November 15, 2016
Green infrastructure under Trump
How will green infrastructure fare in a Trump Administration? That’s the question on my mind after last Tuesday’s election. Green stormwater infrastructure, urban forests, pollinator and wildlife habitat initiatives, and research into the place-based, health and environmental services of the managed urban landscape. The federal government plays a role in all of it through policy, regulation and direct financial support of programs and institutions.
With an unfocussed policy agenda, an indifferent attitude to science and pledges to invest big in our failing infrastructure, there’s no clear indication of exactly where a Trump administration may fall. What follows are a few early thoughts presented with no detail.
Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) has been driven by government policy and mandate — at the core is the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Cities across the nation have green infrastructure included in consent decrees signed with EPA to settle CWA violations caused by things like combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Will EPA begin to pull back on mandated GSI requirements to cities in their settlements? EPA mandates have driven installation of thousands of BMPs like rain gardens/bioswales, green roofs, permeable pavement, urban forests and numerous others in cities across the U.S.
Then separately there’s the issue of the Obama Administration’s expansion of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) by EPA rule, which significantly expands the CWA’s reach. Implementation is currently on hold nationwide by court order.
And the Chesapeake Bay Rules that came before WOTUS expansion places Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) on allowable discharges to the Chesapeake Bay from the entire multistate watershed. The Chesapeake Rules are meant to serve as a national model for other large watersheds — for instance, like the Mississippi. LID is how many jurisdictions all over the country deal with TMDLs. LID has also driven installation of thousands of GSI BMPs with lots of plants.
To say groups (agriculture especially) are unhappy about EPA’s regulation by administrative action is an understatement.
The federal push for GSI has created a tremendous number of jobs, companies and industries established or expanded to deal with the rules. Philadelphia’s push into GSI is estimated in its first five years to already have an economic impact of about $60 million and 430 local jobs. Properties proximate to the 496 green stormwater infrastructure projects already installed are estimated to have risen 10% in value according to “The Economic Impact of Green City, Clean Waters: The First Five Years” by Econsult Solutions submitted to Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure Partners initiative.
Pollinator habitat is another form of green infrastructure that’s received a federal push. Section 1415 of the FAST Act passed nearly a year ago includes provisions to restore pollinator habitat along roadsides. It’s been a clear signal to states that managing highway rights of way for pollinators is a national priority. The bill’s language encourages “development of habitat and forage for Monarch butterflies, other native pollinators and honey bees through plantings of native forbs and grasses.” Most importantly, states may use federal highway funds to provide pollinator habitat, so the effort is financially hardwired. Pollinator habitat has also been pushed by other agencies, including the General Service Administration (GSA), the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in policy, with grants for habitat installation and through research support.
The Obama Administration put performance-based metrics and sustainability at the core of GSA’s guidelines “Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service.” The federal government houses 1.1 million federal workers and manages 377 million sq. ft. spread through more than 8,700 assets—that’s a lot of buildings and grounds. How GSA designs, builds, maintains and repairs federal assets influences the private sector. Recently, GSA adopted the Sustainable Sites Initiative for GSA’s capital construction program in their 2016 Guidelines.
There’s also the research and education piece that’s critical to developing science upon which to base actions and the pipeline of trained horticulturists, engineers, landscape architects, landscape designers, urban planners, city managers, water quality regulators and dozens more professionals that have been critical to moving the concepts of green infrastructure forward. Federal research dollars and other budget lines to public universities and other institutions provide critical support.
Green infrastructure is, after all, infrastructure. Being flexible in how green infrastructure is presented and making the case for community and economic good in hard dollars and cents has always been important to garnering broad political and community support. Presenting the economic case will only become more important moving forward.
Governmentally influenced markets are just one aspect of functional plant demand for green infrastructure. No matter who’s president, consumer demand drives retail markets and influences or shapes many commercial markets. Pollinator habitat, monarch gardening, native plants, drought-sensitive landscapes, permaculture and home food production are among the gardening and landscape trends that are likely to keep rolling. You can change political leadership, but you can’t change demographics.
