Campus Landscapes as Ideal Avenues for Conservation Practices

Guest post by Indiana Wildlife Federation project manager Marija Watson

This season, Indiana universities and campuses will be invited to join Landscaping the Sustainable Campus, a program focused on using a more sustainable approach to manage campus grounds.

Through this program, the Indiana Wildlife Federation (IWF) strives to increase habitat space and diversity, improve water quality by managing surface water runoff, minimize lawn area and associated costs, and decrease chemical use. Achieving these goals will support wildlife such as insects, amphibians, fish, birds, mammals, and more!

Conventional landscaping can be the origin of several water quality concerns. For example, practices used to keep a weed-free, monotonous stand of turfgrass require fertilizers, pesticides, and water. Applied in excess, these nutrients and chemicals will reach lakes, ponds, and reservoirs through surface water runoff and soil erosion, contributing to algal blooms. This is often intensified in areas of impervious surfaces. Ecosystems affected by prolific algae suffer from depleted oxygen levels, inability to photosynthesize, presence of various algal toxins, and degraded habitat conditions.

Photo by Travis Stoelting, IWF Habitat Programs Director, used with permission

Conservation practices are critical to manage streamflow and soil health. In Landscaping the Sustainable Campus, universities and colleges partner with the IWF to review their current grounds-keeping plan and determine opportunities to become more sustainable and conservation-minded. Depending on a campus’s goals and with input from staff, faculty, and students, conservation practices and implementation strategies will be selected.

Keeping in mind that some campuses already implement sustainable initiatives, this program provides a chance to receive recognition and incorporate additional practices with emphasis on the following categories: sustainable lawn maintenance, pesticide/herbicide use reduction, invasive species eradication, native plant species selection, & water conservation, retention, and recycling.

By mimicking the natural hydrological cycle, sustainable land conservation practices will restore natural habitats, slow stormwater runoff, mitigate heat island effect, recharge groundwater, remove pollutants, and sustain wildlife.

Of particular importance to this program is student involvement. Engaging students in this program creates an opportunity to educate the future generations of conservationists about the importance of preserving nature. Besides creating a living laboratory for students to learn and explore, prioritizing landscape sustainability in campus operations will alleviate stress on natural resources and establish more native Indiana landscapes. Additional advantages include reducing maintenance costs, receiving public recognition, and qualifying for sustainability certifications such as the IWF Wildlife Friendly Certification Program.

With conservation practices in place, the richness of species will increase from improved water conditions, soil health, and habitat space. Connecting these habitats as wildlife corridors will enhance space for wildlife, important in sustaining healthy populations.

The Indiana Wildlife Federation challenges universities and colleges statewide to become the next leaders in landscape sustainability.

For more information, visit IWF online or contact us directly. Please consider becoming a member today to support the conservation of wildlife and its habitats in Indiana. It’s simple-an annual membership is $30 for individuals, $15 for students.

Marija Watson is a project manager for water-related conservation initiatives at the Indiana Wildlife Federation (IWF), the state affiliate of National Wildlife Federation. She graduated with honors from Marian College with a B.S. in Biology in 2009. At Marian, she conducted research on nutrient levels specifically nitrate and phosphate in the Upper White River watershed. Also, Marija worked as a wetland restoration intern in the Ecolab, a 55-acre wildlife oasis in downtown Indianapolis. Through this experience, she became knowledgeable of native flora and fauna. Additionally, she practiced implementing best management techniques to eradicate species invasive and exotic to Indiana.

At IWF, Marija directed the Phosphorus-free Lawn Fertilizer campaign, an education outreach and awareness program to discuss how land use connects to water quality and the critical impact of individual actions. More recently, Marija led the development of Landscaping the Sustainable Campus, an opportunity designed for universities and colleges statewide to incorporate a more sustainable, conservation-minded approach to landscape management. Once enrolled, IWF will recommend conservation practices tailored to meet the goals and limitations of each participating campus.