Ecosystem restoration: Landscape management for the future

Summer 2018

Landscape reforestation project sign.

If you've driven on East Campus recently, you may have spotted some hillsides with taller grass and plants near the Little Theatre and Heritage Hall. What you might not know is those areas are part of an ecosystem restoration project that our Landscape division has initiated. Landscapes are dynamic, meaning every area is different and requires management practices specific to the site. Although continually mowed areas have become normalized and expected, that management practice can be negative for the overall health of an ecosystem.

As a research oriented university, we want to ensure we are continuously researching the best ways to manage our land. The decision to restore specific areas of land on campus developed from our research and trying to think outside the box. With this in mind, the Landscape team initiated the reforestation project to increase ecosystem diversity, prevent erosion, and help protect the soil, air, water and wildlife communities.

The selected sites for reforestation were in decline due to over management, making them the perfect target for restoration. Our team planted about 600 trees and over 1,000 native plants in these two areas on East Campus. The plants were grown in the WMU Finch Greenhouse from seed collected on WMU land and the trees were locally sourced from Michigan.

Landscape planting native plants on Heritage Hall site.

Before the project began, both sites had sub grade soil which led to erosion issues from water runoff. Allowing these plants to continuously grow helps their root system to expand deeper, acting as a natural storm water system. Horticulturist Nick Gooch states, "We are trying to find balance again." Once the root system expands more, the hillsides will stabilize and the erosion issues will lessen. 

The restoration has also allowed Landscape to reduce their mowing efforts on east campus, leading to safer mowing conditions, less fuel consumption, less pollution, less noise, and the ability to dedicate more time towards critical management responsibilities.

Due to extreme slopes, the two sites required safety related mowers which are expensive to purchase, expensive to maintain, and involve extensive training for operators. The mowing days have been cut in half, resulting in greatly reduced labor and equipment costs. These are only added benefits to the already positive effect this project is having on the environment. 

Steve Root, Landscape supervisor, says, "We should be proud to know that we will pass on a landscape that is healthier and will serve future Bronco's and the Kalamazoo community." Moving forward, the project will continue creating positive changes for the campus environment and benefit the local ecosystem.