Monthly Archives: May 2012

Hello again!

Welcome to the new home of my formerly fragmented blogself, bringing together my original Reconciliation Ecology blog, and the more recent – and more personal and eclectic – A leaf warbler’s gleanings. This move was prompted because posterous, where I enjoyed posting my gleanings (and auto-posting selected posts to Reconciliation Ecology from there) seems moribund now, ever since Twitter acquired the company.

A move to WordPress, beloved of all serious bloggers was probably inevitable given that a) I grew tired of the quirks of blogger (and don’t like the new incarnation either); b) wordpress offers a simple one-step import tool to bring content over from posterous; and c) the Blogfather encouraged me to move – how could I refuse? The import tool is particularly sweet (check out all the posts below, which were sucked right over in minutes!), and has allowed me to breathe a huge sigh of relief: I was worried about several years’ worth of blogposts disappearing should posterous completely shut shop. Now I can say, goodbye posterous. And hello wordpress.

So if you are a regular reader, please update your bookmark / RSS feed reader to point it hither. And if you are new to Reconciliation Ecology, then welcome, and do poke around among the older posts, for I hope you will find enough there to keep you coming back! 🙂

The trees that are gone at Fresno State

Fall colors in Lot J - 1Fall colors in Lot J - 2Fall colors in Lot J - 3Fall colors in Lot J - 4Fall colors in Lot J - 5

I walked under these trees every single day i was on campus. I studied some of the creatures that made their home there, and enjoyed watching and listening to others on quiet (or not so quiet) mornings on campus. Sadly, I did not carry my camera with me or look at the trees through the lens all too often. Alas, now I will never be able to do so again. Here are a few images I was able to dig up in my albums. We overlook the familiar to our own peril…

Deforestation of an urban ecosystem DRAFT RESPONSE (from President Welty)

I woke up this morning to find the following DRAFT response in my campus email inbox, and thought it worth sharing given the interest my original letter has generated. Do share your thoughts on this while I mull it over and respond.

{Update: Several faculty colleagues tell me that they too received versions of the same generic response to letters they wrote on this issue.)

Begin forwarded message:

From: John Welty <johnw@csufresno.edu>
Subject: Deforestation of an urban ecosystem DRAFT RESPONSE
Date: May 26, 2012 8:20:56 AM PDT
To: Madhusudan Katti <mkatti@csufresno.edu>
Cc: John Welty <johnw@csufresno.edu>

Sent from my iPad
Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate letter regarding the removal of trees in preparation for a parking project. I understand your concern and I agree that there was insufficient discussion as we approached this renovation. I have sent a message to the campus community today [going out Friday] about the need to review our consultative process on major renovations. I also will consult with Academic Senate Chair Lynn Williams and the Senate Executive Committee on the shared governance process that is applicable to projects of this nature. Attached to my campus message was information about the project from Vice President Matson, which includes the re-forestation plans included in the project, which will be of interest to you.
Again, thank you for sharing your concerns. It is caring faculty such as you who are Fresno State’s greatest asset.

How do we unbrand our university? A call for creative submissions

Last month our university – California State University – decided to stop calling itself a university, and transform itself into the brand Fresno State instead. This makeover came with a new sports-team inspired logo consisting of the words “Fresno State” (minus the word “university”) emblazoned with a paw print supposedly from our mascot the Bulldog (but with retracted claws, suggesting a cat more than a dog!). Underneath are the three D-words that are supposedly part of our brand identity: Discovery. Diversity. Distinction.

