Volunteers flip this corner of campus for a ‘natural’ makeover

Read the full story at the ISTC Blog.

After two years a project to invigorate 22 acres near Windsor and Lincoln at the University of Illinois is bringing the plot closer to its “natural” state.

This high profile territory had become a thicket of brambles, invasive species, and dead plants. “I became disgusted,” said John Marlin, a research associate at Illinois Sustainable Technology Center who leads the project. “I drive by it every day on the way home. The honeysuckle was so thick that it was difficult to see more than five feet into the woods.  The understory was shaded to the point that virtually nothing grew at ground level.”

Making the Bed Just Right for Alkali Bees

Read the full story from the Agricultural Research Service.

Last summer, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Jim Cane spent a week visiting alfalfa fields near the town of Touchet, in Walla Walla County, Washington. He wasn’t scouting for insect threats or damage to the legume crop. Instead, he was collecting data on the alkali bee, a solitary, ground-nesting species that alfalfa seed growers count on for peak yields. Alfalfa seed is sold to grow premium hay for dairy cows and other livestock.

Known scientifically as Nomia melanderi, the alkali bee is a champion pollinator when it comes to alfalfa flowers—even outperforming the respected honey bee. In fact, some Touchet farmers maintain parcels of open soil called “bee beds” to encourage female alkali bees to nest and raise their young, ensuring generations of pollinators and profitable seed yields for the future. Some of these sites have been maintained for more than 50 years, underscoring the insect’s importance to local alfalfa growers.

U.S. Steel chemical spill closes beaches, EPA measuring environmental damage

Read the full story in the Post-Tribune.

A spill at the U.S. Steel plant in Portage this week leaked a toxic chemical into Burns Waterway, a Lake Michigan tributary, forcing the closure of beaches in and around the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and leaving officials scrambling to determine the extent of damage caused to the local environment.

Sustainability Treehouse

Read the full story and see the stunning photos in Dwell.

In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America made conservation a stronger focus of the organization by introducing a new sustainability merit badge and opening an educational center in the 10,600-acre Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. Using the Living Building Challenge as a guide (a rigorous set of construction standards similar to LEED), Seattle-based architecture firm Mithun spearheaded a multidisciplinary team to create a tree house that would turn lessons into an adventure. Sited on a former coal mine, the building features a locally made prefabricated steel megastructure, FSC-certified black locust wood housing, a photovoltaic array, a wind turbine, and a rainwater catchment system. Visitors learn about energy and water conservation as they climb outdoor staircases that lead from the forest floor to the 125-foot-high rooftop rising above the leaf canopy.

ISTC Sustainability Seminar: Lake and Wetland Restoration: A Tale of Three Systems

April 27, 2017 , noon-1pm CST
In person at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (1 E. Hazelwood Dr., Champaign) or online at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8018105363431916803

Presented by Alan Steinman, Ph.D. — Director of Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute (MI)

Excess nutrient runoff is negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems in the Great Lakes and throughout the world. Understanding these impacts and how to mitigate them have become, for better or worse, something of a growth industry in the environmental and ecological disciplines. In this talk, I will describe three coastal systems located in west Michigan that have been exposed to a history of environmental abuses. Excess nutrients, phosphorus in particular, have resulted in impaired ecological structure and function, including potentially toxic algal blooms. I will discuss the unique attributes of each system, the nature of the key stressor(s), our restoration approach, and how successful we have been in meeting our restoration targets. Two key themes underpinning our efforts include: 1) a modest upfront investment in scientific investigations can save substantial resources in the long run, despite societal anathema to “studies”; and 2) post-restoration monitoring is critical to assess restoration success, and when necessary, be sufficiently nimble to make adjustments as necessary.