contact with the reef. Spearfishing is popular among recreational divers. Fishers should be knowledgeable about limits and seasons. Spearfishing can be very beneficial to reefs with the removal of invasive species, such as lionfish in the Atlantic.

Auburn Students in PHED 1760
Auburn Students in PHED 1760

Choose a dive operation that is knowledgeable about the local environment and uses sustainable diving practices. An old phrase, “take only pictures, leave only bubbles” is how we want to dive. Divers are ambassadors for the underwater world who can influence others but leave our dive sites exactly how we found them.

Want to learn more? Auburn Alabama’s local dive center is Adventure Sports SCUBA, Inc. SCUBA courses are offered year-round for those wanting to learn how to dive.

Auburn University students may also take the SCUBA diving course (PHED 1760) and earn university credit. The Auburn University Marine Biology Club is another great way to get involved and learn more with others who have a passion for the seas.

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Collaborative Capitalism: Investing in the Future of Your Community

Contributed by Brittany Branyon, Program Coordinator, Cary Center Nonprofit Affiliate Program

Have you ever heard of collaborative capitalism? Perhaps you’ve heard of social impact investing? Even if you don’t know it by name, surely the concept is familiar.

Social impact investing regards investments made into an organization intended to generate a measurable social or environmental impact in addition to financial return.

Ah yes, there’s the lightbulb!

Social impact investing has gained even more traction recently as millennials have entered the workforce and begun to find ways to contribute to causes they are passionate about. Many have found that they can make an impact while earning a return.

Maybe you’ve read about microloans, specifically in regard to female business owners or farmers in third world countries. This is a form of social impact investing on a smaller scale (hence, micro). Given the success we’ve seen with these programs, one can see how this concept can be productive in our community.

Social impact investing is an efficient way to fund causes and organizations at the grassroots level and beyond, allowing potential donors to contribute more and nonprofits to further their reach.

womens philanthropy board spring symposium posterOn Monday, April 8th, the Women’s Philanthropy Board is hosting their annual Spring Symposium at the Auburn Hotel and Conference Center where Teri Lovelace of LOCUS Impact Investing, an expert in this subject, will be speaking in Symposium Session II at 11:00 am.

Ms. Lovelace has over 27 years in the philanthropic, mission investing and the nonprofit sector and  is Chief Impact Officer & Senior Vice President for Virginia Community Capital (VCC) and President of VCC’s new social enterprise – LOCUS Impact Investing.

In addition to the session, Ms. Lovelace will join Greg Doepke of Aspire to give in the afternoon for a forum discussion. This is the perfect opportunity to ask questions and offer input.

The forum, titled “How Social Impact Investing Can Build Prosperous and Vibrant Communities” is an event you certainly don’t want to miss. It begins at 2:00 pm on Monday at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center, and like the morning session, is a free event.

For more information about the Cary Center and Women’s Philanthropy Board, visit the Cary Center’s website.

womens philanthropy board logo

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Stop & Think

Contributed by Dom Linehan, Junior in Natural Resources Management 

When I was growing up, my parents had this proverb that they used to tell me. They said it to me when I did something without thinking that led to trouble. It went something like this:

People often think about what it would be like to go back in time, but they always worry that some small action will change the course of history forever. People rarely think that a small action in their everyday life will change the future. Whether you like it or not, your choices have an impact on the world, so act carefully.

I have always thought that this was interesting, and I have thought about it a whole lot. But it wasn’t until I went to Fiji and New Zealand that I really saw how true this is. While I don’t know what effects my choices may have, I do know that they will have some impact, even if it is a very small one. Everything we do has some consequence, and some have much bigger impacts than we would ever think.

On the island of Vorovoro, there is not much waste produced. Hardly anything that is used there creates trash. Yet on the south side of the island, there is a shore known as ‘Trash Beach’. It is full of plastic bottles, shoes, food wrappers and much more. All of it comes from people on a completely different island. That small action of throwing a candy wrapper on the ground affects a whole community of people, as well as polluting the ocean and creating problems for all kinds of sea creatures. While we have taken great strides in our effort to reduce our impact as humans on the natural world, the effects of human actions can be found all over. I witnessed many of these during my time in Fiji and New Zealand.