These thoughts are early rambling. Stay tuned — it’s going to be a ride for the history books.
Here’s what some others are saying: What a Trump Win Means For the Global Climate Fight by David Victor for Yale Environment 360; Donald Trump’s U.S. election win stuns scientists–Republicans sweep White House and U.S. Congress, with uncertain implications for research by Jeff Tollefson, Lauren Morello and Sara Reardonon on Nature News; and 14 Obama regs Trump could undo by Tim Devaney, Peter Schroeder and Timothy Cama for The Hill.
August 29, 2016
Drought friendly landscapes
“We’re in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past.”–Gov. Jerry Brown, April 2015
California often paves the way when it comes to new consumer and business trends. If the Recommendations Report to the Legislature on Landscape Water Use Efficiency by an Independent Technical Panel on Demand Management Measures that was presented to the California legislature last May is an indication, traditional horticultural practice, turfgrass and inefficient irrigation as we’ve known them in the past will be phased out.
Horticulture is the art, science and practice of growing plants that serve humans—whether those plants are for food consumption – such as fruit, vegetables, herbs, etc. – or ornamental plants that create our aesthetic and functional exterior spaces in the communities where we live.
One of the main takeaways from this report is that when it comes to the responsible use of public resources, like water in the future, there’s no room for rigid ideas about horticultural practice. The industry has been accustomed to fighting battles about the essential use of water in the landscape. This time it’s different.
Water is in limited supply in the West. Wisely using that limited supply is the future; using it to support “a cultural norm that originated in the English countryside is increasingly out of place in today’s California—let alone, in a more populous California with an even warmer climate in the years ahead,” as written in the report.
What does California’s future look like?
- Keeping rainwater on-site by infiltrating it into the ground to recharge aquifers or storing it for later use on the landscape.
- Using soils to manage rainwater, remove pollution and store carbon.
- Using water-wise plants in place of “ornamental turf” and high water use plants.
- Separating and measuring outdoor water use so that it can be monitored.
California’s 2 million acres of turf are endangered in the name of water efficiency. In the recent past, California has financed landscape conversions using public money. Lawn conversions have been popular. For instance, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California spent $300 million on turf removal.
But using public money to implement change on private land isn’t feasible in the long run. Instead mandated programs and regulation to force lower water use will be combined with incentives. Market demand created by evolving social norms will increase use of drought-tolerant and low-water plants. Better business practices and more efficient equipment and approaches by the landscape and irrigation industries will also drive change on private land. Outdoor landscape tax credits for doing the right thing may be in the future.
California is proving that functional, attractive landscapes are possible by embedding a watershed approach to the urban landscape through state and local policy.
October 15, 2015
Will landscape plant breeding ever incorporate ecological function?
That’s the question asked by a team at the University of Georgia in their review article “State of the science and challenges of breeding landscape plants with ecological function,” published in Horticulture Research, an online open journal.
Citing Doug Tallamy’s statistic that there are more than 13.2 million acres of aesthecially managed lands in the US, the group asks if it’s possible to increase native plant landscaping within that footprint to support greater wildlife biodiversity?
The answers they share are based on a mash-up of multiple surveys. Reasons why natives are just 13% of nursery industry sales are due to three main factors: 1) Supply/availability, 2) consumer preference and 3) knowledge of natives.
Price doesn’t seem to play into it, as one study has shown that consumers in Michigan would be willing to pay more for well-designed landscapes with native plants. Another study shows that consumers are willing to pay a premium for plants labeled native or non-invasive.
However, the nursery and greenhouse industry makes its living selling pretty plants to people who want to express their values and status through exterior and interior plant purchases.
The truth is, we don’t know whether or not horticultural selections of native plants will provide the same benefit as straight species. Add to that another question: How much diversity within the native species is required to meet ecological services needs across a region? Also unknown.