Perhaps to our administration’s surprise, this branding exercise did not go over well with most of the academic community. Our faculty senate even passed a resolution against the ill-thought move and is trying to turn the clock back to reclaim our identity as a university. Meanwhile, the administration has pushed forward with the rebranding exercise, plastering the new logo all over campus, replacing the old university seal from everywhere it was used from faculty business cards and letterheads to university websites, and even replacing the old “csufresno” in the URLs of campus websites with “fresnostate” instead.
Continuing in the pattern of completely ignoring the campus community’s wishes and taking faculty and students all for granted, the administration this week came up with yet another campus makeover move that may prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back (one hopes, anyway). Most of the faculty (and what students are on campus in the summer) is in uproar over the decision to cut down almost 200 trees for a parking lot expansion project, ostensibly to accommodate 600 more cars in a larger, “safer” parking lot with security cameras unobscured by trees blocking their lines of sight – rather like the parking lots of soulless shopping malls! If in the process they destroy a little of the soul of our (formerly known as) university campus… well, that’s just so much collateral damage.
But this time they have gone too far. This time, I am seeing a level of outrage on campus I have never seen before: outrage that is being expressed in numerous protest letters to President Welty, endless threads of emails flying between faculty members strategizing and organizing to try and bring the administration to its senses, amid fairly widespread local media coverage, not to mention blog posts (like this one here), Facebook status updates, and tweets spreading the word online.
And amid all the angst and frustration, we are seeing some creative venting, with people putting their photoshop skills to work on the logo in darkly funny ways. Here are a few new versions of the much-vaunted Fresno State brand logo I came across today:
Meanwhile, some are also wondering what Wanda, our campus’ arboreal Squirrel mascot, cause celebrate of Squirrel Apreciation Week just last month (its not too late to buy a t-shirt!), might have to say about 200 trees constituting her habitat on campus being cut down and fed into a woodchipper this week.
I love these creative responses to the mess we find ourselves in thanks to our university’s leadership. I think we need more. So how about it? Ready to unleash your creativity, bust out your mad (or mild) photoshop skills to hack the new Fresno State brand? What do you think it really represents? What should it look like to properly reflect what is becoming of this university? Send me your submission via email, or drop a link in the comments below if you’ve already posted (or found) it online on Facebook/Flickr etc. I would love to collect these logos and share them here.
Let us see if parody works where serious arguments fall on deaf years. Let’s make these alternative logos go viral…

Administration responds to protests against deforestation for parking lot expansion at Fresno State

This morning, we got the following email distributed on the campus Bulletinboard system, in response to faculty concerns about the removal of trees for parking lot expansion, which included my letter to President Welty yesterday. As you read this, allow me to also point you to this item in Fresno State News just last month about our campus being included in Princeton Review’s list of Green Campuses. How well do the actions this week, and even the plans outlined in the email below, match up with that Green designation?


From: Cindy Matson <alangrid@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Subject: [BULLETINBOARD] Message from President Welty regarding parking lot project
Date: May 25, 2012 9:00:11 AM PDT
Reply-To: Cindy Matson <cmatson@csufresno.edu>


I have received a number of expressions of concerns about the current parking lot renovation that includes the removal of trees and the replanting of others.  Though this project was vetted with a number of campus constituencies over the course of months of planning, its implementation came as a surprise to some.  That was not our intent. After reviewing this project, it is clear there was insufficient discussion and we need to review the consultation process on major renovation projects. I will consult with Academic Senate Chair Lynn Williams and the Senate Executive Committee on the consultation process that is applicable to projects of this nature.

Please be assured that the renovation will include a re-forestation and that we will be seeking the advice of our campus constituencies as we move forward.

Please see Vice President Cynthia Teniente-Matson’s information on the project, below.
INFORMATION ON PARKING LOT PROJECT

From Cynthia Matson, Vice President for Administration/CFO
The life of a dynamic campus includes making changes to meet new needs. One growing need – repeatedly identified by campus and community groups – is for more parking. Unfortunately when it comes to parking, there often is no “best” solution to accommodate the needs of students (our largest parking user group), faculty, staff and visitors.

