The words ecological enhancement slip easily off the tongue but the idea behind them is not necessarily obvious or one that everyone will readily agree with. A friend with strong personal and professional acquainenance with environmental concerns, upon hearing the term, asked "Why not just leave the whole thing up to Nature?" A good question!
Why not protect desirable parcels from subdivision and development and then leave them alone to "let nature take its course"? That's what many conservationists and conservation easements do. One answer is that in the 300 years since this country was settled, there has been a vast influx of new plant and animal species introduced or allowed to take hold. In many cases, existing habitats included no inherent means to stop their expansion. Such invasives may not be unnatural in a fundamental way but they may not be desirable when they overwhelm earlier species and reduse diversity. In central Pennsylvania, Tarterian honeysuckle, Autumn olive, Multiflora rose, European bittersweet are a few obvious examples that can turn rich ecological areas into monoscapes.
Many conservation easements include requirements for the landowner to protect the area not just from subdivision and development but also from invasives. But controlling invasives, particularly for larger tracts, is an expensive and labor-intensive job, often neglected by the landowner and not enforced by the easement holder. Even at best, it is settling for the lowest common denominator. Why not restore a diminished property to some semblance of a former, richer environmental self? For an old farm transitioning out of agriculture, for whatever reasons, why not help it find a place among the natural conditions that existed before it was cropped? In areas near municipalities, why not enable such lands to become places of solace or learning for neighbors who may be living in more mediated environments?
"But isn't that what parks are for?" you ask. To an extent, "yes." But more and more, parks are places for recreation and exercise, shouting, competing, blowing off steam. All needed, but not the same thing as quiet, solace, observation of the natural world, slowing down, being. It would be wonderful if governements shared this perspective and had the means to provide such places for their citizens. But we don't see this happening. If such places or going to be preserved or created, it will likely be done by charitable organizations or private landowners. By groups and individuals who are willing to direct private resources to lands that they control, that they are willing to develop ecologically and share them with others in a responsible and appropriate manner. This is not elitist but pragmatic.
Throughout its nearly 50-year history, ChicoryLane Farm has evolved through a series of specific undertakings. These have included transitioning from traditional agriculture to placing the entire farm in a conservation eassement. This was followed by contracting with the USDA's Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) to create a 16-acre native grassland and a 13-acre native hardwood forest. Next, an emergent woodland evolved from a repurposed hillside pasture, now totalling nearly 20 acres of additional woodland. We also manage several long standing wetlands and have created several new ones. As a result, ChicoryLane is now a rich and diverse ecological environment.
Our efforts to put flesh on the bones of Ecological Enahncement grows directly out of our efforts to improve the ecological quality of ChicoryLane land. What we learned in order to do this, what we learned in doing it, and what we learned in simply observing and conteemplating the land underlies our notion of Ecological Enhancement. The goal of this discussion is to describe the Practices we have learned to follow and the Principles we have come to understand in doing so. We hope others might find these insights useful.
More specifically, our discussion is directed to the following:
- Parcels of 10 - 100 acres
- Landowners of such parcels or Operating Entities (e.g., closely held Private Operating Foundations)
- Direct participation of the Landowner at least at the managment and decion-making levels
- Commitment to improving the Ecological Quality of the Land - i.e., its ecological health and diversity
- Recognizing the Land's Intrinsic Value, over and above its Services to Human interests
- Recognizing Ecological Balance as a Fundamental Virtue, as opposed to Unconsidered Divrsity (e.g., diversity for the sake of diversity, numbers of species)
- Providing a sense of Enagement, Accomplishment, Joy, without the sense of Overwhelming, Never-ending, Obligation
- Open-Ended Timescale and/or Varying Financial Commitment
- Promoting a desire in Landowner to share their Accomplishments and Experiences with others
Our model is closely linked with the idea of project. ChicoryLane Ecological Enhancement Projects are focused on specific areas on a scale of one to sevral acres, appropriate for individual landowners. The goal is to improve the ecological quality of a particular area by:
- Addressing a need or opportunity
- Informally mapping the site and recording images - before, during, and after completion of the project
- Identifying and capitalizing on natural features, such as a stream, rock outcroping, wet area, northern or southern hillsides, etc.
- Identifying native plant species found in the area
- Increasing their numbers as desirable
- Decreasing their numbers as appropriate, e.g., removing invasives, oppening forest canopy, etc.
- Introducing new compatible species for identifiable purposese
- Assessing the results of intervention
- Moving on to other areas, other projects, mindful of the interactions among project areas and, ideally, their symbepsis
Thus, we view Ecological Enhancement in the large as the symbeosis of small, well-define and sucessfully achieved projects that, together, add up to more than the sum of their individal contributions. We describe, below, a framework for carrying out such projects. But, first we briefly discuss a different understanding of Enhancement.
The term, Ecological Enhancement, seems to have emerged from the notion of Ecological Design, whose underlying concepts date back to the 1960s. The actual term, Ecological Design, was coined in 1996 by Sim van der Ryn and Stewart Cowan in their book by the same title. They argue that human activities should be merged with natural processes to minimize negative environmental imapact. More recently, Ecological Enhancement has found its way into to the world of professional design and consultancy, particularly for landscape, environmental, and ecology services. One such firm that can serve as a gateway to resource materials and further inquiry is Collington Winter. They define Ecological Enhancement as follows:Ecological enhancement describes measures which can be put in place to improve the ecological condition of a site on completion of a development project. These measures can also be put in place on an alternative site if the development site cannot be enhanced.
