” In nature we leave a footprint of our existence, but in us Nature becomes our existence” -Clarissa Mae
This semester there have been a series of field trips and excursions, all surrounding similar topics. November 27, 2018, marked our FINAL field trip (and a great way to do so). While the rest of the trips had covered ecological restoration, special resource management, and similar topics, on our trip to Blunn Creek to meet with Park Rangers from the City of Austin Parks and Recreation department (PARD), the semester was wrapped up by delving deeper into topics that our other trips had only mentioned: Urban Environmental Conservation and Management.
With this blog post we hope to tell a story of nature and her ever evolving form with humanity, and the goals we as a community have to preserve and restore lands that have been taken over by invasive species.
We begin our journey by asking ourselves the following question, and keeping it in mind as we continue our journey.
“What challenges exist in urban environments but not in rural areas?”
Fig. 1: LaJuan and Owen asking the “dirty” questions of ecological restoration at the city level
We walked over to Blunn Creek Nature Preserve to learn more about urban green spaces that are managed by the Parks and Recreation Department. We heard from Park Rangers from all levels within the Conservation Unit. LaJuan Tucker, who is the coordinator of the Austin Wildlife program, spoke about how preserves and other green spaces are managed in the City of Austin, and how their approach is quite unique when compared to other cities.
Fig. 2: A hike up the trail.
Blunn Creek is a 40 acre preserve that was formerly a dairy farm that was overgrazed creating an ecological vacuum for invasive species. This area is going through restoration projects in order to reduce the amount of invasive species in the area and bring back native species. There has been success in some of their restoration projects. For example, ½ of a million tons of waxleaf privet has been removed over the past 10 years, however still the challenge remains and the city welcomes experimentation on new restoration approaches and volunteers to help with the work.
Fig. 3: Midpoint in the path, the creek in autumn.
This preserve faces certain challenges due to being in an urban area. At the beginning of the hike LaJuan told the class to think about some of the challenges faced by Blunn Creek that rural areas do not face. After contemplating we came up with a list including: the overuse of the trails by humans; the abundance of stakeholders due to the neighborhood it lies in; the dilemma of people experiencing homelessness that sleep in these areas and so on.
Along with the challenges of being an urban ecosystem, there are also challenges that come with the restoration projects. The park rangers talked to us about the varying opinions on how the restoration should be done and the challenges that come with working for the city. Some of these challenges include the turnover in the staff creating inconsistency in the work that is done, the differing opinions of what plants should be grown, and the large amount of work that needs to be done without a big budget. Volunteers that come help with the restoration projects and trail maintenance are important to be able to get anything done.
Currently this site is a one man job! Just one guy named RENE BARRERA does a lot of the work at Blunn Creek; he is the true hero of restoration. His truck, lots of tools, the energy that is stored in the earth’s core, one volunteer, and a passion that only a scientist could hold assist this hero in the work of 10-15 people. As mentioned before, conservation units do not only support wildlife, but the people that live in these areas.
Fig. 4: Park Ranger Owen explaining the differences in restoration stages. In this particular area he pointed out the significance of the older trees that stood in the middle of restoration sites in their infancy.
It is incredible that one man can manage such a large area due to many challenges. Currently this area is in its infancy of restoration. As mentioned before this creates an ecological vacuum for recolonization of anything that may be invasive. What you have left after clearing is dry loose soil that will wash into the creek, which invokes the need for species that ground soil such as the inland sea oat. Areas that are already well established and haven’t been cleared are much harder to restore.
THE MAJOR CHALLENGE
Consistency is a major problem. Staff is constantly moving, agendas are changing and experimentation happens, but often something changes. It all just comes back and it looks like nothing has been done. There are more problems that occur other than just consistency. The City can be very slow, so it’s difficult sometimes to get things done. Community roots need to be established and questions need to be asked before restoration can move on. These questions begin with:
- What are we restoring?
- What is our baseline?
Fig. 5: Area of restoration that has reached a more diversified age. This area was described as ideal due to the kinds of biodiversity found within the area.
Those are the tough questions, especially when the usual response is “Cuz we’ve always done it that way”. LaJuan commented that this is not the way to go. Instead we should be asking dirty questions like, should the baseline be clean as a primary or should it be precolonial, or should it be an open landscape? By asking this questions we would not keep on falling into cycles that do not work.
Reseeding as a grassland , would be very difficult economically. The city isn’t made of money, so the focus has to be on the kinds of things and areas they put their energy and resources into, with politics playing a huge part in the decisions concerning parks.
Fig. 6: Class Photo. Here is to a great class, great company, and a plan to move ecological restoration in the right direction!
This is an ongoing story of restoration and human interaction with wildlife and our 4% of Public land here in the heart of Texas. We look forward to leaning from those that will come after us and hopefully be a major stakeholder in lands that are crucial to our way of life as future professionals in the field.
Finally, on a side note… LaJuan has inspired us all to “Take on Our World”… CHECK OUT HER VIDEO!
Photos by Clarissa Mae
Text by Clarissa Mae de Leon and Mary Knothe