The parking program operations and lots are completely funded by fees and fines. No general fund support is provided. With the declining enrollment and lack of parking fee increases from faculty and staff, revenues have been insufficient, leading to deferred maintenance in many of the lots.   Some lots have significantly deteriorated and the lots in the poorest conditions desperately need repair. The original parking plan contemplated a parking structure in this area, however a more-economical solution was necessary to minimize the parking fee increase to our students. Therefore, lots are being repaired and expanded, where practical, in lieu of a parking structure.
Our current parking project addresses two critical issues: the need for more student parking and the need to improve safety in parking lots. In the construction project under way this summer in Lots A, J and UBC on the east side of the Peters Business Building, we are adding more spaces, replacing trees, and improving lighting and security.
The $4 million project, funded through student parking fees, is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 15, just before the start of the 2012-13 academic year. Construction and maintenance projects across campus typically are scheduled during the summer and winter breaks to cause the least disruption to students as possible.
While short-term impacts of tree removal, traffic redirection, and temporary closure of parking lots are disruptive, long-term benefits of the project are important for students, faculty, staff and the community. The lots provide close access to the University Business Center and the Joyal Administration, Conley Art, Peters Business and Science buildings.

Safety was a top priority in designing the new space. The previous design of the three lots posed many public safety challenges. Thoughtful placement of 150 new trees is designed to provide unobstructed line of sight for five security cameras. Five emergency phones also will be placed within the new parking lot.
The three lots, which currently have a combined 1,357 spaces, will become one contiguous lot with approximately 1,900 spaces aligned in an easy-to-navigate, two-way traffic access pattern throughout. Several dry ponding basins will be removed. The project also includes road and intersection improvements around the area.

An extra-wide walkway will be constructed to connect the lot with the existing walkway south of the Peters Building. This follows the Campus Master Plan vision of connecting the east and west sides of campus with a continuous pedestrian thoroughfare.

While 160 trees were removed, 150 trees will be planted within the lot. Trees will remain around the perimeter. Plans call for Chinese pistache trees, chosen for their vivid fall colors and high canopy (helping security camera views), amongst other tree varieties.
Some of the trees removed were diseased, but healthy crape myrtles were uprooted and saved. Trees that were removed were mulched for future use throughout campus.

The project is on a tight deadline that required coordination of funding with completion by the beginning of the fall semester to minimize disruption. American Paving Co. is the contractor.

Discussions of Lots A and J and the proposed financing were held with the President’s Student Lunch Group, Campus Planning Committee, Student Fee Advisory Committee and the Academic Senate’s Facilities and Campus Environment Liaison Committee.

When complete, the project brings the total number of parking spaces on campus to 8,280.

Progress reports on the project will be posted at http://www.fresnostate.edu/police/traffic/flow/advisory.shtml

Message from President Welty regarding parking lot project

This morning, we got the following email distributed on the campus Bulletinboard system, in response to faculty concerns about the removal of trees for parking lot expansion, which included my letter to President Welty yesterday:


From: Cindy Matson <alangrid@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Subject: [BULLETINBOARD] Message from President Welty regarding parking lot project
Date: May 25, 2012 9:00:11 AM PDT
Reply-To: Cindy Matson <cmatson@csufresno.edu>

I have received a number of expressions of concerns about the current parking lot renovation that includes the removal of trees and the replanting of others.  Though this project was vetted with a number of campus constituencies over the course of months of planning, its implementation came as a surprise to some.  That was not our intent. After reviewing this project, it is clear there was insufficient discussion and we need to review the consultation process on major renovation projects. I will consult with Academic Senate Chair Lynn Williams and the Senate Executive Committee on the consultation process that is applicable to projects of this nature.

Please be assured that the renovation will include a re-forestation and that we will be seeking the advice of our campus constituencies as we move forward.

Please see Vice President Cynthia Teniente-Matson’s information on the project, below.

 

INFORMATION ON PARKING LOT PROJECT

From Cynthia Matson, Vice President for Administration/CFO

 

The life of a dynamic campus includes making changes to meet new needs. One growing need – repeatedly identified by campus and community groups – is for more parking. Unfortunately when it comes to parking, there often is no “best” solution to accommodate the needs of students (our largest parking user group), faculty, staff and visitors.