The main difference between enhancement measures and avoidance, mitigation, and compensation, is that enhancement provides an improvement for the ecological environment and biodiversity in the area. Mitigation, compensation, and avoidance do not go beyond neutralizing the impacts of the development, and achieving “no net loss” for biodiversity.
Within the land development context, much of the emphasis is placed on the notion of Biological Net Gain: to leave the environment in a measurably better state than before the development took place. Implicit in this definition is the notion that biodiversity should be measured before and after development and that differences can be calculated and reported as enhancement.
Such work requires rigorous and extensive ecological research as well as authoritative support.
In England, this support has been provided by Natural England, a non-departmental public body established in 2006 and aligned with the British Governement's Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs office. They have done extensive work to define key concepts and to develop templates and guidelines for measuring biodiversity and other parameters of ecological health. They have also developed and made freely available a calculation tool for recording both objective measures (e.g., project areas) and expert judgements of various ecological attributes of a particulat site. The tool can then aggregate these measures to produce a numeric value indicative of the overall ecological status of the site. By performing before and after intervention calclations, they can derive a measure of change, which they hope will indicate increased Biological Diversity or Ecolocial Enahncement.
This model is quite sophisticated and requires expert participants. But it is also a rich resource and has gained a considerable following in England and elsewhere. It is used extensvely for municiple and higher level govermnet projects. These include mitigation, restoration, reclamation, public works, and commercial development that includes environmental components. For additional details, see Natural England Biodiversty Metric 3.1 - User Guide. Chapter 3 includes an especially good introduction to the protocol, templates, and calculation tool in example form.
One must keep in mind, however, that this model is intended for large projcts - often hundeds of acres or more - being guided by planning groups and carried out by projessional consultants and construction firms. It maps most ecological concerns onto the important but not all-inclusive noton of Biodiversity. And, it is strongly oriented toward numerical measurement that can be used in both planning and in evaluation to justify the final result. It's a bulldozer, not a shovel.
As an alternative to the large scale, municiple- or developer- oriented model described above, we
describe here a succinct framework of principles and practices intended for the individual landowner or small managing organization. We refer to these ideas as the ChicoryLane Model of Ecological Enhancement. We pay particular attention to the scale of projects - typically involving an acre or three - that can do significant ecological good but are not overwhelming or go on forever. Following are descriptions of several such projects now underway at ChicoryLane. Whereas the ideas and methodolgy can be inferred from the descriptions, a separate outline of the general Framework is also provided as well as a slideshow that provides a succinct summary of key points..
Riparian NorthThis project is seeking to enhance a section of a continuous running stream 6-8 feet wide and extending some 250 yards north-south from where it enters ChicoryLane property to where it is joined by another stream that flows east-west. The riparian area of concern extends some 50 feet on each side of the stream, varying according to the topography. The stream is the primary natural feature of the area along with an enormous Crack Willow tree. The area also includes some 80 native plant species. Particularly notable are American Plum; Nannyberry, Arrowwood, and BlackHaw Vibernum; Serviceberry; Canada Lilies; and Spicebush. The main focus of this project is enhancement through increasing seleced species, reducing less desirable or invasive ones, and introduce several complementary new species not ccurrently found in this area.
Riparian SouthThis project is seeking to enhance the continunation of the Riparian North stream below its junction with the east-west steream and continuing until it exits the ChicoryLane property to the south-west. This segment is of similar width and flow and extends another 250 yeards. Perhaps its most notable feature is some fifteen additional Crack Willows along its length. The first of these is of similar age to the "mother" tree near the streams junction, but others added over the years now range from 10 feet in height to as tall as the original pair- some 60-70 feet. Other prominent species include Aspens, Speckled Alder, and Calmus. Again, the main focus of the project is stewardship of the Crack Willows as well as enhancement through increasing seleced species, reducing less desirable or invasive ones, and introduce complementary new species not ccurrently found in the area.
Riparian East, Part 1This project is seeking to enhance a section of a smaller stream that joins the noth-south stream. It begins at its junction with the larger stream and continues upstream to the east past the ChcioryLane barn, house, and yard; we arbitrarily draw the line of this part of the stream at the east edge of the yard, for a total distance of some 200 yeards. Notable species include a sizeable stand of Aspen trees, a patch of Reed Canary Grass (undesirable), numerous Elderberry and Vibernum shrubs epecially Cranberry vibrunum, a stream crossing, a second grove of Aspens with Scillia and Daffiodils, and large patches of Comfrey and deep maroon native Bergamot. The main focus of the project is enhancement through increasing seleced species, reducing less desirable or invasive ones (especially Reed Canary Grass), and introduce complementary new species not ccurrently found in that area.
Riparian East, Part 2This project is seeking to enhance the continuation of the Part 1 Riparian East stream, from the east edge of the yard upstream until it enters the ChicoryLane property several hunded yards (250) further east. Whereas the Part 1 segment borders the most developed sections of the property adjacent to the house, yard, and barn, the Part 2 segment borders on the North side a naturlized pollinator field and a small portion of a Native Grasses grassland. On the South side is a steep bank and hillside with a number of native trees unusual to the ChicoryLane property. These including Beech trees, hemlocks, American and Hop hornbeam. The main focus of the project is enhancement through increasing seleced species, reducing less desirable or invasive ones, and introduce several complementary new species not ccurrently found in that area. It will largely be a streambank and floodplain enhancement, with minimal additons to the steeper hillside.