On our first day as a group in New Zealand, we went on a wildlife tour of the Otago Peninsula on the southeastern shore of the South Island. The peninsula is home to many rare species, including the Hooker Sea Lion, which are native to New Zealand. Unfortunately, these beautiful animals were nearly wiped out from this island due to overhunting. The sea lions were forced to relocate to nearby smaller islands. The repercussions of these killings are still seen today, as the number of the sea lions is still low. But the species has started to make a comeback recently. Hooker Sea Lions can be found on the beaches of southern New Zealand once again. The killing of these sea lions is similar to what Aldo Leopold said in his essay Thinking Like a Mountain. “In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf.” It was unheard of to pass up killing a sea lion. Well, the days of killing sea lions is over, and we are finally starting to think like a mountain and starting to see the big picture. This way of thinking is something that, from what I saw, was highly valued in New Zealand. And that is a mindset that needs to be more valued everywhere in the world.

Taken at Aoraki Mt. Cook while standing on the Tasman Glacier
Taken at Aoraki Mt. Cook while standing on the Tasman Glacier. Photo credit: Dom Linehan

Later on in our trip, we visited the Tasman Glacier in Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park. It is the largest glacier in New Zealand, and it is disappearing very quickly. In our lifetime, it is likely that this glacier will no longer exist. It is shrinking rapidly, much like the glaciers captured in the movie Chasing Ice. Issues such as the disappearing glaciers need to be given more attention. The reducing size of these glaciers is driven by manmade climate change, which is something we can all help to prevent. Producing less waste, recycling, driving less, and being more conscious of the impact our choices make are just a few ways that we can start to help protect these glaciers before it is too late. But glaciers are not the only natural wonder that are disappearing. As I saw firsthand in Fiji, coral reefs are dying as well.

 

Just to the north of Vorovoro Island is one of the largest coral reefs in the world. It is home to many types of fish, sharks, turtles, and other sea life. It is spectacularly beautiful. But like many other places around the world, as we learned in the movie Chasing Coral, this reef is dying. The corals are turning grey and bleaching, and they are altogether unhealthy looking.

coral reef in New Zealand
Photo Credit: Emily Ollero

Fortunately, in the cooler water there are still some living corals here, and with any luck they will survive for many years to come. Combatting this dying reef is a pressing matter for many people. The reef is where fish live, and fish are the livelihood of many people all around the world, including Fiji. And like most of the problems facing the natural world, there are things that can be done to slow down the bleaching process. Using reef-friendly products that do not cause damage to corals is a simple and easy way that we can all help to reduce local bleaching and dying of the coral reefs where we are.

While visiting an organic farm in Fiji, we learned a little bit about the bee population there. Bee keeping is a growing industry in Fiji, and one that is creating jobs as well as strengthening the ecosystem there. Along with producing honey as another product for farmers, they also pollinate many other crops and helps them to grow better. This is something that the U.S. is doing as well. Bees create a healthier ecosystem for everything living in it. Although, in Fiji, the bee population is much healthier than in the United States.

bees on their honeycomb in Fiji
Photo Credit: Emily Ollero

Having healthy bees is important for many reasons, and we would not be able to survive without them. Restoring the bee population in the United States is something that should be high on our priority list.

While it may be convenient to grab a bottle of water at the gas station for the drive home or to snack on granola bars, it is important to think about what consequences consuming those products may have. A small plastic bag could mean death for an endangered sea turtle. Driving yourself to class instead of taking the bus is simply adding to the pollution that drives global climate change and destroying habitats. Whether we realize it or not, our actions are causing things to happen in this world. This can be hard to see in Auburn, but it became abundantly clear to me during my time in Fiji and New Zealand. Sure, it is not totally realistic to live one hundred percent waste free, but we can at least think about how we are impacting the world and the people and creatures that live in it and try to do better. Acknowledging the problem is the first step to creating a solution. So please, before you act, just stop and think.

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One Fish, Two Fish, Grow Fish

Contributed by Bill Walton, Associate Professor in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture & Aquatic Sciences and Extension Specialist with Alabama Cooperative Extension System

silver fish captured in netWhen we think of the oceans and sustainability, we often think of what we harvest from the seas. Thinking about harvest, there are now clear patterns emerging that should have us rethinking that harvest. First, as the global population increases, the demand for food from the oceans will increase as there are more mouths to feed. Second, the per capita rate of seafood consumption is increasing, and has, in fact, doubled over the last 50 years! That math adds up to higher and higher demands on the oceans for food.