The parking program operations and lots are completely funded by fees and fines. No general fund support is provided. With the declining enrollment and lack of parking fee increases from faculty and staff, revenues have been insufficient, leading to deferred maintenance in many of the lots.   Some lots have significantly deteriorated and the lots in the poorest conditions desperately need repair. The original parking plan contemplated a parking structure in this area, however a more-economical solution was necessary to minimize the parking fee increase to our students. Therefore, lots are being repaired and expanded, where practical, in lieu of a parking structure.
Our current parking project addresses two critical issues: the need for more student parking and the need to improve safety in parking lots. In the construction project under way this summer in Lots A, J and UBC on the east side of the Peters Business Building, we are adding more spaces, replacing trees, and improving lighting and security.
The $4 million project, funded through student parking fees, is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 15, just before the start of the 2012-13 academic year. Construction and maintenance projects across campus typically are scheduled during the summer and winter breaks to cause the least disruption to students as possible.
While short-term impacts of tree removal, traffic redirection, and temporary closure of parking lots are disruptive, long-term benefits of the project are important for students, faculty, staff and the community. The lots provide close access to the University Business Center and the Joyal Administration, Conley Art, Peters Business and Science buildings.

Safety was a top priority in designing the new space. The previous design of the three lots posed many public safety challenges. Thoughtful placement of 150 new trees is designed to provide unobstructed line of sight for five security cameras. Five emergency phones also will be placed within the new parking lot.
The three lots, which currently have a combined 1,357 spaces, will become one contiguous lot with approximately 1,900 spaces aligned in an easy-to-navigate, two-way traffic access pattern throughout. Several dry ponding basins will be removed. The project also includes road and intersection improvements around the area.

An extra-wide walkway will be constructed to connect the lot with the existing walkway south of the Peters Building. This follows the Campus Master Plan vision of connecting the east and west sides of campus with a continuous pedestrian thoroughfare.

While 160 trees were removed, 150 trees will be planted within the lot. Trees will remain around the perimeter. Plans call for Chinese pistache trees, chosen for their vivid fall colors and high canopy (helping security camera views), amongst other tree varieties.
Some of the trees removed were diseased, but healthy crape myrtles were uprooted and saved. Trees that were removed were mulched for future use throughout campus.

The project is on a tight deadline that required coordination of funding with completion by the beginning of the fall semester to minimize disruption. American Paving Co. is the contractor.

Discussions of Lots A and J and the proposed financing were held with the President’s Student Lunch Group, Campus Planning Committee, Student Fee Advisory Committee and the Academic Senate’s Facilities and Campus Environment Liaison Committee.

When complete, the project brings the total number of parking spaces on campus to 8,280.

Progress reports on the project will be posted at http://www.fresnostate.edu/police/traffic/flow/advisory.shtml

Deforestation of an urban ecosystem and failure of campus governance: an open letter to President Welty

Yesterday morning I drove into campus to my customary parking spot under the dense canopy of trees that have shaded our parking lots for years – only to find a scene of carnage: the entire urban forest on those parking lots – some 100 or so trees – were being chopped down to make way for a larger parking lot! Mature, healthy trees, supporting many other species, being cut down to make way for a few more cars!! Craig Bernthal has written about this and posted a bunch of photos of the devastation over at Huron County Extract, along with calls for action. I didn’t have my camera with me, but am not sure I would have had the heart to photograph the killing fields either.

Late last night, I was able to compose the following letter to my university’s president, Dr. John Welty, urging him to change the course of our university, away from the path of heedless destruction to create more soulless concrete deserts, and instead work on making our campus a leader in urban ecology and sustainable landscape design:


—————————–
Dear President Welty,

I am writing to you today as a tenured faculty member who is deeply disappointed and worried about the direction in which our campus has been heading. While I am sure you are used to hearing complaints of this kind from faculty who may not seem to have the bigger picture you focus on, I would assure you that I think of the role and image of our university in the broadest contexts possible and am acutely concerned about the leadership our campus can (but too often does not) provide in improving the lives and environments of people and nature. I write now in particular to respectfully express my deep sense of rage about the deforestation of a mature urban forest on east campus yesterday morning, to make way for a handful of new parking spaces for students. This deforestation represents a massive failure on the part of our university at multiple levels: in the complete failure of consultation with relevant faculty senate committees (not to mention other interested faculty members) before cutting down over a 100 mature, healthy trees; and in the total lack of any broader vision about how to build a truly sustainable green campus (despite everything we profess on this front) that could be a model for urban landscape development. On a personal academic level, I am also deeply hurt by yesterday’s deforestation because it was the equivalent of ripping up a significant part of my research and teaching laboratory without even the courtesy of any advance warning. Allow me to first provide some background to clarify my perspective, before I address the two main failures I just mentioned above.

I am an Associate Professor in Biology, where I teach various courses in ecology and evolution. Current research in my laboratory focuses on Urban Ecology, where I study, in collaboration with colleagues from multiple other disciplines, the dynamic interactions between ecological and human social components determining biodiversity in human-dominated ecosystems such as cities. I am lead PI of Urban Long-Term Research Area – Fresno And Clovis Ecosocial Study (http://www.urban-faces.org/) a multidisciplinary grant funded by the National Science Foundation to study the interplay between urban water policy, residential water use behaviors, landscaping practices, and urban biodiversity in the Fresno Clovis Metro Area, in the context of the onset of water metering in Fresno. This project is perhaps the largest active interdisciplinary research collaboration on our campus, involving over two dozen faculty members and students from at least eight departments in four different colleges, a co-PI from UC-Davis, and several collaborators from UC-Merced and the USDA Forest Service. It builds upon the Fresno Bird Count (http://www.fresnobirds.org/), a volunteer-based citizen science project started by me, and run by graduate students in my lab for the past 5 years, to monitor urban biodiversity in our growing urban area. Our research in both these projects has attracted considerable attention from urban ecologists across the US and worldwide: I’ve been asked to Guest Edit a special issue of Cities and the Environment journal this summer, and have also been invited to present a Keynote Address at the upcoming international Urban Biodiversity and Design Conference (URBIO 2012) in October in Mumbai, India. A year ago, the campus development committee at UC Merced sought my advice on building their campus into a living laboratory for teaching and research where principles of urban ecology could be tested and implemented.

All of my research is situated within a framework of Reconciliation Ecology, a multidisciplinary approach which seeks to develop novel ways to reconcile human development with biodiversity conservation on our overcrowded planet. This reflects my fundamental optimism (in the face of overwhelming reality as my colleagues often point out) about the human capacity to clean up our act and do the right thing towards all life on this pale blue dot we share. While that may sound like a lofty romantic ideal, I actually prefer to take a practical approach by engaging with policy makers, urban planners, and ordinary citizens to explore and develop new ways to soften the impact of our actions on our environment while also improving the quality of life for humans, especially those from underprivileged sectors of our city. While sustainability is a buzzword we often use in promoting our campus, reconciliation ecology offers practical ways to achieve the goals of a sustainable environment.

Thus far, I have enjoyed a great deal of support from my department, college, and higher levels of our university in developing this research program during my way up through the tenure track. You may remember me describing some of this research at various meetings, and perhaps also recall my seeking access to the grounds of your residence at University House as a site for field research on bird behavior by my students. I have also developed new courses in field ecology and reconciliation ecology – which was one of the reasons I was hired here. In my urban research and in these classes, various parts of our campus serve as primary field study sites. Indeed, I am grateful that our campus offers a range of habitats in which to study questions of reconciliation ecology, even though we are rather profligate in our use of water, to maintain many acres of lawn. Many of my students have done interesting original research projects right on campus, including in the now deforested parking lots. We have documented how even these seemingly barren urban spaces (what could seem more devoid of life than a parking lot?) provided valuable habitat to a number of wildlife species including many species of migratory birds protected by the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Fox Squirrels which have become something of a mascot on our campus being celebrated during Squirrel Week, a number of Great Horned Owls that live on our campus, other birds of prey (including an occasional Peregrine Falcon), and a number of other species. Alas, these habitats now stand barren, bereft of the tree canopy which provided valuable resources for all these species. Apart from habitat for wildlife, those trees also served as valuable pedagogical tools for field lessons taught by me and several other colleagues in the biological sciences. This deforestation therefore presents an existential dilemma for my entire research and teaching program on this campus: how can I teach reconciliation ecology to my students and others if we cannot practice even a modicum of reconciliation on our own campus? What credibility will I have at URBIO 2012 next October when I give that Keynote address to an international audience (of academics, policy makers, and practitioners) trying to convince them that it is indeed possible to preserve and nurture biodiversity within urban habitats, when my own university so blithely cuts down a mature urban forest to make room for cars?