A very vocal segment of the native plant and consumer environmentalist crowd is promoting the goal of replacing half our nation’s lawns with native plants. That would be a boon to nurseries with the right plants…that is, if more consumers wanted them and they purchased them consistently. At least one study in Australia showed that bird diversity rose sharply when native trees comprised 30% of the streetscape.
So, it seems simple, plant the right plants in the right places and they (biodiversity) will come. Not so fast. Going from where the industry is now to covering 25% of the managed landscape with native species is a large jump.
Skeptics in the plant world say they’ve heard this talk before.
But here’s what’s different this time: 9+ billion people by 2050 and a world where 80% of them live in urban spaces. A rapidly increasing group of scientists, non-profits, policy makers, politicians, businesses and citizens believe that ecological functionality of managed landscapes is the future and is one of the best, most cost-effective ways to increase resiliency of urban spaces. This army is marching forward, gathering legions of young people as they go. Policies, laws and regulations are being put in place at the local and regional level to allow native plants and some “adapted” species and outright ban others.
Functioning plants in functioning landscapes is an emerging discipline that is creating new markets. Shortages of native plants plague landscape architects and landscape contractors in urban areas all over the country. As cities adopt green infrastructure plans, the decisions about what is planted in landscapes that provide functionality will be determined by regulation.
What do you think about incorporating landscape functionality into plant breeding? The entire article can be accessed here:
State of the science and challenges of breeding landscape plants with ecological function, H Dayton Wilde, Horticulture Department; Kamal J K Gandhi, Daniel B Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources; and Gregory Colson, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, all at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. Horticulture Research 2, Article number: 14069 (2015) doi:10.1038/hortres.2014.69
August 10, 2015
Driving Natives Demand
Native plants. Two words that fill many production horticulturists with dread. While native plants getlots of press from guys like Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and co-author of The Living Landscape, from a plant producer’s perspective market demand is spotty.
Meanwhile, promotion of native plants is exploding. In addition to Tallamy’s battle charge of all natives all the time for their benefit to insects and thus the ecological food web, governments are getting on board in promoting natives. Politicians and bureaucrats aren’t so concerned with bird and wildlife habitat as they are with controlling stormwater using green infrastructure and encouraging planting of non-invasives.
In a quest to better understand the scaffolding of the native plants market I went to Millersville, a native plants conference held at Millersville University in a town of the same name in Pennsylvania. The conference was also near Lancaster, one of the municipalities leading the green infrastructure for stormwater control charge.
Millersville is a spin out of the granddaddy of all native plant conferences, Cullowhee, held on the campus of Western Carolina University in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina annually in July.
What did I learn at Millersville? I confirmed what industry friends told me as they tempered my expectations of the meeting: Most of the people attending were dedicated ecological gardeners, very well educated and about all of them retired.
Also, just like my friends said, the nurseries there are small operations doing it all from propagating to finishing plants. As a garden plant dweeb, I was ecstatic to part with some cash for hard-to-get plants. But none of the nurseries looked to have the capacity to supply major native plant outlets, although, one exhibitor, IzelPlants.com is working to aggregate native plant supply through an online marketplace.
What was most interesting to me was that Millersville had a good sized audience of garden designers and landscapers dedicated to the idea of adding ecological functionality to residential and commercial spaces. By my estimations they ranged the gamut of ages from 20-somethings to baby boomer second careers.
This group asked probing questions. They wanted to see the information behind some of the statements that were made from speakers. They are focused on a triple bottom line lives: Good for business, the environment and the community.
Given that scores of municipalities and regional governments are implementing decentralized small-scale green infrastructure currently and many more will follow, I believe their future is bright and they will create more demand for native plants.–Debbie Hamrick
Debbie Hamrick is the Director of Specialty Crops in her day job with the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, Raleigh. Prior to working in agricultural policy, she was with Ball Publishing. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation.
NewTerrain July 30, 2015