Of course, the oceans have limits. At the end of the last century, the annual harvest from wild capture fisheries leveled off at somewhere under 100 million metric tons. The difference between the world’s increasing demand and that supply has come from aquaculture. In fact, in 2014, for the first time, more seafood was harvested from aquaculture than the wild fisheries. Looking forward, it’s clear that there’s a need and opportunity for aquaculture to expand and increase production to satisfy the growing demand for seafood.graph showing increased fish harvesting through aquaculture

In many countries around the world, individuals have seized this opportunity. In the US, despite our extensive coastlines, we have been slower to adopt marine aquaculture. According to recent statistics, the US ranks a distant 16th in global aquaculture production. While there are many reasons for this, one certainly has to be the US public’s questions about the sustainability of aquaculture. I would argue that marine aquaculture will happen and we, as a nation, need to decide if that happens here in our waters or overseas. We will keep eating seafood and more and more of it will be from aquaculture. So, the question to me becomes how we sustainably conduct aquaculture here in the US.

The good news is that US private industry, academia, and the federal government have embraced that challenge, with an emphasis on reducing environmental impacts, reducing waste and improving quality. US consumers and relatively strict environmental regulations have provided a strong incentive for aquaculture production to strive for increasing sustainability.

One early success story for US marine aquaculture has been shellfish farming. Currently, domestic marine aquaculture production is dominated currently by bivalve shellfish, with over 80% of harvest by value from farmed oysters, clams and mussels. As conducted in the US, shellfish farming is generally considered to have minimal environmental impacts and, in fact, shellfish farms are often credited for providing environmental benefits, including improving water quality and providing habitat for other species. This industry produces food, while also supporting jobs in rural coastal communities in an environmentally sustainable manner.wild shrimp caught in hand

Shellfish farming alone though cannot address our ‘seafood deficit’. Work by my colleagues in the Auburn University School of Fisheries, Aquaculture & Aquatic Sciences and by researchers and industry members around the country have had dramatic successes in sustainable production of shrimp, fish, and seaweeds. All these efforts, including shellfish farming, will be challenged to continue to improve sustainability, and that’s a good thing. That said, we need to recognize and support sustainable marine aquaculture in the US, both as a means of decreasing our seafood deficit and improving the sustainability of marine aquaculture.

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Over 20 Courses Toward the Sustainability Minor Offered this Fall

Post Contributed by Dr. Nanette Chadwick, Director of Academic Sustainability Programs

Academic Sustainability Programs has prepared a listing of all courses in the Minor in Sustainability Studies that will be offered this summer and fall semesters, as well as related courses that are not yet officially in the minor.

This summer, 5 courses will be offered, mostly online but some in person on campus. During the fall semester, a range of 21 courses spanning 7 colleges on campus will be offered. These may be used toward the Minor in Sustainability Studies, as free electives, or in some cases as part of your core curriculum requirements.

To see details of the Academic Sustainability course offerings and download a handy reference document, click here.

Also for a complete listing of all sustainability-related courses on campus, including those in various majors across all colleges, see the Academic Sustainability Program’s campus-wide course inventories by clicking here.

Please feel free to contact Dr. Chadwick by email if you have any questions about upcoming courses related to sustainability, as you plan your summer and fall course schedules.

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Watch What You Waste

Post Contributed by Haley Turner, Psychology & Global Studies Major, Junior at Auburn University

We have all heard the saying “reduce, reuse, and recycle” since we were little kids, but do we actually practice what we preach?  This summer I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in New Zealand and Fiji for six weeks and I was able to learn about sustainable practices.  Throughout this time, I was able to consider how my actions can affect the environment and how to effectively “reduce, reuse, and recycle”.  In New Zealand, I saw many different ways to protect the environment and reduce energy and water use.  During my time in Fiji, I was able to see how outsiders’ actions affect the environment around them and how to reuse and recycle products that could otherwise be wasted.

After spending about two weeks in New Zealand, I learned many new sustainable and eco-friendly actions that make the environment a better place to live.  One of the main sustainable practices that I noticed in New Zealand was in the bathroom.  Every toilet in New Zealand was filled very low with water and had an option for flushing with less water.  If you think about how many times a public toilet is flushed in one day, the amount of water that these toilets save compared to toilets in America is a large amount.  In addition to reducing water use, there were plenty of other sustainable practices found in New Zealand that could be implemented in the United States.  A few examples of these are using reusable cups in coffee shops, using reusable bags in stores instead of paper or plastic bags, and encouraging those around you to recycle.

The results of the island clean up game. In just 20 minutes over 500 pieces of waste were found. Photo credits: Emily Ollero
The results of the island clean up game. In just 20 minutes over 500 pieces of waste were found. Photo credits: Emily Ollero

Fiji was a very different experience and environment than New Zealand.  New Zealand was more of a developed country, the sustainable practices used in Fiji were very different than those I saw in New Zealand.  In Fiji, I saw the effects of people not properly disposing of their waste.  One day we went on a hike and ended up on a beach that was littered in plastic bottles and other waste.  We were told that this waste flows from the mainland and is the result of people mindlessly throwing their trash into the river.  The people on the mainland probably do not think twice about littering because they do not see where the waste is going.  Little did they know a lot of this waste was going right to an island filled with lovely people who have to spend their time going around and picking up the trash.  Towards the end of our stay on the island, we had a big island clean up.  We were split into teams and given twenty minutes to go around the island and pick up as much trash as we could.  By the end of the twenty minutes, the amount of waste that we found was astonishing.  This game caused me to really consider how my actions can affect others and how much waste can affect others’ lives.

