Interning With Ecology Action of Texas: Urban Forests and Environmental Justice

Written by Nyla Pete

This Spring, I had the privilege of working with Ecology Action of Texas at their Circle Acres Nature Preserve. Ecology Action of Texas is an environmental organization that focuses on reimagining landfills and encouraging waste reduction, as well as encouraging community engagement in coming up with unique waste solutions. They have pioneered many grassroots efforts in the Austin area to change how the city manages their waste, and continue to engage the Austin community in the future of waste management through the Circle Acres Nature Preserve.

Circle Acres used to exist as 10 acres of landfill and E.P.A. Brownfield until it was refurbished into the urban forest it is today. It is now an educational and recreational area, becoming a space that is more visually and environmentally beneficial to the community surrounding it.  Although the area has experienced many periods of destructive uses, Ecology Action of Texas continued to bring organizations and volunteers together to make a point about land remediation.

The tasks I perform to assist in the continued remediation and conservation efforts of this important wetland and urban forest vary from day to day. Often I am directly involved in the continued volunteer events to continue maintaining the forests. Many organizations and student volunteers come to Circle Acres and the surrounding watersheds to continue trash pickup initiatives, as the area was once used as an illegal dumping site and is additionally an area that accumulates trash-ridden water runoff. On occasion I assist with replanting some native species of grasses in areas with sparse growth, another tactic in the remediation of the area.


With a team of other interns, soil samples are taken from areas in Circle Acres that have experienced a short period of native plant regrowth and areas that have been regularly mowed down. We intend to test these samples and compare the soil organic matter and carbon sequestration potential to show if the mowing has a significant effect on the ecosystem services the land could provide if there was less mowing or expanded native plant regrowth land. Additionally I am being trained to property test water samples and intent to test the wetland waters in Circle Acres, potentially determining if the remediation has impacted the heavy metals or other pollution still present as an effect of the previous damaging land use.

The history of what is now Circle Acres is a testament to how environmental racism and land degradation disproportionally impacts East Side communities in Austin, but also an example of how community efforts and raising awareness of environmental justice issues do yield positive results. It was very surprising to learn and see that what was once a dump, land that was mistreated and harming both the environment and the residents in Montopolis has become a biodiverse community gathering point. The amount of work put into the Preserve is both amazing and impressive, the 10 acres completely changing from having multiple feet of trash cover to a beautiful forest that supports a wide array of wildlife. The importance and prioritization of community engagement continues to this day, still with many organizations and volunteers invested in the success of Circle Acres. It is a great opportunity to assist an organization that prioritizes community needs and is successfully reframing how Austin views waste.

Featured Image: Ecology Action of Texas. https://www.ecology-action.org/circleacres

Image 1: Nature Rocks Austin. https://naturerocksaustin.org/greenspace/circle-acres-nature-preserve

Image 2: Ecology Action of Texas. https://www.ecology-action.org/programs


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