All of this brings me to the two most important failures of our university leadership in how this deforestation was visited upon us:

  1. Lack of transparency in the decision making and failure to communicate with faculty members and students: my colleagues and I were completely taken aback upon arriving on campus yesterday to witness the trees torn down. Several of us serve on high level campus committees charged with overseeing the nationally recognized University Arboretum as well as the broader development of our campus (FACEL). Yet none of these committees were aware that all these trees were to be cut down – until after the fact. Had I heard about this plan earlier, I would have gladly helped devise a much better way to accomplish the goal. This action clearly represents a serious dysfunction in how our campus is governed even in such important matters, and such dysfunction needs to be addressed immediately given how demoralized our faculty already are these days. 
  2. Lack of vision for true long-term sustainability: While the ostensible reason for yesterday’s deforestation is to increase parking spaces available to students, the manner in which this is being addressed shows a complete lack of vision or ecological foresight. I know that conventional approaches to construction and land development treat trees as just another physical element on the land to be disposed off at will, but is that really necessary? Was it really necessary to cut down a 100 trees (which fix carbon, provide shade, habitat, and psychological benefits, to name just a few) just to add 600 new parking spots? Did whoever make the decision to go this route on the masterplan consider any creative alternatives that would not require the killing of living, breathing, healthy, mature trees? I am sure my colleagues and I could have come up with alternative plans that would preserve the forested nature of our campus environment (recognized nationally in our Arboretum status) while meeting the needs of students. Were alternatives such as aggressively promoting carpooling, bicycling and other options even considered at all when deciding to cut down trees to make more room for cars? Even as our research on local urban ecology is beginning to attract wider attention, we appear to have failed utterly in bringing any ecological transformation to our own campus. I would love for our campus to serve as a model and a demonstration / experimentation ground for the design of more ecologically sensible landscaping and urban habitat design options for others to adopt. Alas, this appears to be a mere pipe dream as our campus rushes headlong down the unsustainable path. What kind of message are we really sending to our students and future generation of leaders by putting cars above trees, at a time when many people around the world are actively developing and implementing solutions to help us transition into the post-carbon age? Is our university even interested in being a leader in finding solutions to our environmental problems? Or are we content to remain a big part of the problem?

I am afraid that yesterday’s deforestation sends exactly the opposite signal on both these counts: that we don’t really care about sustainability or any elements of Nature on our campus, and that we are willing to ride roughshod over both the environment, and any concepts of democratic shared faculty governance as we hasten to turn our campus into another concrete desert.


As the leader of this campus, who must navigate carefully to sustain our campus through extremely difficult financial times, I urge you to not overlook the ramifications of various decisions being thrust upon a campus academic community that feels increasingly alienated and demoralized. A little more respect for the views of faculty and students who care deeply about this university, a little more compassion towards the environment and other organisms who share our campus, and a little more ecological smarts in finding ways to soften the hard edges of our campus’ physical and psychological footprint, will go a long way towards making the difficult times ahead far more bearable for all of us. It can also turn our adversities into opportunities to show genuine leadership in building a truly sustainable academic community and environment for the long term future of this century old university, and indeed our whole world.

Sincerely, and with the very best of intentions,

Madhusudan Katti
Associate Professor, Biology

Posted via email from a leaf warbler’s gleanings