A common practice on Vorovoro, the island that we stayed on most of the time, is reusing plastic and glass bottles.  I remember one morning I had finished off a jar of peanut butter and I went to throw it in our recycling bin and was stopped in my tracks.  I was told that these jars are rinsed and reused for other things.  This thought never crossed my mind because that is not something that I typically do at home.  A great example of this resourcefulness and reusing is when I created a fishing tool.  Api, our boat captain, told me to go collect a few water bottles one day so that we could make fishing lines.  So, I collected these bottles and we wrapped a fishing line around them so that they can be used as a fishing rod.

A water bottle with fishing line to be used for fishing Photo credit: Haley Turner
A water bottle with fishing line to be used for fishing Photo credit: Haley Turner

Simple actions like reusing a peanut butter jar and using an old bottle for fishing can be so effective and help the environment as well.  That peanut butter jar and water bottle could have been littered and ended up on someone else’s island for them to clean up, but instead, they are put to good use and save others from having to clean them up.

So, what can we do in Auburn to be more sustainable?  According to the sustainability compass, nature, economy, society, and well-being need to be working together and in sync in order to create a sustainable environment.  The Auburn community should work together as a society to keep the environment sustainable and healthy.  Something so easy that everyone can do is to use reusable cups.  Auburn has many water fountains where we can fill up water bottles; so, put down your case of plastic water bottles and pick up your super cool reusable bottle.  Additionally, using your own bags for your groceries or at other stores can save a few plastic or paper bags from being used and eventually thrown out.  Lastly, and most importantly, be conscious about your decisions.  Make sure to reduce your use of that create waste; make sure to reuse things that can be reused; and make sure to recycle products that can be recycled to make Auburn an even better place to live for those in the future.

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Campus Planning and Sustainability

Post Contributed by Richard Guether, Director, Campus Planning and Space Management

As campus planners, our team has the inspiring, yet challenging task of envisioning the future of the Auburn University physical environment and developing plans to attain it. Our efforts, especially the Campus Master Plan, require multiple layers of thought, with the goal of each being plans that are both forward-looking and attainable. All of our concepts consider issues of sustainability, including the need to recognize the interdependence of our campus systems. Sustainability is a key element of the planning process to ensure a campus environment that best serves Auburn University and the greater community for the future.

The most significant and complicated plan we produce is the Campus Master Plan. Approved by the Board of Trustees, this document provides an analysis of our campus as a whole and as individual elements that comprise the campus system. A good master plan should demonstrate an understanding of the how the current campus functions, explain current and potential facility needs, and then filter these needs through the Strategic Plan and other guiding documents, as well as other policies, guidelines, best practices, constituent input, and fiscal realities. At its core, the plan helps us understand that any single action taken affects multiple Master Plan elements, if not all of them. Such interdependence is a core concept of sustainability.

Improving our pedestrian and bike routes and providing future tree canopy are planning efforts that lead to sustainable development. Shown here is the Mell Street concourse.
Improving our pedestrian and bike routes and providing future tree canopy are planning efforts that lead to sustainable development. Shown here is the Mell Street concourse.

What are other concepts that can help us plan a more sustainable campus? First, it is important to understand the general nature of campus development. While Auburn University has been categorized as a rural university, most of our academic and student-related facilities are now concentrated in a moderately dense urban core. This density has necessitated a shift in our transportation footprint from an automobile-centric campus to one in which alternate modes, such as mass transit, biking, and, especially, walking, play important and growing roles.

Second, as we look to future development, we must be sure to grow wisely. This includes considering infill development as an alternative to expanding into undeveloped areas of campus. Infill not only allows us to tie new buildings into our existing transportation network, but it can also help further reduce our carbon footprint by being less automobile-dependent, and help save on utility-system expansion costs.

Natural resource improvement efforts, such as the ongoing restoration of Parkerson Mill Creek, are supported by the Campus Master Plan and utilize sustainability concepts.
Natural resource improvement efforts, such as the ongoing restoration of Parkerson Mill Creek, are supported by the Campus Master Plan and utilize sustainability concepts.

