Tag Archives: City of Austin

Love Notes: Forest Ridge Land Steward Orientation

On May 14, Cait M and Mark S. who work for City of Austin Wildlands Conservation offered a training for land stewards on the Bull Creek Forest Ridge trail of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP). This training brought into clear focus the delicate balance between the purposes of public trails through protected habitats. The primary purpose of the BCP is to protect the habitat of endangered species. To serve this purpose, ideally, the land would be left entirely undisturbed, isolated from human interaction. Another purpose is to allow recreational use of the trails through the habitat, encouraging people to appreciate this wild space and all that lives here, in the knowledge that people are more likely to value and protect what they know and love, while realizing that every footstep off the trail will be crushing some living thing, altering the natural environment. Volunteer BCP land stewards are needed to help keep the trails safe for visitors, to help keep the visitors on the trail, to watch for things that could negatively impact the preserve, and to share their observations with Cait and Mark.

Removing invasive plant species is one thing stewards can do. Mark pointed out Beggars Lice (Torilis arvensis) and Malta Star Thistle (Centaurea melitensis) at the entryway, saying that it would be appreciated if stewards were to pull these invasive species and put them in the trash if they have seeds.

Along the path, a young cedar was partly leaning into the path. Mark simply pushed it back the other direction, out of the path. Another cedar had fallen across the path, and this one Mark sawed off at the base, first making sure that there were no nests in the branches. Then he laid the branches across the beginnings of an adventitious path to help remind visitors to stay on the marked trails. As stewards, we would not ordinarily be cutting down trees, but part of our job would be to remove obstacles from trails and to discourage creation of unauthorized paths.

Another part of the steward’s job is to check the water bars, long cedar logs laid across the trail to channel water runoff away from the trail and mitigate erosion. Stewards are authorized to dig or scrape away gravel, rocks, and leaves that have accumulated above water bars so that rainwater flow is properly diverted from the trail.
As we cultivated our sense of responsibility, we also enjoyed the sights and sounds. Standing quietly for a moment, we could hear the songs of many birds. Butterflies escorted us all along the trail, and we saw grapes and wildflowers in bloom.

Visit the Wildlands page to learn about future steward training opportunities.

Footsteps Through Time

into the woodsOn March 5, Austin Water Utility’s Wildland Conservation Division volunteers Lila, Gloria, Chris, and Audrey led a group on a hike in the Butler Ecological Preserve, an area at the end of Jester Boulevard that is otherwise closed to the public. The beginning of the hike is down a wagon trail through shrubby live oak and evergreen sumac under power lines, suitable habitat for black-capped vireo. Lila stops to tell about the brown-headed cowbird trap before guiding us off the trail and through the woods. She notes that we are now walking through golden-cheeked warbler habitat, mature juniper and oak woodland, pausing on a rocky slope that is in fact a field of cretaceous era fossils. At the bottom of the slope is a running creek, and from the side of the creek bubbles Tenacio Spring, named for the previous caretaker of the land. The base of a tree trunk forms a fiercely guarding gargoyle above the spring. Then back up the trail, past a deep ravine we come to Kiki’s Spring, named for Kent Butler’s childhood moniker.

To register to go on this and other hikes, visit Wildland Conservation Division’s online calendar of events at http://www.austintexas.gov/department/wildland-conservation-division.

 

CAMN at 2015 Celebrate Urban Birds

Christine Moses (l) and Barb Kier (r) at the 2015 Celebrate Urban Birds event at ANSC. Photo by CAMN member Andrea Wilhite
Christine Moses (l) and Barb Kier (r) at the 2015 Celebrate Urban Birds event at ANSC. Photo by CAMN member Andrea Wilhite

For several years, CAMN has been involved in a nationally-connected program to inform members of the public about the presence, needs and protection of birds we find in our city and suburban lives. Celebrate Urban Birds, a year-round project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has partnered with over 9,000 community-based organizations, distributed more than 250,000 educational kits, and awarded dozens of mini-grants.

The City of Austin, through the Austin Nature and Science Center, is one such community partner. Each year, the City coordinates events around its Celebrate Urban Birds day, with activities held at multiple community sites. This year, that event was March 7. As it has done in past years, CAMN provided volunteers to help with the event.

Continue reading CAMN at 2015 Celebrate Urban Birds

Integrating Nature into the City with ImagineAustin

Imagine Austin is a 30-year plan established by the City of Austin aiming to help Austin grow in a compact and connected way.  In order to involve the community in this effort, the ImagineAustin Speaker Series was born. Every few months, a collection of speakers from all over the country join one another to discuss quality of life issues pertinent to our favorite city. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an ImagineAustin Speaker Series on Integrating Nature into the City.

The night’s first speaker, Dr. Ming Kuo, is Director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She presented very convincing evidence for the prevalence of (the not quite medically diagnosable, but well documented) Nature Deficit Disorder. Her assertion was this: studies show that, without nature, people display all the symptoms that any animal does when it is living in an unfit environment; this includes social breakdown, psychological breakdown, and physical breakdown. She gave us a broad taste of the science that shows that the presence of nature in people’s lives improves focus, generosity, friendliness, feelings of well-being, and peace of mind, while it lowers the likelihood that people will litter, behave violently, and report feeling isolated.

Even as a fairly new field of study, in the last thirty years, the effects of nature on human health that have been shown are robust. Luckily for those in charge of keeping our communities happy and healthy, Dr. Ming noted that it is not only hiking through forests and mountains that have this effect on us. Small green spaces, neighborhood parks, and even pictures of natural scenes improve our health and happiness. So frame a picture of your favorite outdoor space, and place it somewhere that will lift your spirits!

Patrick Murphy, who recently served as the City of Austin’s Environmental Officer, and was Assistant Director of the Watershed Protection Department, spoke next. He gave the audience a feel for the unique treasures and challenges of Austin’s natural spaces. He told us that in the city of Austin, there are 65 creeks, 885,000 people, and a longstanding record of ground-breaking environmental decisions. Austin was the first city in the U.S. to protect its trees under law, and it’s one of the few that protects its creeks such that they are allowed to flow naturally.

With 2 million people in the greater Austin area today, he was happy to report that the city is growing exactly as city planners twenty years ago designed it to: with most of the population growth focused in the city core, Austin is able to keep its natural green spaces and protect the expansive preserve land that runs throughout the city. This helps drive land development to where the city can spare it, and ensures that the ecologically sensitive regions, like those that recharge our aquifers, remain less developed. Surely, just about everyone in Austin can appreciate that.

When Laine Cidlowski, Project Manager for the Sustainable Washington D.C. Initiative for the District’s Office of Planning, spoke, I got the feeling that the Austinites in the crowd were feeling pretty proud of how well Austin’s natural spaces are faring compared to so many others. But what Laine had to show us about her work in the District of Columbia show just how committed they are to sustainability. She asserted that any city that attempts to strengthen their green presence will struggle with how to quantify a given space’s degree of sustainability. So, D.C. did just that. They have developed the Green Area Ratio (GAR): an environmental sustainability zoning measure that development sites across the city are expected to meet. The GAR score expected for land developers differs based on the zone and intended use of the site being developed, and it does not yet apply to all development around the city.

For those land developers that are held to a minimum GAR score, the question is not, “should we add anything that’s ‘green’?” but, “how can we leverage our space to get the highest Green Area Ratio?” This calculation has pushed land developers to get creative with how they “green” their spaces, not if they will. Being only two years old, this will be interesting legislation to watch in the years to come.

To learn more about the panelists, see the ImagineAustin Speaker Series website.