Third, a master plan can encourage the use of practices that improve the sustainability of our environment. The campus is not only a place for educating, researching and learning, but also a teaching tool in itself. What we develop and how the campus functions reflect our values as a community. When we implement sound post-construction stormwater management practices, we are teaching our students that this is a more thoughtful way to build. When we demonstrate the value of having an expansive tree canopy, encourage the practice of limiting tree removal, and replace or recycle what we remove, we are leading by example. When our planning encourages restoration of our natural areas, explains that our natural systems are all interconnected, and demonstrates that restoring one area will benefit the entire ecosystem, we are demonstrating how sound planning can lead to sound actions with long-term benefits.

The Campus Master Plan is our most visible form of guidance for determining the future of our built environment. In the upcoming year, we will begin to update the plan to reflect the new directions provided by the University Strategic Plan and university leadership. As with our current plan, we anticipate sustainability concepts being a clearly articulated part of every planning element in the revised plan and part of the thread that weaves our future campus together.

Your thoughts on the Campus Master Plan, our planning efforts and the role of sustainability in each are always welcome. I can be reached at rcg0011@auburn.edu.

The Campus Master Plan can be accessed here.

Thank you and War Eagle!

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A Letter to Those Interested in a Sustainable Auburn

Post Contributed by Dan Ballard, PLA, Landscape and Sustainability Division Manager, Department of Public Works, City of Auburn, Alabama

In his pivotal essay “Solving for Pattern”, Wendell Berry, the great agronomist, environmental activist, and poet, describes “good” solutions to problems of contemporary agriculture as those that are “in harmony” with the “larger patterns” in which it is contained.  Conversely, he describes bad solutions as those that “act destructively upon” those larger patterns.  All semantics aside, he may as well have titled his essay “Solving for Systems”, as the “patterns” he describes are all products of the interactions and relationships of interconnected networks of living and non-living things. And, although his essay’s focus was agricultural systems, his proposed approach to solving modern dilemmas transcends agronomy.

Whether we recognize it or not, our cities rely on a vast and intricate network of systems, commonly referred to as infrastructure, to support and sustain the basic services and functions we rely upon in our daily lives.  These infrastructural systems include our physical infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, internet, power, etc.), our social and educational infrastructure (schools, universities and colleges, community centers, hospitals, civic organizations, etc.), our economic infrastructure (banks, credit unions, business groups, chambers of commerce, etc.), our cultural infrastructure (performing arts centers, parks, sporting organizations, etc.), and, last but not least, our natural infrastructure.  The symbiotic relationship that exist between these systems can range between mutualistic, to commensal, to parasitic.  One of the great challenges of contemporary urban planning and design is to manage this network of “systems”, or “infrastructure”, in such a way that each is performing at the highest level of service possible, without degrading or diminishing other’s capacity to do the same (avoiding the parasitic end of the spectrum).  This can only be achieved through an intentional, strategic planning process, one that involves and engages the community, and, as Wendell Berry puts it, “is in harmony with the larger patterns that contain it”.  Well, the City of Auburn, Alabama, has been doing just that for the last 38 years!

The City began its long-running journey of systems-based visioning, planning, and governing in 1980, when the leaders at that time developed its first long-range, comprehensive community plan; Auburn 2000.  Since that time, the City has expanded upon that foundation with the creation of its Auburn 2020 Plan, and the most recent Comp 2030 Plan (last updated February 20, 2018).  In the simplest of terms, these plans are guiding documents, allowing community leaders to “see”, with great clarity, the interconnectedness of our total infrastructure (as described above) and make data-driven decisions about how to best support the community. It is the recognition of that connectedness that allows us to fully appreciate our Loveliest Village, and it is the careful measurement of it’s infrastructural systems that allow us to manage, and balance, our decisions regarding how to best sustain it.  These plans do not guarantee perfection, but, they do provide a road map for the continual pursuit of excellence in our public services.

I would encourage all those who are interested in making Auburn a more sustainable community, to first familiarize themselves with these plans.  They serve as a remarkable repository of information about how our City works, what we value, what our vision is, and what goals and objectives are necessary and requisite to make that vision a reality.  The knowledge acquired by familiarizing oneself with these plans only increases the chances that your ideas for Auburn, your aspirations for Auburn, and your “solutions” for Auburn to become a more sustainable community will be “in harmony” with those larger “patterns” in which they are contained.  The newly formed Landscape + Sustainability Division looks forward to hearing those ideas, aspirations, and solutions and is excited to support the City in its continual pursuit of excellence.

Click here to see the interconnectedness of the 2030 CompPlan.

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